The Flyers had a unique opportunity this past week. Because they were playing other teams in the wild card chase, they had a chance for four-point swings in each game. A win would gain two points for the Flyers and deny two points for the opposition.
Unfortunately, an opportunity for a four-point swing in a positive manner is accompanied by the chance of a four-point swing in a negative fashion. And that’s what happened in two of the Flyers’ three games last week.
After a 6-3 victory over the Sabres, who were trailing the Flyers entering the week, the Flyers dropped 4-2 decisions to the Maple Leafs and a heartbreaking 2-1 decision to the Bruins. Instead of gaining ground on the Maple Leafs and Bruins, the Flyers find themselves trailing by those teams by more points than they were when last week began.
After Saturday’s games, the Flyers trailed the Bruins by eight points. More importantly, they trail the Leafs, who occupy the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference, by six points with 15 games remaining in the regular season. Before they get to the Maple Leafs, the Flyers have to get past the Islanders and Lightning, whom they trail by five and three points, respectively.
The Flyers are rapidly running out of time to move up in the standings. To make matters worse, they only have one game remaining – March 30 against the Islanders – against teams in the wild card chase. That’s why it was imperative that the Flyers take advantage of this past week’s opportunity against the Sabres, Maple Leafs and Bruins.
It’s no longer enough for the Flyers to win games. Now they will need help from other teams.
That’s not the only bad news regarding the schedule. During the next two weeks, the Flyers play both the Blue Jackets and Penguins twice. There is one stretch later this month during which the Flyers play consecutive road games against the Wild, who have the best record in the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets and the Penguins. The road games in Columbus and Pittsburgh are on back-to-back days.
It will be extremely difficult for the Flyers to overcome those obstacles and make the playoffs. But they have no one to play except themselves for being in this position.
The Flyers had an opportunity to gain ground last week. Unfortunately, they squandered that opportunity.
IMPROVING GHOST: One positive development for the Flyers has been the improved play of Shayne Gostisbehere. He has been more effective at both ends of the ice. His shots are getting through from the point and, more often than not, they’ve been on target.
The second-year defenseman has also been better in the defensive zone. During the six games since the Flyers’ loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field, Gostisbehere hasn’t had a negative game in the plus-minus ratings. His plus-minus rating is still an ugly minus-23, but that makes the plus-1 rating during the past six games stand out even more.
MOVING ON UP: In last week’s Flyers Notebook, we welcomed rookie forward Travis Konecny back from injury and I noted that, although he returned against the Capitals on the fourth line, we shouldn’t expect him to remain there very long. He wasn’t.
During the loss to the Maple Leafs, Konecny moved up to the third line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. By Saturday’s game against the Bruins, Konecny was on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek.
SCHENN’S STRUGGLES: When you’re a minus-1 during a game in which the Flyers score a season-high six even-strength goals, you know you’re struggling. That was the situation for Brayden Schenn last Tuesday during a 6-3 victory over the Sabres.
Schenn, who was supposed to be a prime beneficiary of the acquisition of gifted passer Valtteri Filppula, hasn’t scored a goal during his past seven games, including five since Filppula was acquired from the Lightning. Schenn has a minus-1 rating in five of his past seven games, and his failure to score has contributed to a decline in the Flyers’ power play.
Head coach Dave Hakstol replaced Schenn with Travis Konecny on the Filppula line, trying Schenn with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. Schenn, who has a team-worst minus-24 plus-minus rating, hasn’t fit in well for any length of time on any line this season. At some point, Schenn and the Flyers have to realize that, rather than the line he’s on, the problem might be Schenn.
WEAL MAKES HIS MARK: Jordan Weal, who registered a goal and an assist during Tuesday’s 6-3 victory over the Sabres, has three goals in 10 games and a plus-minus rating of plus-4. Despite being relatively small (5foot-10, 179 pounds), Weal gets a lot of his goal in the “dirty” areas in and around the net. His speed also has been effective in bringing the puck into the offensive zone.
Weal has been playing on a line with captain Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. Here is a remarkable statistic: Weal has as many goals in 10 games with the Flyers as Giroux has scored since Christmas.
OH, WHAT A NIGHT: Defenseman Radko Gudas had quite a night Tuesday during the Flyers’ 6-3 victory over the Sabres. He scored a goal, assisted on two goals and registered a plus-5 in plus-minus rating. Defensive partner Michael Del Zotto was also plus-5 against the Sabres.
HEARTBREAKER: The game that may have broken the Flyers’ backs in terms of the playoff chase was Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Bruins. The teams seemed head for overtime until Drew Stafford’s shot from the right boards deflected off defenseman Brandon Manning’s stick and past goalie Steve Mason, who almost certainly would have stopped the shot if Manning hadn’t made an ill-advised attempt to block it with his stick, with 5.6 seconds remaining. Instead of picking up a point or two, the Flyers left without a point while falling further behind the Bruins.
FLAMES ARE SMOKIN’ HOT: What do the Flyers need to make the playoffs? They need a streak like the Flames are on right now. Entering Sunday, the Flames are on a nine-game winning streak. The streak has elevated them into second place in the Pacific Division and, at the very least, comfortably in wild card position.
TOUGH WEEK: The Flyers’ week could get off to a rough start, with home games Monday (7 p.m.) against the Blue Jackets and Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) against the Penguins. If the Flyers are able to emerge from those two games with two or three points, they could find an opportunity to gain ground Thursday (7 p.m.) at New Jersey and Sunday (7:30 p.m.) at home against the Hurricanes.