5 keys to Flyers making playoff push

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5 keys to Flyers making playoff push

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.   

Winning 3-on-3
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.

Flyers re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

Flyers re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

General manager Ron Hextall is nearly finished wrapping up contracts for his restricted free agents.

And his goalie picture is now clear for 2018-19.

The Flyers on Wednesday re-signed netminder Anthony Stolarz to a one-year, two-way contract. The deal is worth $761,250, according to a report by hockey writer John Hoven.

With Stolarz back, defenseman Robert Hagg remains the Flyers' lone restricted free agent.

Stolarz, a 2012 second-round pick, underwent a nightmarish 2017-18 season just a year after he made his NHL debut and performed well in seven games with the Flyers. The 24-year-old tore the meniscus in his left knee during early September, the same injury he suffered at the end of 2016-17 with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

He played in just one AHL game and three ECHL contests as a result. In 2016-17, he made his way to the big club and put up a 2.07 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in a small sample. Then the injury occurred with the Phantoms and it's been an uphill battle ever since for the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder.

Stolarz will have his work cut out for him — if he hasn't already — as playing time will be earned at Lehigh Valley with Alex Lyon back in the fold and Carter Hart joining them.

"It's just competition. No one is going to go in there and hand you a job, so you have to earn it,” Stolarz said in June after an on-ice workout at Flyers Skate Zone. "I think the thing for me is to prove I'm healthy. I don't think I've skated since the end of January. I had the one flare up before one of my games and it had nothing to do with my knee injury. It was a separate injury. I think the biggest thing is proving I'm healthy and going out there and working to prove I'm still a high-caliber goalie."

The Flyers' goaltending tandem is set with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, both of whom are in the final year of their contracts. Things obviously can change this offseason, as Neuvirth and Stolarz seemed like realistic trade candidates.

But as of now, it's Elliott and Neuvirth with the younger trio pushing and competing.

"I'd rather have too many goalies than too few," Hextall said earlier this month. "If something makes sense and we can make something happen, we'd at least look at it. We saw it last year. All of a sudden, a couple goalies go down and you're scrambling for goalies. If we start with five, we start with five. Not a perfect situation, but again, I'd rather start with five than with three."

More on the Flyers' goalies

• Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Elliott?

• Why Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

• Hart says so long to Twitter, hello to pro life

• No arbitration needed for Flyers and Lyon

• Sandstrom hungry to prove he's not the 'other' goalie

Former Flyers goalie Ray Emery dies at 35

Former Flyers goalie Ray Emery dies at 35

Former Flyers goaltender Ray Emery died Sunday morning. First responders pulled his body out of Hamilton Harbour, where he had been swimming with friends. An investigation into the cause of death is still ongoing. 

Emery was 35.

According to local authorities, Emery was checking out a friend’s boat docked at Royal Hamilton Yacht Club when the group he was with decided to jump in the water around 6:30 a.m. Emery’s body never surfaced and was eventually recovered around 2:50 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Hamilton police say Emery’s body was recovered in close proximity to where he was last seen.

Emery was last seen publicly with a handful of his former teammates Saturday night as the goaltender participated in Zac Rinaldo’s charity hockey game in Hamilton. Emery can be seen standing during the playing of “O Canada.”

"The Philadelphia Flyers are stunned and extremely saddened to hear of the tragic passing of former Flyers goaltender Ray Emery," president Paul Holmgren said in a statement from the team. "Ray was an outstanding teammate and an extremely gifted goaltender. He had exceptional athleticism, was a fierce competitor and battled in every game he played with the Flyers.

"His performances through the 2009-10 season were a very big part of the team's success in making the playoffs and reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Ray's talent, work ethic and determination helped him enjoy a successful 11-year NHL career. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

Several of Emery’s former teammates over the years offered their condolences via Twitter after learning of the tragedy.

Former Flyer Daniel Carcillo shared the he was crushed by the news (NSFW).

Jakub Voracek also shared his condolences (NSFW).

Emery joined the Flyers in June 2009 on a one-year contract, shutting out the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 in his Flyers debut. The goaltender’s first stint in Philadelphia was cut short when he suffered a muscle tear in his abdomen in December missing the remainder of the season. Emery was later diagnosed with avascular necrosis — a degenerative condition to the bone tissue in his hip.

After undergoing successful surgery, Emery eventually joined the Ducks before winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013. Impressively, Emery finished the regular season with a 17-1-0 record. He re-signed with the Flyers that summer as a backup to Steve Mason.

Emery’s most infamous moment in Philadelphia came during an ugly 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on November 1, 2013, as the Flyers netminder pummeled Caps goalie Braden Holtby during a line brawl in the early stages of the third period.

Emery faced criminal charges over a handful of off-the-ice incidents and altercations. Most recently, he was arrested for assault with a weapon in 2017 against former fiancé Keshia Chanté. 

Emery played a total of 287 NHL games, 88 with the Flyers.