This is the part of the season that matters most - and the Flyers have the performers to get the job done.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
- Lewis Carroll
That famous stanza from “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” a lyrical poem in Carroll’s classic “Through the Looking Glass” is so apropos this morning.
Because here were are, 46 days from the end of the NHL regular season. Here we sit, with 23 Flyers games to go and a mad dash for the playoffs commencing.
Welcome to Wonderland.
What will the next 46 days encompass? Well, as the Walrus said, there are lots of things to discuss. Let’s break it down, shall we?
The shoes and ships:
The trek ahead for the Flyers is treacherous and fraught with peril. But it wouldn’t be an exciting and enticing adventure for us onlookers if it wasn’t, right?
There will be back-to-backs. There will be rivalry nights. There will be plenty of NBC coverage (and yes, a lot of Pierre McGuire).
The task is daunting – as the Flyers opponents remaining have a collective .607 points percentage (percentage of points available that were earned. This number is often higher than an actual winning percentage) – which is tied for the second-toughest in the NHL behind Colorado.
However, 14 of the 23 remaining games are being played at Wells Fargo Center, which is tied for the most home games left on the docket in the entire NHL.
Nevertheless, the Flyers need to be sure their work boots are on, because that is the only appropriate footwear for this journey, because the deck of the ever rocking ship is always slippery when wet.
The sealing wax:
The Flyers are a glue team. They need to play a strict, systematic, team game to have success. When they do – they are among the toughest teams to face in the NHL. Their 26-13-5 record over the past 44 games is an indicator of that, as it’s the fifth-best record in the NHL. It puts them in elite company.
When they get away from their game though, watch out, because that’s when they look bad: A 1-7 start to the season. Ugly shutout losses at home to Washington and New Jersey in November. Disheartening efforts in Dallas and Chicago in December. A losing skid in January that was stamped by a 6-1 loss to Boston at home.
In short, the Flyers need to play their game moving forward. They need to hold it together and fill in the holes as best they can. That wax settles best when the Flyers have a lead. Since Nov. 8 the Flyers are 16-0-4 when taking a lead into the third period. They are 10-13-1 when they don’t. It doesn’t get more cut and dry than that.
Cabbages and kings:
Cabbage is a moniker often used to describe money. If that’s the case the Flyers have been money at the most money times of a game – or, as the new marketing campaign would indicate, #ClutchTime.
The third period, when the games are often on the line, has been the Flyers own personal playground.
Consider they have come from behind when trailing in the third period to win the game 10 times. That’s already a franchise record with still more than a quarter of the season to go.
Consider they have outscored their opponents in the third period over the past 44 games by a 61-43 margin. That plus-18 total is tops in the league in that span of games.
They also have 67 third period goals. That’s tied for second-best in the NHL for the entire season.
Individually, they are pretty strong too.
Claude Giroux has 19 goals so far this season, nine of them have either tied the game, been a go-ahead goal or have been an insurance marker in the third period or later. That’s 47.4 percent of the time where he is coming up clutch.
By comparison, Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, who leads in the NHL with 40 goals, has 11 such goals in the third period, or 27.5 percent of the time.
Giroux isn’t alone on the Flyers in that stat. Scott Hartnell has seven of his 15 goals coming in that manner (46.7 percent) and Vinny Lecavalier has six of his 12 goals that way (50 percent). Even Michael Raffl has collected four of his seven tallies (57.1 percent) in clutch time.
When you talk of kings in hockey, and not the Los Angeles variety, there is only one with the nickname – and that’s New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who will bring his silver medal-winning pedigree to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday.
But, if anyone has been a king in the net at the most important times this season, it’s been Steve Mason. Not only can
|Everyone knows Steve Mason has been really good for the Flyers this season, but he's been even better in #ClutchTime (the third period and beyond) where his numbers are sensational.|
an argument be made that he’s been the Flyers MVP this season, but his statistics improve as the game gets into the more pressurized moments.
Mason has allowed just 31 third period goals in 40 games (He’s played in 44, but four times didn’t play the third period). His third period goals against average is 2.35, which is better than his overall GAA of 2.48. Meanwhile, he is saving pucks at a .923 percentage, up from his .918 overall.
And when the game slinks into overtime, he’s been even better – with 4-on-4 hockey in front of him, which isn’t particularly the Flyers strong suit.
In overtime this season, Mason has allowed just one goal. He has an 1.58 overtime GAA and a .941 save percentage.
And even though the Flyers tend to loathe the shootout, it’s not been because of goaltending issues this season, as Mason has stopped 66.7 of the breakaways he’s faced, which is a very impressive figure.
The boiling hot sea:
The water is definitely much warmer in the hockey waters as February storms into March. First, there’s the trade deadline, which is now just six days away. Whether or not the Flyers will be involved and how deeply remains to be seen, but it seems that general manager Paul Holmgren is relatively happy with the team he has in place and probably won’t do anything drastic.
That means the current crop will be making that playoff push. And what is that push? How hard does the shoving have to be? Well, the Flyers have 66 points now. With 23 games left, there are 46 points available to them. The target seems to be 28 points to pretty much assure a playoff spot. That’s because 94 points was enough to reach the playoffs 69 percent of the time since the shootout was introduced in 2005-06, and with the race being closer than ever this season, a lower number might even be possible.
To get those 28 points, the Flyers will have to play at a .608 points percentage the rest of the way. Some might find that number a bit nerve-wracking since their points percentage so far this season is .559, however in the past 44 games, it’s .648.
To get 28 points, the Flyers can go something like, 13-9-2, or 12-7-4 and have enough to make the playoffs. That’s only slightly above .500, and with this team, that seems doable, even if the schedule is a bit more daunting than most.
Pigs have wings:
O.K., maybe pigs can’t fly, although it’s almost certain that in 2010, when the Flyers made that unexpected and dramatic run to the Stanley Cup Finals, that people were saying in March that the Flyers chances of reaching the Cup Finals where about as remote as pigs flying – yet they did.
And then there were those aforementioned Kings of Los Angeles who a couple seasons ago became the first No. 8 seed to win the Cup.
Nevermind the fact that before the Kings there were several teams who had to scratch and claw just to get into the playoffs who made great runs to the Finals – including those 2010 Flyers, but if you want a small list:
Teams seeded sixth, seventh or eighth who have reached the Stanley Cup Finals since Conference seeding began in 1993-94:
2011-12 Los Angeles Kings (No. 8 seed)*
2011-12 New Jersey Devils (No. 6 seed)
2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers (No. 7 seed)
2005-06 Edmonton Oilers (No. 8 seed)
2003-04 Calgary Flames (No. 6 seed)
2002-03 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (No. 7 seed)
1999-00 Buffalo Sabres (No. 7 seed)
1993-94 Vancouver Canucks (No. 7 seed)
*Won Stanley Cup
The point is, these last 46 days promise to be a bit of a roller coaster. So make sure your shoulder harness is locked in place. Keep your arms and legs inside the car and enjoy the ride because every game matters.
Oh, and watch out for flying pigs…
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers