The Flyers closed out the 2017 calendar year in style.
Well, in the style we’ve all become accustomed to the past 52 weeks, and even beyond.
The Flyers closed 2017 in a fittingly inconsistent and frustrating matter. How? First, an uglier-than-it-looks 3-2 loss Thursday to the host Florida Panthers. But then that was followed up 24 hours later with an impressive 5-3 win over the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning that snapped the Bolts’ eight-game home win streak.
Just because there were only two games this week doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty to dissect as 2017 reaches the brink of existence.
Let’s dive right in.
• This week was just so incredibly apropos of what we’ve seen from these Flyers, wasn’t it? We’ve seen this club come out of the gate strong, fall into the dark abyss of a 10-game losing streak, power out of that hole by reeling off six straight and then have its pulse even out with a win here and a loss there.
It’s this Jekyll and Hyde show that seems to have no end for this group. This week was the latest example with the uninspiring loss in South Florida and then the total 180 for an earmarked win over the powerhouse Bolts in their own barn, where they hadn’t lost in almost a month.
This inconsistency with these Flyers isn’t anywhere close to breaking news, but when you look back at these two games this past week, it’s the overwhelming theme. And that overwhelming theme of this week is a microcosm of why the Flyers are where they are, four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference as of Sunday morning.
Atop the list of 2018 resolutions, well, you fill in the blank. It’s the same one that’s been near the top of that list each year for a while now.
• The Flyers’ return from the Christmas break in South Florida was almost doomed from the beginning.
They kicked things off with a bang (not really) by taking three penalties in the first period, taxing their penalty killers and forcing lines to be jumbled. They wound up outshot by a 13-5 margin in that period. Then Brian Elliott wasn’t his sharpest, giving up three goals, including an early softie to Jared McCann, on 27 shots.
Then it was the power play. And, oh, was it ever the power play, and not in a good way. The man advantage was a dismal 0 for 4 with just six shots on net and it continually shot itself in the foot, including allowing a shorthanded goal to Derek McKenzie.
Almost everything that could have gone wrong for the Flyers did, before they turned it on late with two goals turn the heat up a bit, but not nearly enough. The Flyers aren’t good enough right now to continually play catch-up like that against any team in the NHL, no matter if it’s the worst or the best. They can’t just play 10 minutes and expect to win. And that was another hard reality Thursday.
• Lesson learned Friday in Tampa, where the Flyers put forth a complete, sound effort in topping the league-best Bolts, snapping their long home win streak and making a statement in the process.
Yes, the Flyers caught a break as the Lightning started backup goalie Peter Budaj over Andrei Vasilevskiy and yes, the Flyers found themselves in a hole again courtesy of an unstoppable Steven Stamkos power-play laser beam. But from that point on, they controlled the flow of the game and had the Lightning on their heels for the rest of the evening.
A major difference, you ask? The power play that was dreadful the night before laid the groundwork with two quick second-period tallies, one off the stick of Wayne Simmonds, the other off the stick of Shayne Gostisbehere. What else did those tallies do? They gave the Flyers a much-needed jolt of confidence — confidence that not only could they hang on the road with the best team in the league, but also that they could go on the road and take it to the best team in the league.
It was a complete effort that also included goals from Sean Couturier and Brandon Manning and an empty-netter by Valtteri Filppula.
If only that effort could be bottled up and spread out over a full season.
• What else more can be said about Couturier and the complete player he’s evolved into this season? He again displayed his evolution on the offensive end in the two games this week.
On Thursday, he collected goal No. 17 on the season when he got a piece of Gostisbehere’s point drive late in the third. On Friday, he set up Simmonds with a gorgeous backhand saucer pass across the crease before he slammed home a rebound at the end of the second period for goal No. 18.
So what’s changed for Couturier to get him here? It’s not talent. He’s always had that offensive talent dating back to junior. Sure, playing on the top line with guys like Simmonds and Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek also helps.
But he is supremely confident now in the offensive end. There’s no hesitation. But also look at where the majority of his goals have come from this season — in and around the crease. He’s getting into the greasy areas around the net and putting his 6-foot-3, 211-pound frame to work. And it shows.
That's how you become a top center.
• There were only two games last week, so let’s look into the orange and black crystal ball and take a peek at the week coming up. The Flyers are about to embark on a four-game homestand vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres. And that’s before hitting the mandated bye week, which starts Jan. 8.
Yeah, so, needless to say, this is a pivotal week for the Flyers if they are to make some type of push toward the postseason. It will officially be January and the nitty-gritty is approaching if it’s not already here. The Pens and Isles both sit ahead of the Flyers in the standings. The Sabres are the worst team in the East as of Sunday morning and are more-than-beatable. The Blues are a feisty squad out of the Central Division, but the Flyers already shut them out earlier in the season in St. Louis.
Better grab some points now before the bye week passes you by.
Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh (7 p.m. on NBCSN), Thursday vs. New York Islanders (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. St. Louis (1 p.m. on NBCSP), Sunday vs. Buffalo (1 p.m. on NBCSP).