After a dismal month of March that saw the Flyers lose 10 of their 17 games played, it felt like nothing could stop the bleeding. They sat fifth in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division standings and after a quiet trade deadline passed them by, Alain Vigneault was left to shuffle his deck over and over in the hopes that he might finally land a good hand and find whatever ingredients have been missing. While the overall picture doesn’t look drastically different, April has been a different story.
The Flyers are now 3-5-3 in their last 11 games and have slipped to sixth in the Eastern Division, with playoffs slowly becoming a pipedream. Unfortunately, this is a reality that is slowly setting in at the worst possible time. After escaping a grueling run of four games in six days with just two points, there are only eleven games remaining for the Flyers to try and change their fortunes and begin building for next season. If there is a positive to take, it’s that there are signs of life.
An OT loss to the Islanders was not the result Philadelphia needed this past weekend, nor the one they deserved. They created plenty of scoring opportunities, shooting the puck 51 times and looking lethal on 5-on-5. It just so happened that in the one game the Flyers look like the team that heroically mustered a dominant win-streak towards the end of last season, Ilya Sorokin decided to turn into a Brick wall. The next challenge for the Flyers is keeping heads up and spirits high after clearly taking some significant steps forward over the past week or so.
“We are running on fumes right now. So, we need to reenergize here.” Alain Vigneault said after the loss to the Islanders. For the first time in a long time, we’re going to have 3 days in between games. That is going to be beneficial for us. Then after that what you have to do is you have to stay in the present. There are still 11 games right now to be played. You got to play one game at a time and focus on that. That’s what we’re going to try to do. Stay in the present and do our jobs.”
In the grand scheme of things, it feels like AV’s decisions have paid off. If the main challenge facing the team is to sustain their current level of effort, then the bigger questions no longer need to be asked.
- The benching of Carter Hart, for example, was hugely beneficial to the young goalie. Since his return, he’s posted a .909 save percentage across five games, which is a significant boost over his season average of .877.
- Shayne Gostisbehere’s waiving caused pandemonium at the time, but with Erik Gustafsson no longer around, Ghost is back partnering Sam Morin on the third line on a regular basis.
- The Flyers now have a shot differential of +25! This is a huge contrast to the -101 that it was back in January. Defensively, the team have taken great strides, having only conceded 33 goals through their past 11 games. If we compare that to the 69 allowed through a March where they went 6-9-1, the writing is on the wall.
- Wade Allison’s call-up has injected a new lease of life into the offense and combined with Joel Farabee’s breakout season, it makes for a solid foundation of promise to build on.
The Flyers aren’t perfect…in fact, they’re very far from it. But if we compare their situation now to the one we had at the start of the month where one goal given up in the opening few minutes would lead to a 4-goal deficit within minutes, there have been some notable change. They still struggle mightily against the Caps and are only just about able to hang with the Islanders, but the resiliency of the core group is beginning to shine.
“I thought the lines showed really good chemistry.” Brian Elliott said after this weekend’s loss to New York. “I thought they worked really well together. We blocked shots. We did all the right things we talked about in the locker room. That’s what makes a game like this tough where you do so many things right and you come away with just one point. We just can’t ride a rollercoaster right now. We have to stay at even keel and just bring it next game, the same type of game we played tonight, and just try not to get too low. Try not to get too high and just go about business like we did tonight.
The Flyers won’t make the playoffs this year and have fallen drastically short of expectations, granted. But for the time being, it looks as though the storms are calming and the worst of it appears to be in the rear-view mirror. It’s not the ending that fans wanted, but it also might not be they lay up at night in fear of.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre