In the immortal words of legendary Eagles announcer Merrill Reese, “It’s goooooooooooooooooood!”
Yes, that’s true about the local football club, but also at this moment of the local hockey club, the Flyers, who rode into the weekend’s All-Star break winners of three of their four games last week and winners of eight out of 10 overall.
Last week included a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils last Saturday afternoon in South Philly, a 2-1 OT win in Washington over the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals last Sunday afternoon, a 3-2 OT triumph over the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday evening and a manhandled 5-1 defeat at home at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night.
But even that ugly thud had a tough time souring the good vibes the Flyers have piled up recently, especially over the last week and change.
So let’s jump right in and dissect because Flyers Weekly Observations are back.
• There has been no greater revelation for the Flyers over the last week, and dating back before that, than Travis Konecny. The 20-year-old winger has just been setting the ice ablaze for the Flyers recently. He’s now up to 10 goals and 12 assists on the campaign. So where was this earlier in the season?
Well, for starters, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to contribute in this fashion when you’re getting third- and fourth-line minutes and having your ice time cut dramatically in the third period and in OT.
But when you put someone who possesses the offensive flair of the high-risk, high-reward Konecny alongside stars who can score and play both sides of the ice like Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, it fosters the perfect environment for Konecny to blossom. While his lineup decisions have rightfully raised eyebrows in the past, Dave Hakstol deserves credit for this one. It’s allowed Konecny to play to his strengths. And when he plays to his strengths, the confidence exudes by Olympic long jumper-sized leaps and bounds.
And that confidence was on full display this week with tallies in all four games. His game-winner in Washington was a thing of beauty, as he powered through a defender at center ice, weaved his way into the slot and fired a wrister past Braden Holtby. Chances are Konecny wouldn’t have had the confidence to even try that earlier in the year, let alone be on the ice in OT. Same goes for his winner in Detroit two nights later when he made the smart play and got back onside before firing the puck home.
A confident Travis Konecny is a dangerous Travis Konecny, and the Flyers have a dangerous Travis Konecny on their hands.
• There’s an old adage that says the good teams find ways to win games they have no business winning. The Flyers did just that twice this week — Sunday in D.C. and Tuesday in Detroit.
On Sunday, the Caps fired 28 shots Brian Elliott’s way and he was a brick wall to keep the Flyers in the game. The Caps were controlling the flow and pace and the ice was tipped in their favor after Michael Raffl’s tally early in the second period. The Flyers had 23 shots of their own, but nowhere near the quality of chances the Caps had. But still, they persevered and stole one from the division leader. There’s something to be said for that.
In Detroit two nights later, the typically underwhelming Red Wings brought it and the Flyers were fortunate to have the game head to OT with the way they were playing late. Remember, Tyler Bertuzzi had a glorious chance late, but couldn’t finish with a basically wide-open net. But Elliott stood tall again and the Flyers left the Motor City with two more points.
If the Flyers want to instill belief, winning games like these are a good way to do just that.
• With as well as the Flyers have played recently, they are still prone to their hiccups and duds thanks to their noted inconsistency. Remember the beatdown they took at the hands of the Rangers at MSG a few weeks ago? Well, the league-best Lightning showed the Flyers who’s boss Thursday.
Tampa asserted control early and often while jumping to a 3-0 lead and Andrei Vasilevskiy locked the vault in net. The Flyers threw 37 shots at him, but he had every answer save for one.
The Lightning surely remembered how the Flyers stormed into Tampa after Christmas and ended the Bolts’ long home win streak. So consider this one payback.
And consider it a lesson learned for the Flyers because they got walloped in all phases on home ice by the league’s measuring stick.
• One absolute must for the Flyers heading into the second half of the season while pushing toward the playoffs: fix the black eye that is the penalty kill.
Here at the All-Star break, the Flyers’ penalty kill is sporting a 75.3 percent success rate, “good” for the fourth-worst mark in the NHL. Only the Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers have worse PKs.
That number just isn’t anywhere near good enough for a team that has its sights set on a serious playoff push.
That’s something that can be a serious Achilles Heel down the stretch here and cost the Flyers games. And every point will be oh-so-precious as the months and days of the season continue to drip away.
And that’s especially true with the parity right now in the Metropolitan Division. Speaking of which …
• That’s what we in the business call a “tease.” Anyway, back to the point at hand …
After the Flyers beat the Red Wings on Tuesday, they vaulted into third place in the Metro with 56 points. It was the highest they’ve been in the standings since the end of the 2013-14 regular season, a span of nearly four calendar years.
Two days later after the regulation loss to Tampa, the Flyers fell to the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dangling on to a playoff spot by just a single point. Parity anyone?
Chew on this for a bit: Washington leads the division at the break with 63 points. The New York Islanders are two spots out of the playoffs with 55 points. Just eight points separate first in the Metro and two spots out of the playoffs. Heck, just two measly points separate second-place Columbus, which has 57 points, and two spots out of the playoffs.
What I’m saying is this division is wide open. Am I saying the Flyers are the best in it? Nope. But it is still wide open for the taking. It’s anyone’s ballgame. And the Flyers still have 17 games left in the division. It’s on them to make their move.
Coming up this week: Wednesday at Washington (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Thursday at New Jersey (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Ottawa (1 p.m. on NBCSP).