TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
The Flyers have put themselves in a pretty precarious position this week.
With consecutive losses to two teams that were, at game time, behind them in the standings, they’ve now stepped out on the precipice of their season.
Still clinging to a playoff berth, the Flyers suddenly find themselves facing a brutal stretch of games and need to dig deep to find the fortitude to hold onto that position or improve it.
Seven straight games against tough opposition began Thursday in Columbus, and if it was any indication of how the Flyers are going to play, it’s not a good sign.
A 5-2 loss to the scorching-hot Blue Jackets dropped the Flyers (25-21-6, 56 points) into fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and they’re just two points ahead of Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference – and the Red Wings have two games in hand on the Flyers.
In the game against the Jackets, much like the game against Carolina Wednesday that the Flyers lost 3-2, they seem to be suffering from the same simple mistakes over and over again.
Coach Craig Berube identified it as poor defense, bad breakouts, too many penalties and spending too much time in their own end of the ice – and he’s right.
These are the things that ail the Flyers, no matter how much better or more prolific the offense has become.
“We need to do a better job defensively and follow the system,” Claude Giroux said during a televised postgame interview. “Everyone needs to play better. The last two games I don’t think [we competed hard enough]. We have to work better as a team. We’ve worked better individually but not together. We’re not supporting each other. But that’s going to change and we’re going to start winning again.”
And if the Flyers are going to do that, they’re going to have to run a gauntlet of sorts. There are seven games remaining before the Olympic break. Four of them will be played at Wells Fargo Center, the other three are on the road.
But the first six of those seven is as daunting as a baseball closer without his best stuff coming into a game with the bases loaded and no outs trying to protect a one-run lead against Murderer’s Row (bonus points to the under-30 sect who can name the members of Murderer’s Row in the comments section below… without looking it up!)
First up is Boston, then Detroit before a West coast trip against three of the best teams in the game in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose before coming back home to meet Colorado.
“The Last few [games] have been frustrating,” said Ray Emery who made 34 saves – and still allowed five goals – in a postgame interview that was televised. “We have tough patches in our game and teams have been capitalizing.”
And the teams that have done it are the likes of Nashville, the New York Islanders and the Hurricanes.
The Blue Jackets are no longer a slouch and they did it too – and it was glaring. There’s no reason to think that any of the next six opponents won’t be as opportunistic, if not more so, if the Flyers fumble pucks like they have of late.
It’s pretty safe to say that the Flyers need to come out of these next seven games with eight points to feel good about where they are heading into the Olympic break.
Go .500 in the six-game, land-mine filled maze and the beat Calgary – because you should.
Fans can’t chortle at a 3-2-2 mark. Anything less could be dangerously bad. A complete meltdown could cost them a shot at the playoffs.
Regardless, the loss to Columbus should be the needed wake up call for the entire team. They seem to have deviated from the gameplan – and gotten out of the systematic hockey that brought them so much success for much of the past two months.
That run made it obvious that these Flyers have what it takes to play the right way and win hockey games, now they just got to get back to that – and they have to do it in the midst of their most difficult portion of the schedule.
However, if they can, they will find themselves much better off over the final 20 games of the season then if they don’t.
NOTES: The Flyers have gone three games without a win for the first time since Dec. 7-11, when they were also 0-2-1 in three games. Their 2-4-2 record (six points) in the last eight games is their lowest point total in an eight-game stretch since the group of games that resulted in a 3-9 start to the season… The Flyers dropped their fourth consecutive game in Columbus, where their last win came in December 2005… Vinny Lecavalier scored a power play goal, his second goal in the last six games. The Flyers now have at least one power play goal in six of the last eight games…The Flyers were outshot 39-28, marking the fourth time in the last five games they’ve been outshot. They’ve allowed an average of 36 shots per game in that span… Brayden Schenn scored and led the Flyers with five shots while also recording a hit, a takeaway and winning his only faceoff of the night. He now has three goals in the last five games… Andrej Meszaros had an assist and now has six points in his last six games. Meanwhile, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell both had their five-game point streaks snapped.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers