When the Flyers begin the post-Christmas portion of their schedule Thursday night in Florida, they’ll be staring up at two Metropolitan Division teams (Rangers & Islanders) that are currently holding onto the two wild card positions in the Eastern Conference.
Despite their recent 10-game winless stretch, the Flyers find themselves within a reach of the postseason. Here’s how they can get there:
Dominate home ice
General manager Ron Hextall said earlier this season the Flyers need to improve on the road while also maintain at home. Through the first 36 games of the schedule, the Flyers have played better away from South Broad, but they haven’t exactly maintained that success at home like Hextall had anticipated.
Looking back over the past four seasons, the Flyers have finished with 55, 54, 53 and 51 points on home ice. In order to reach the 53-point mark on home ice this season, the Flyers need 33 points over their remaining 22 games at the Wells Fargo Center, a mark of 12-6-6 or something similar would get them there, preferably picking up two points against divisional opponents, starting with Pittsburgh on Jan. 2.
Improve penalty kill
In 2013-14, during Craig Berube’s first full season as head coach, the Flyers PK finished 7th in the NHL to help secure the second wild-card spot. During their final 29 games, they killed off an impressive 88.1 percent, and their 17-8-4 record during the stretch run reflected that.
Since that year, the Flyers PK has finished 27th, 20th, 21st and they’re currently 29th. There’s definitely room for improvement for a team that has already made strides defensively in their 5-on-5 play. As the league starts to bear down defensively, checking gets tighter, scoring will be harder to come by and special teams play will take on a greater emphasis. Finishing in the 20-22 range should be the aim from here on out.
Offense from supporting cast
Playoff teams can’t solely rely on one stacked line throughout the 82-game slate. Look at the 2014-15 Flyers team that saw Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek finish with 154 points combined and still found themselves 14 points out of a playoff spot.
Coming into this season, the players the Flyers were counting on to provide offensive assistance have failed to do so. Travis Konecny (four goals) and Jordan Weal (three goals) must increase their production over the next 40-plus games, while Nolan Patrick needs to be more assertive in the offensive end. The Flyers would certainly benefit from a little more offense out of their fourth line as well.
With 23 of the Flyers remaining 46 games coming against divisional opponents and 39 of 46 against the East, we’re about to discover just how vital those three-point games really are. Losing overtime/shootouts will result in a two-point swing, and as their 2-8 record would indicate, the Flyers have performed very poorly after regulation, where winning half of those eight games would have them currently tied for the wild card.
Of the six teams with seven or more losses after regulation this season, only the Ducks — who barely hanging on — currently occupy a playoff spot. Considering the Flyers' history and even their performance in the shootout this season, they’re clearly better equipped to win games in overtime.
A steady Elliott
Starting 28 of the Flyers' first 36 games, Brian Elliott has clearly established himself as the Flyers’ No.1 netminder and can be counted on as the team’s most reliable goalie. Elliott is currently on pace for the heaviest workload of his 11-year career. He’s never received more than 51 starts in any season.
There’s nothing to indicate that Elliott can’t handle 60-plus starts as Michal Neuvirth seems to be one quirky injury away from missing significant time. Breaking down his career splits, March has been Elliott’s best month with a 2.17 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 72 career starts. He was vital last season for the Flames when he went 15-1-1 to help Calgary into the playoffs. More importantly, the Flyers will need Elliott to maintain the same level of consistency that we’ve seen throughout the first three months of the season.