The Flyers are a frustrating team at the moment. What is perhaps the most frustrating thing about them is that no one has any clue what team is going to show up at any given point. After a terrible 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on February 16th, captain Claude Giroux called out his teammates after the game saying that everyone, including himself, needed to step up and play better. How did they respond? They went out and dominated the New York Islanders 7-0 the following Monday. Giroux had two goals and an assist in the process.
As promising as the Islanders win was for the team, they had a tall task in front of them two nights later as they headed to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins in a game that many called a measuring stick game to see how good the Flyers really were. They fell behind 2-0 early but fought back to take the lead. They blew the lead then took the lead right back in an exciting 6-5 victory. When everything seemed to be going their way, they came home to Philadelphia to host the Florida Panthers on Thursday and were blown out 5-2. How’d they respond? They won a gritty 5-3 game on Saturday against the Jets. The only natural response to Saturday’s win would be the lackluster 4-2 loss to Toronto on Monday.
The scary thing is that all the events just covered happened in the last 10 days. This has been going on all season. The Flyers have yet to win three consecutive games this season but they have had two separate three-game losing streaks. Even the criticism isn’t consistent this year. At the beginning of the year most of the criticism was that the Flyers were not scoring and could not kill power plays. Now their penalty kill is a major strength as the Flyers are 53-for-58 (91.4%) over their last 13 games. They have started scoring as they are 10th in the league in goals per game (2.9).
The person who could not be criticized early on this year was goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov was spectacular early on this year and kept the Flyers in games that their play in front of him dictated that they had no business being in. In his 11 games through February 9th, Bryzgalov had nine games with a .900 or better save percentage and the other two games he posted a save percentage of .885. In the eight games since February 11th, he has topped .900 save percentage three times while the other five games have been .857 or worse. Of those five games, he has posted a .778 save percentage or worse in three of the games while getting pulled in two of them. It is reasonable to assume that Bryzgalov is fatigued as he has started a league high 19 games this year. His 19 games played are more games than 17 of the other 29 teams have played! Sure, he is probably tired; however, that does not make him immune to criticism. His inconsistent play recently has not helped the Flyers overall inconsistent play.
The fact remains that the Flyers have missed the playoffs just once since 1994 and currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with the same number of points (19) as eighth place Tampa Bay. They have less time to work with as they approach the midpoint in their season and the sense of urgency needs to get there and get there fast. There are some bright spots for the team as they move closer to the home stretch. They got last year’s leading scorer Scott Hartnell back on Saturday while Jakub Voracek has been on fire lately, registering a point in each of the last six games (three or more points in three of the games). Andrej Meszaros has resumed skating with the team but is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Matt Read is still out for another five weeks but he is one week closer to returning.
One thing the Flyers should keep in the back of their minds is that it isn’t how you start but how you finish. If the Flyers can stay within striking distance then get hot for the playoffs, all bets are off and it is anyone’s game. The last time the Flyers made the Stanley Cup Finals they were the No. 7 seed and got into the playoffs on the last day of the year. Last year’s most dominant playoff team was the Los Angeles Kings, who got hot at the end of the regular season, snuck into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, and then ran the table. It is the hot team at the end of the season that is the most dangerous come playoff time. There’s still time for the Flyers to get hot and turn it around. Ideally, it will start tomorrow night at 7:30 pm at the Wells Fargo Center against the Washington Capitals.
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