December 22, 2016

Heading into holiday road trip, Flyers find themselves in a good spot

Flyers NHL

The last two seasons, the Flyers have hit the road for the Ice Capades road trip with a bang. Last year, they came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the St. Louis Blues. Last night, they defeated the same Washington Capitals that eliminated them in six games last April in a shootout:

Here’s the good news: The Flyers are way ahead of their pace from last season. The win over St. Louis in December 2015 gave the Orange and Black 37 points in 34 games, good for an 89-point pace. Now they have 44 points in 35 games, which is a 103-point pace.

That is where the Flyers’ recent 10-game winning streak comes into play. Even during the slow start, Dave Hakstol and his players said they were playing good hockey. They don’t see a ton of difference between Monday’s loss to Nashville and Wednesday’s win over the Caps.

“You are not going to win all of the hockey games,” Hakstol said. “We played a good hockey game the other night and lost in the shootout. Tonight, we played a good hockey game and won in a shootout. There is not a whole lot of difference there. I mean every night it is so close. The margins of separation between a win and a loss is to the experience thus far this year, it has been pretty tight.”

Still, you have to start banking points at some point if the playoffs are the goal. And with a 9-10-3 start, the Flyers had dug themselves a bit of a hole. To get back onto solid footing with essentially one goaltender (Steve Mason) and without the services perhaps the team’s most important two-way forward (Sean Couturier) has been critical.

Since the streak started, Mason is 9-1-1 with a .932 save percentage. After another solid performance by his goaltender, the captain was asked about Mason’s recent play.

“I think in general he’s playing some really good hockey and some saves out there, you’re kind of shaking you’re head like that was actually pretty sick,” Claude Giroux said.

Last season, the Flyers needed a strong closing kick to get to 96 points and the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. This year, they just need to maintain their current pace. Hockey Reference currently has the Flyers at 67.4 chance of making the playoffs.

Seem low? Well, that is because the Metropolitan Division can only send five teams to the playoffs. And while the Flyers were able to earn some ground on the bottom three teams in the division during the winning streak, they didn’t gain on the likes of Pittsburgh (8-0-2 in their last 10), Columbus (10-game winning streak), Washington (6-2-2) and the Rangers (7-3-0).

To close, the Flyers have 24 division games in their final 47, including 13 against that top four.

“When guys get confident, I think there’s always, you know, you’ve got that winning feeling and it’s a nice feeling to have in the locker room whether we’re up one or down one or whatever the circumstances may be,” Brayden Schenn said. “We’re finding ways right now and you need to get on these streaks throughout an 82-game season to propel yourself forward for the playoff run.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann