The door is opening back up for the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference playoff race. A three-game point streak of two wins and an overtime loss to the best team in the league, a hot goalie and a few deadline additions have the Flyers optimistic for that eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
The Flyers currently sit just three points behind the New York Islanders, who hold that second wild card spot in the east. There are three teams between the Flyers and Islanders, however: Toronto, Florida and Tampa Bay. All three teams are full of doubts, though. Toronto has been floundering recently with five straight losses, the Flyers just bested the Panthers, and Tampa Bay sold a few pieces at the deadline and should start sliding after a strong stretch.
The Flyers were written off just over a week ago after an embarrassing loss on the national stage at the Stadium Series, but they’re inching their way back into the picture.
One of the keys to the recent success of the Flyers and their positive outlook moving forward is new second-line center Valtteri Filppula. Filppula gives the Flyers stability down the middle, taking some pressure off both Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. He also adds some scoring depth to the team. He has impressed in two games with the Flyers, including an important game-tying goal in his debut.
Filppula gives the Flyers forward lines a new look to them. Rather than having a top six and a bottom six, the Flyers have three solid lines up top, giving them more of a top nine and a bottom three.
The Flyers lineup has been injected with the help of another high-scoring forward as well in Travis Konecny. Konecny returned to the lineup on Saturday night after missing less than his estimated four to six weeks. He was on the fourth line in his first game back, but once he gets eased back in you should see him in the middle-six for the Flyers.
While Filppula will make an impact down the stretch, another player extended at the trade deadline will take a back seat. It has been Steve Mason, not the newly-inked Michal Neuvirth, who has carried the Flyers in the past three games. Mason made 33 saves to shutout the Avalanche last Tuesday, stopped 39 of 40 shots in 65 minutes and then two more in the shootout for the win on Thursday, and stopped 22 of 24 shots, including a few big saves, in Saturday’s overtime loss.
The future of Mason in Philadelphia looks unclear after Neuvirth’s signing, but he doesn’t looked bothered by it. In fact, he looks motivated. Mason spent six straight games on the bench prior to his shutout last Tuesday and it doesn’t look like he wants to give up the crease.
While they’ve just begun to find some success on the scoreboard and in the win column, they’ve held firm in their belief for some time that they’re playing good hockey. And for the most part they have been. They’ve been in most of their recent games, even against tough opponents, with one play here or there changing the entire game.
They definitely haven’t been getting the results that they deserve at times. They’ve outshot their opponent in each of their last seven losses, but poor puck luck and a few soft goals have shifted the momentum of the game.
The Flyers are among the best teams in the league in corsi for percentage. Corsi for percentage (CF%) measures a team’s shot attempts against their opponents. If a team has as many shot attempts for as they do against, their CF will be 50%. If a team has six shot attempts to their opponents’ four, their CF will be 60%.
The Flyers have the sixth best CF% in the league at 51.6%. The process has been there for the Flyers in generating shot attempts and suppressing their opponent, but the results haven’t been there. They have 51.6% of the shot attempts, but just 41.6% of the goals. Only the lowly Colorado Avalanche are worse, at 36.2%
So what gives?
Well, the Flyers are in the bottom four teams in the league in both 5v5 shooting percentage and save percentage, giving them a PDO of 97.2, 29th in the league. PDO essentially measures luck by adding up a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage. Ideally, over time a team’s PDO should regress to 100, but skill can play a factor as well.
Many people have been quick to blame Dave Hakstol’s system, but the team is generating shot attempts without getting the luck. They may take too many point shots at times, but their expected goals for, which takes into account shot quality, is at 48.88%. Their shot locations may not always be the best, but they’re getting their chances and just running into a stream of bad luck and poor finishing.
But that could change soon.
The Flyers’ corsi for percentage and PDO have been mirroring each other all season long.
When the Flyers were playing well and generating more shot attempts, they weren’t getting the luck. Then they went on that big 10-game win streak which had many believing in them, but that was during their worst stretch of shot-attempt differential of the season. That of course also coincided with their best PDO, or luck, of the season.
Since then they have picked it up a bit. They’ve been playing strong hockey since late January but the results aren’t showing. However, with the Flyers newfound confidence, top-three lines and strong goaltending from Steve Mason, the run to the playoffs isn’t looking too farfetched.
The Flyers (30-26-8) currently have 68 points in 64 games. At that pace they would finish the season with 87 points, easily short of the playoffs, but they have shown that they can get hot and go on a run.
Since the new playoff-seeding format after the lockout-shortened season, the second place wild card team in the east has had 93 (Columbus and Detroit in 2014), 98 (Pittsburgh in 2015), and 93 (Detroit in 2016) points. The current pace has the second wild card spot needing 91 points, but it could increase as teams heat up.
93 points seems like a good benchmark to go off of. With that, the Flyers would need 25 points in 18 games. That would take somewhere between 10 and 12 wins as well as a few overtime losses. The Flyers ended last season with a 15-5-3 run, including 11-4-3 in their final 18 games, to make the playoffs. A similar 11-4-3 stretch, giving them 25 points, should hopefully be good enough to make the playoffs again this season.
It wasn’t an easy road for them last season, and it won’t be this year either. The Flyers have a few easier opponents left on their schedule, but they also play the Penguins and Blue Jackets twice each.
The remaining 18 games for the Flyers can be broken down a bit into different segments.
First and foremost we have the end of this road trip. The next three games are all “must wins” of sorts for the Flyers. They are all teams that still have a shot in the playoff race. The Sabres are two points behind the Flyers and the Leafs are two points ahead of the Flyers, while the Bruins are streaking in the Atlantic Divison. If the Flyers can get at least four points out of the three games they’ll still be in good position.
After that the Flyers have two of their toughest games left of the season. Home games against the Blue Jackets and Penguins will be crucial for the orange and black. Two losses could be devastating to the Flyers’ chances, while a split would give them life and just a lone point could still keep them alive.
Following that is a three-game swing against non-playoff teams. The Devils game is the night following the matchup against the Penguins, so that could be a tough one. But games against Carolina and Winnipeg, both who average a point per game or less, will be a huge opportunity for the Flyers to get four points. Four points would be good for the Flyers, but a clean sweep or 2-1-0 would push the Flyers further towards the playoffs.
From there they continue their road trip out west against three tough teams, including those divisional rivals again. The Flyers need to grind out a few points there, with everything else being gravy.
The Flyers’ penultimate homestand could be a big one. Two games against teams they could be battling with for a playoff spot, and then the lowly Devils. Five points would be huge for the orange and black.
Finally, we have the final stretch. Two games up north followed by two games at home. By that point the Flyers’ playoff fate will be much clearer, but nearly a month away they look like four big games that the Flyers would need to get several points out of.
If the Flyers can get those 24 points, they’ll have a fighting chance for the final playoff spot. Obviously things can go topsy turvy with some detours along the way, but this is just a forecast for the Flyers’ playoff chances.
The Flyers’ playoff chances are not dead yet. They have added two forwards into the lineup, a trade deadline piece and a return from injury, and they are riding the hot hand of Steve Mason. Their strong play could carry them to the postseason.
The Flyers have been in this position before. It will be an uphill battle to the playoffs, but it should be one hell of a ride.
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