It was at this exact point in the schedule a year ago when the wheels started to fall off the Flyers' season.
Coming out of their 10-game winning streak, the Flyers had positioned themselves nicely for the playoff push over the final 46 games of the regular season. The had a similar stretch of three games over four days — where they finished 1-1-1 — heading into the holiday shutdown period. At that time, they occupied one of the three automatic playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division.
And then something happened.
“Reflecting on last year, you want to learn from your mistakes,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said Wednesday. “I think we maybe got a little complacent after those 10 games. We kinda got away from the things that were making us successful. Sometimes when it comes off the rails, it’s tough to put it back on. We found that out the hard way last year, and we certainly don’t want that to happen again.”
Coming out of the Christmas break, the Flyers performed as if they were trying to burn off the extra calories of holiday eggnog. As they slumped into the New Year, they proceeded to win just two of their next 11 games and finished with a 19-21-6 record.
The Flyers believe they can learn from last season’s mistakes, and that includes bearing down on the final three games this week, including another back-to-back on the road against the Sabres and Blue Jackets.
“We know it’s the last push before we get a break. Everything, your mind, has got to be on hockey. Everything’s dialed in. You barely practice. You just play the game. That’s my favorite part of it,” forward Michael Raffl said.
“Now it ramps up. It’s a push toward the playoffs. Most of them are four-point games now, so it’s getting more and more important. It’s intense. You can feel it around here right now.”
Despite a 10-game losing streak that started in mid-November this season, the Flyers can pull within two points of the Eastern Conference's final wild-card position with a win Wednesday against Detroit. They don’t want to be slumping.
“At the end of December, you’re six or seven points out, it’s extremely hard to get into the playoffs," forward Dale Weise said. “I think we’re very fortunate where we’re at right now. Obviously, that six-game winning streak put us in a good spot, and we obviously have to find a way to string wins together.”
After this weekend, the Flyers' schedule will come to a grinding halt. While the team is currently in the midst of a seven-game, 12-day grind, the Flyers' next seven games coming out of the Christmas break will stretch out over a 23-day period.
“No, I don’t think there’s a balance there,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “The breaks — that’s part of our schedule. That’s the complete 180-degree different animal to what we’re dealing with when you’re in a real busy stretch.”
More importantly, how the rookies and younger players adapt to this fluctuating part of the schedule, checking becomes tighter and the intensity grows with more intra-conference games, that will ultimately define how the Flyers' season plays out.
“I think it’s part of learning,” MacDonald said. “I think you have to find out what it takes game in and game out. You really got to find out what works for you. Collectively, as a team, we have to stay focused and committed, whether that’s in the video room or looking out for yourself.”