There is something to be said for the Flyers playing better hockey.
Everyone begged and waited for progress. Finally, the Flyers are obliging.
They've won three straight games for just the second time this season, scoring 16 goals over the streak. They've won four of their last five after plodding through an eight-game losing skid in which they netted only 15 goals.
For the first time since New Year's Day, the Flyers are no longer in last place of the Metropolitan Division, thanks to a 5-2 win Saturday night over the Canadiens (see observations).
Rather inconveniently, the bye week is now here followed by the All-Star break, creating an eight-day hiatus for the Flyers. Which means general manager Chuck Fletcher will have ample time to sit on these good vibes and mull the bigger decisions ahead.
The problem for the Flyers, though, is this is not like years past. It's considerably too late and a small sample size of improvement won't change Fletcher's mind on 2018-19. Last season, the Flyers needed 98 points to squeak into the playoffs at Game 82. Over their final 34 games of this season, a 23-5-6 record (.765 points percentage) would get them to only 96 points.
If the Flyers can make anything of 2018-19, they'll be proving just about everyone wrong.
What the Flyers can convince Fletcher on is next season — how drastically to retool and how quickly things can turn around.
Upper management certainly isn't on board with a massive rebuild or restart. Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott have already been through a process that became too stagnant for their liking.
Fletcher was brought in for progress. While this season spiraled into a lost cause, you can expect Fletcher is eyeing ways to make 2019-20 productive and meaningful, not another step back.
"We talked about the process and we think — all three of us believe — that this is a playoff team, a quality team," Fletcher said Dec. 5 at his introductory press conference, sitting between Holmgren and Scott. "We have to push it and get better immediately. But there's also the long term. You're trying to win in the present, you're trying to win in the long term.
"There are obviously certain assets you're not going to sacrifice to win three extra games in one season. So, I think you have to be prudent about it, but they've given me full autonomy to make the hockey decisions I see fit. We talked about philosophy, and again, we all agree this is a good hockey team."
Fletcher is starting to see what could be next season, what can be used moving forward.
Claude Giroux is still Claude Giroux.
Travis Konecny is beginning to find the back of the net like he did last season.
James van Riemsdyk has six markers in his last five games, playing like the 30-goal scorer the Flyers signed to a five-year, $35 million deal last July.
Nolan Patrick has looked like a No. 2 overall pick over his past three games, with highlight-reel skill, four goals and six points.
Shayne Gostisbehere is starting to display his offensive ability again.
And Carter Hart, at just 20 years old, is showing he can be the franchise goalie you build around.
For Fletcher, these developments are a positive. If only they came before the clock struck midnight on 2018-19, a season he had little chance to save.
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