The Flyers have won just once since their historic 10-game win streak. After defeating Colorado on December 14, the Flyers lost at Dallas three days later, before returning home and losing to Nashville in a shootout on December 19. Two days later, the Flyers beat rival Washington — tied on points in the wild card race with four games in hand — in another shootout, before falling 4-0 at New Jersey in the final game before the brief Christmas break.
In their first game back from six days off, the Flyers fell to St. Louis 6-3 on Wednesday, despite opening the game with an early Wayne Simmonds goal and, after falling down 2-1 on two power play goals for the Blues, tying the contest at 2-2 in the second period and taking a 3-2 lead on a power play goal by Brayden Schenn with just four minutes gone in the third.
Then things started to fall apart. The Flyers gave up the tying goal just 100 seconds after they went ahead, then the Blues re-took the lead just 80 seconds after that on a goal by former Flyer Scottie Upshall. The Blues extended that lead with five minutes to play in the game, then added a sixth on Robby Fabbri’s third of the game into an open net a few minutes later.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) December 29, 2016
The Flyers are now tied for 24th in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.00) and tied for 23rd in shots allowed per game (28.8). The offense has carried the team much of the season, averaging 31 shots per game — 7th best in the league — and 2.95 goals per contest — the 6th best — but are one of just two teams in the top 10 in scoring to average more goals allowed than goals scored.
The other? St. Louis. (Sadly, not last night.)
Certainly giving up six in one game can skew those numbers. Entering Wednesday’s game the Flyers were averaging 2.94 goals per game while giving up 2.92, so small sample sizes being what they are, the stats look much worse today than they did yesterday. Still, there are concerns, especially on the defensive end, and particularly in the number of shots Steve Mason has been facing. Though Mason faced just 24 shots on Wednesday, four of the five goals he let up were redirected pucks, with the one clean shot he probably should have saved coming through a screen by two of his own defensemen after a turnover in the Flyers’ zone.
The Flyers are one of seven teams to have played 37 games this season, the most in the NHL heading into games on Thursday, and they’re one of just two teams, with Colorado, to have given up more than 110 goals. Unlike the Avalanche, which have just 70 goals scored, the Flyers have 109 goals scored, fourth best in the NHL.
The problem? The three teams ahead of them are all in the Metropolitan division.
The Flyers are 20-13-4 through 37 games, on 44 points in the Metro, good for sixth place in the conference, but fifth in their own division.
Dave Hakstol’s squad won ten straight games and a week later they haven’t made up one spot in the division. Even on the recent skid, the Flyers are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and that’s the fifth best run in the division. That’s…insane.
The Flyers earned 13 points in their last 10 games. They beat the Capitals in a shootout over this post-win-streak span yet Washington has, including that one point, 15 points in their last 10 games at 7-2-1. The Rangers stand at 49 points through 37 games and are 7-3-0 in their last 10, for 14 points, while Pittsburgh leads the division with 53 points in 37 games and went 7-1-2, for 16 points, in their last 10 games.
Oh, right, we skipped Columbus, which sits in second on 52 points in just 33 games. The Blue Jackets — and former Flyers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky — are 10-0-0 in their last 10 games, riding a current win streak of 13 into Thursday’s game at Winnipeg.
The Flyers won 10 straight games this month and it’s not even the longest win streak in December in their own division.
It’s remarkable just how good the top of the Metro division has been in 2016, but as the calendar turns to the new year, each of these teams will be tasked with facing the others more and more. Pittsburgh is 10-4-0 in games against the division this year and the Rangers are 8-5-0, but they are the only two teams to play more than a dozen games in the division.
Columbus has played just five games against the Metro, while they’ve faced teams in the Western conference 19 times in their 33 games. The Flyers have played just seven games against the Metro so far this season, giving them ample opportunity to make up ground in the division. Or, as it were, realize that the toughest set of opponents are yet to come.
The Flyers finish this road trip on December 30 at San Jose and January 1 at Anaheim, both in playoff spots in the Pacific, then return home for the Rangers and Lightning to kick off a stretch of seven games between January 4th and 15th, which includes three games in the division.
After their league-mandated five days off, the Flyers will return January 21 against the Devils and play another five games in 10 days to close out January, four in the division, that includes two back-to-back home and road sets. From February 2 through the end of the regular season in early April, there will be just two breaks with more than two days between games and both three-day rest periods precede back-to-back games.
Hakstol’s team is young, and after a rocky start to the season they’ve weathered the first half well, recent form over the holidays notwithstanding. The next 20 games, however, are going to really show him what he has with this group, and what he needs to get back to the playoffs this year. The Flyers haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2011-12, the last time they made it past the first round as well.
The NHL trade deadline is February 28th. By then, we should all know if the Flyers are contenders in the Metro division, or merely hanging on for fifth place. Oddly, given the way the year has gone so far, it could still be both by then.