Consecutive wins for Sixers, who host Timberwolves on Saturday

Flyers Notebook: Difficult March ahead

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 7

For the Flyers, the March schedule roared in like a lion. Yet it never really transforms into a lamb.

In other words, if the Flyers make the playoffs, they’re going to have to earn it.

After a fantastic February, during which the Flyers went 10-1-2, the Flyers lost to the visiting Hurricanes on March 1. That loss, which ended a six-game winning streak, was the Flyers’ first loss in regulation since Feb. 1.

The Flyers then lost a pair of games in Florida last weekend. They suffered a 7-6 defeat against the NHL-leading Lightning in a shootout, and then dropped a 4-1 decision to the Panthers, a team surging toward playoff contention. That loss left the Flyers with 79 points, where they sit two points behind the first-place Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and one point behind the second-place Penguins.

The Flyers return home Wednesday (8 p.m.), but they hardly get a break. They will host the Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Less than 24 hours later, the Flyers will meeting the Bruins, the NHL’s hottest team since December, in Boston (7 p.m.).

The Flyers will return home on Saturday (1 p.m.) to host the Jets. Two nights later, they host Las Vegas (7 p.m.). Those games didn’t seem so imposing when the schedule came out, but the Jets and Golden Knights each have 89 points, putting the Jets in second place in the Central Division and the Golden Knights in first place in the Pacific. Finishing out that week, the Flyers will host the Blue Jackets on Thurs., March 15 and then play back-to-back games on the weekend on the road against the Hurricanes and back home against the first-place Capitals.

To sum up the first 18 days of March, the Flyers play three teams currently leading their divisions, three teams currently in second place and four teams battling for wild card berths. That schedule includes three sets of back-to-back games. There will be another set of back-to-back games at the end of March, as the Flyers conclude a five-game stretch that includes four road games.

It’s a good thing the Flyers put themselves in prime playoff position during February because March could be a rough month.


HELP ON THE WAY: Forward Wayne Simmonds, who has missed the past seven games, is expected to return for Wednesday’s game against the Penguins. Although rookie Nolan Patrick filled in admirably in Simmonds’ role on the first power play unit, the Flyers have missed Simmonds’ toughness. Furthermore, his absence affects the Flyers’ scoring depth. Their third and fourth lines haven’t produced many goals lately.


DEFENSIVE NEEDS: One area where Simmonds can’t help is on defense. The Flyers have allowed 15 goals during their three March defeats. Although goalie Petr Mrazek could play better than he did during those three losses, the bulk of the blame falls on the players in front of him.

With Andrew MacDonald sidelined against the Panthers on Sunday due to an “upper body” injury, the Flyers were particularly susceptible to the long stretch pass. To make matters worse, veteran Johnny Oduya, making his Flyers debut in that game, was injured against the Panthers.

If those injuries linger, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers recall Travis Sanheim from the Phantoms. Since being sent to the Phantoms, Sanheim has been terrific. But one of Sanheim’s problems when he played for the Flyers was a propensity for making crucial mistakes in his own end. The Flyers’ recent problems include turnovers at center ice and in their own zone, with a failure to get the puck out of the zone being a major issue. Veteran T.J. Brennan, who signed a multi-year contract extension on Tuesday, might be the choice to be called up if injuries leave the Flyers shorthanded on the blue line.

It should be noted that all of the mistakes aren’t being made by defensemen. The forwards are responsible for many of the turnovers at center ice and a failure to get the puck out of the zone.


GHOST’S GESTURE: Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere invited members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hockey team to the Flyers’ game against the Panthers on Sunday, and then met with the team after the game. Gostisbehere attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the site of the horrific shooting that killed 17 students last month, for two years. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas team won the state hockey championship and has advanced to national competition.


THE ROARING 20s: Center Sean Couturier has been stuck on 29 goals for the past eight games, his longest scoring drought this season. It’s worth noting that Couturier has a plus-5 plus/minus rating during his eight-game scoreless streak, so his overall game has not suffered.


DEPTH ISSUES: As noted earlier, the Flyers would be helped greatly by increased production from their third and fourth lines. If you take away Nolan Patrick’s power play goals while Wayne Simmonds has been sidelined, the Flyers haven’t received much scoring from any forward beyond the top two lines except for Jori Lehtera, who scored his first two goals of the season. Defensemen have been scoring, but not many goals have been coming from the forwards besides Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Patrick and Travis Konecny.


EASTERN PLAYOFF RACE: Although the Flyers are just two points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division, they are only eight points ahead of the first team outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The top three teams in the Atlantic Division – the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs – seem safely in playoff position, while the bottom teams are at least 10 points out of playoff position, so the battle for playoff berths comes down to the Metropolitan Division.

Entering Wednesday’s games, the Capitals lead the Metropolitan, one point ahead of the Penguins and two ahead of the Flyers (79 points). The Devils (76) occupy the first wild card berth. The Blue Jackets occupy the second wild card berth (73). The Panthers (71) are barely outside the playoff picture, but they have three games in hand on all of the other teams in the wild card battle. The Hurricanes (69), Islanders (67) and Rangers (66) round out the teams chasing the Devils and Blue Jackets.


WESTERN PLAYOFF RACE: There is also a tight race for playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Stars (80 points) and Kings (77) currently occupy the two wild card berths. But the Avalanche (77), Blues (75) and Flames (75) are nipping at their heels. The Blues are trying to pull out of a tailspin that has taken them from near the top of the standings to outside the playoff race.

In the Pacific Division, the Ducks (80) and Sharks (79) certainly aren’t out of the woods. They have a lot of work to do to remain in the playoff picture.

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