January 08, 2018

Flyers showing signs of life entering their bye week

Flyers NHL
010817_Flyers-Coots_usat Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) celebrates his first-period goal against the New York Islanders.

It’s taken a little time, and some considerable angst and embarrassment along with it. But once again, there seems to be a glimmer of postseason hope with the 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers. A week ago, this enigmatic team lost four of five. Now, as has happened numerous time this topsy-turvy season, the Flyers have shown signs that they could be a playoff team this year.

The Flyers are riding a three-game winning streak into their bye week and sit in a three-way tie for fourth place in the NHL Eastern Conference Metropolitan Division with Carolina and the New York Islanders, each with 46 points. More importantly, the Flyers are tied with Carolina for the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference, with the Hurricanes holding a game-in-hand edge. 

The Flyers’ 19-15-8 record was bolstered with recent victories over the Islanders (6-4), St. Louis (6-3) and Buffalo (4-1) on Sunday. 

They’re doing it behind the stellar play from Sean Couturier, who’s already exceeded his previous career highs in points (42) and goals (23) for a season in just 42 games, and Claude Giroux, who turns 30 next week but has been playing like the “G” of old. His 51 points (14 goals, 37 assists) are currently third in the NHL, and the Flyers captain is projected to equal his career-best in goals (28) and exceed his career-high assists total (currently 65 in 2011-12 to a projected 74). He could reach over 100 points this season — exceeding the career-best 93-point mark he achieved in 2011-12. 

Add in the stable goaltending of Brian Elliott and it's possible that the Flyers if they can manage to keep this pace, could finish with over 90 points and a seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs.

Just twice in the last 22 games, the Flyers emerged from the first period with a lead, regardless of who they were playing. One of those came during their current three-game winning streak when the Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 lead over St. Louis on their way to snapping the Blues’ own three-game winning streak with a 6-3 victory. 

That's been key during their current streak, as they haven't trailed after the first period in any of the three games – they were tied with the Islanders and Sabres after the first 20 minutes. 

That's certainly better than playing from behind, which the Flyers had placed themselves throughout much of this season. 

“We have everyone going early in the game, guys are ready and they’re coming out strong and we establish our game,” said Couturier, who’s scored four goals in the last two games. “It obviously helps a lot to get a good start, and you go from there. This is huge for us. It’s easy to talk and say we could have been better at times earlier in the year. 

“It’s what we do from now on that pretty much matters. [Reaching 20 goals] is obviously an accomplishment in this league. Giroux creates a lot of things for us on this line. I always knew I could produce more. I was just hoping to get the opportunity and capitalize on it. The last two or three years I felt pretty good. You go through stretches that are tougher than others, but I felt my offensive game was getting better. 

“I think injuries the last two years didn’t help. You get slowed down when you’re not quite 100% and you’re battling back to get back into a rhythm. I feel healthy and can hopefully keep going. I want to do anything I can to help the team.” 

Giroux, too, appears finally healthy. He has made the transition from center to left wing this season. That seems to have opened up areas of the ice. Every time he’s on, Giroux is producing, whether it’s setting a teammate up, scoring a goal or keeping sustained pressure on the opposition. 

Asked where he feels this team is at the midway point, Giroux said, “I can’t really say good, because we’re not in the position that we want to be. I think how we’re built as a team, how we got together and play how we’re playing right now it’s easy to say we’re playing well. But I think we can definitely build on this and keep getting better.

“Yes, I think we are a playoff team, even when we were losing 10 in a row. We couldn’t find a way, but the way we were playing, we weren’t playing terrible. There’s still a lot of hockey left to play. We have to grind it out a little bit more.”

 For the Flyers, that grind resumes on Saturday night when they visit the Devils.


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