It’s January 30th. The Philadelphia Flyers are nine points out of a playoff spot. They’ve also played four more games than the team they are closest to in the standings. None of that bodes well for them. Another thing that doesn’t really give anybody a whole lot of hope? The fact that they’ve only won three games in a row three times this season prior to their current three game winning streak.
That being said, the team is 6-4-0 in their last 10, 7-5-0 in the month of January with one game left to play, and their schedule from here until the end of February looks pretty favorable. The Flyers have 13 games between now and February 28th, with only five of them against teams in playoff position and seven against teams who are not. If the Flyers can win all seven games against non-playoff teams in the Toronto Maple Leafs (two games), the Buffalo Sabres (two games), the Columbus Blue Jackets (two games), and the Carolina Hurricanes (one game) and just two or three of the games against those who are currently in the playoff picture, it’s a definite possibility that come March, we’ll be talking more about how they can get in and who they’ll face in the first round than which high first-round choice they’ll have.
Another thing that’s ever-so-slightly encouraging? They’ve outshot their opponents in four of their last six contests and while they lost the shot battle last night, the teams were even through two periods of play. What’s more is they’ve gotten offensive contributions from a variety of sources as 11 different Flyers have scored a goal in their last five contests, and 19 different players adding a point. Of the 19 goals they’ve scored over their past five games, only six of them have come on the man-advantage meaning that they’ve scored 68% of their goals in even strength situations. Depth? Check. Goals at even strength? Check. This team isn’t relying on special teams to win games anymore, and that’s a huge difference from last year.
But concerning special teams, what about the Flyers’ penalty kill, which has struggled mightily this year? Well, they’ve only allowed three power play markers in the last five games, and have killed 16 of their last 19 man-down situations for an 84.2% kill rate. And while they aren’t relying on their power play to win games necessarily, they have been clicking lately, scoring at least one power play goal in each of the last five games and converting on 37.5% of their opportunities. That number will surely be falling back down towards their season average of 23.7%, but still it’s a pretty good clip and it deserves to be praised for its exceedingly high-efficiency at the moment.
Now while this year’s Flyers team isn’t very good, you also have to consider that they’ve played all year without their best defenseman in Kimmo Timonen and 38% of their games without Braydon Coburn who, for all of his faults, is either the Flyers’ second or third best defenseman depending on how and where Mark Streit fits into the equation. With news this week that the organization’s top pair might actually play together this season, add that in with the Flyers’ February schedule and their new found sense of urgency, confidence, and overall feistiness, could this team do the unthinkable and make the playoffs? Could they do it despite looking like a team destined for a top-five pick for the second straight year? It’s an irrational thought. A really, really irrational thought at this point in the season. But when you look at the numbers, when you look at the news, when you look at the way they’ve played lately, and when you look at the rest of the Eastern Conference (I mean really, take a second and just look at it), maybe it’s worth rationalizing the irrational.