5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

With seven games to go, the Flyers are in playoff position.

They sit in the Eastern Conference's top wild-card spot, four points ahead of the next-closest team, while also lurking just one point out of third place and two out of second in the Metropolitan Division.

You would have been hard-pressed to envision such a scenario back when the Flyers had lost 10 straight games and were in dead last of the Metro on Dec. 2.

But, through the streaks — both good and bad — here the Flyers are.

So how did they get here?

Let's look at five keys:

1. Giroux, period
The revitalization has been astounding. 

Claude Giroux's precipitous turnaround is the biggest reason the Flyers find themselves smelling postseason hockey again.

At age 30 and coming off a career low in goals for a full season and a third straight drop-off in scoring, the Flyers' captain has buried those 14 markers and 58 points in the past. This season, he has 26 goals and an NHL-high 64 assists, while reaching the 90-point plateau for the second time in his career. 

When the regular season is over, he will very likely own new career highs in goals, assists and points.

Tip your hat to the guy.

2. Do-it-all Coots
Sean Couturier has done yeoman's work in his breakout year.

Obviously the team-best 30 goals are nice, but he does so much more for this team.

He plays the third-most minutes (21:38) among all NHL forwards, leads the Flyers in PK time by a landslide and his plus-26 rating is top 10 in the league.

3. The kid is here
With a greater role, Travis Konecny has made a crucial jump in Year 2.

Since Dec. 28, the 21-year-old has put up 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 38 games, a stretch in which the Flyers are 22-12-4.

And since Jan. 20, Konecny has the same number of goals (16) as Alex Ovechkin and Nathan MacKinnon.

4. Defensive leaders
While the Flyers have stomached inconsistency and change on defense, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have served as two pillars.

Imagine if one of the two got hurt? Or if Provorov endured a sophomore slump and Gostisbehere didn't rebound from his own last season?

Who knows where the Flyers would be.

Provorov and Gostisbehere are first and third, respectively, in minutes per game on the team, while both have netted 13 goals with "Ghost" leading all NHL blueliners in power-play tallies (seven) and man-advantage points (29).

It's not just offense, either. Provorov is ultra steady and Gostisbehere has improved in his own end.

5. Lookin' like No. 2
Nolan Patrick's numbers don't jump off the page, but his evolvement from the start of the season to now is one of the bigger storylines of this season.

Following an underwhelming first 40 games (with an injury mixed in), the second overall pick now looks supremely comfortable and makes a clear impact, even when he's not scoring.

The 19-year-old is playing well centering Jakub Voracek and Oskar Lindblom on the second line and showed tons of power-play potential filling in for an injured Wayne Simmonds.

Patrick has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in his last 26 games after recording nine (three goals, six assists) in his first 40.

He's been a different player.

Capitals take back top spot in Metro Division

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AP Images

Capitals take back top spot in Metro Division

WASHINGTON -- Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his 18th and 19th goals of the season to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.

Tom Wilson also scored for Washington, which leapfrogged Philadelphia to regain first place in the Metropolitan Division by one point. The Capitals are 3-0 this season against struggling Ottawa.

Matt Niskanen assisted on both of Kuznetsov's goals, each coming less than a minute after the end of a successful Capitals penalty kill.

Philipp Grubauer made 28 saves for Washington in his 18th start of the season.

Erik Karlsson had a goal and an assist a day after Ottawa held onto the All-Star defenseman at the NHL trade deadline

Mike Hoffman added his 18th goal on a second-period power play for the Senators, who lost their fifth straight. They have dropped 22 of their last 25 on the road (see full recap).

Devils end Penguins’ home win streak
PITTSBURGH -- Taylor Hall equaled the Devils' franchise record with points in 15 straight games, Stefan Noesen scored the only goal of the third period and New Jersey beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Tuesday.

Noesen, playing in his 100th NHL game, broke a 2-2 tie with his ninth of the season five minutes into the third. He tipped Andy Greene's attempt from the side boards behind Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith.

Hall equaled a career high with his 27th goal and had an assist. Hall, who missed three games with a hand injury, has points in the last 22 games in which he's played, scoring 15 goals and 32 points during that span. He's the fifth player in the last 25 years with at least one point in 22 consecutive appearances.

Sidney Crosby scored his 21st goal and Matt Hunwick tallied his fourth for the Penguins, whose 11-game home win streak ended.

The Penguins, who have won 11 of 15 overall, lost in Pittsburgh for the first time since Jan. 4. It was the longest home winning streak since a franchise-record 13-game run during the 2013-14 season.

Kyle Palmieri scored his 17th goal for the Devils, who are fighting for an Eastern Conference wild card spot. New Jersey won six of eight after losing eight of its previous 11.

Keith Kinkaid made 36 saves for the Devils in his 26th appearance, matching a career high (see full recap).

McAvoy, newcomer Nash give Bruins OT victory
BOSTON -- Charlie McAvoy scored 1:08 into overtime and Rick Nash had a goal in his home debut for Boston as the Bruins rallied past the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 on Tuesday night.

Tommy Wingels, Riley Nash and McAvoy each had a goal and an assist for Boston, which avoided losing three straight for the first time this season after falling behind 3-1 late in the first period.

Brock McGinn, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho scored for Carolina, and Justin Faulk had two assists. Scott Darling stopped 28 shots for the Hurricanes, who are 0-5-1 in their last six games.

Tuukka Rask made 29 saves for the Bruins, who overcame a rocky first period and got big nights from two new additions.

Rick Nash was acquired from the New York Rangers on Sunday as the Bruins bolstered their lineup before Monday's trade deadline. The game against Carolina also marked the first with the Bruins for Wingels, picked up Monday in a trade with Chicago for a conditional fifth-round draft pick.

Wingels helped set up Riley Nash's goal with three seconds left in the first period to pull Boston to 3-2, then tied it with his first goal for the Bruins early in the second.

The Bruins were without center Patrice Bergeron, expected to miss two weeks or more with a broken right foot. Bergeron played Sunday in a 4-1 loss at Buffalo despite the fracture, which happened Saturday when he blocked a shot in a loss at Toronto (see full recap).

Grading trade deadline deals in Flyers' division

Grading trade deadline deals in Flyers' division

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have concluded, but the final 19 games of the NHL’s regular season are shaping up like the final few laps of a short track speed skating race in which the competition is jockeying for positions before the final sprint to the finish.

Now that the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division have made their moves, let’s grade their deadline deals.

Flyers
Added: Goalie Petr Mrazek; defenseman Johnny Oduya

Lost: Defenseman Mark Alt

Ron Hextall acted swiftly and decisively in acquiring Mrazek from the Red Wings following the injury to Michal Neuvirth. It was essential for the Flyers to upgrade the position after losing their top two goaltenders. I’m not sure the Flyers get much of an upgrade with 36-year-old Oduya over the 26-year-old Alt, but he certainly adds playoff experience with 106 postseason games played. It will be interesting to see if Oduya assumes Alt’s role or takes playing time away from Brandon Manning. Regardless, it’s a slight upgrade.

Grade: B+

Penguins
Added: Forwards Derick Brassard, Josh Jooris, Tobias Lindberg, Vincent Dunn; 2018 third-round pick

Lost: Forwards Ryan Reaves, Greg McKegg; defenseman Ian Cole; 2018 first-round pick, 2019 third-round pick

Brassard slots in perfectly onto the Penguins' third line. He plays a solid two-way game and can bring some scoring punch to Pittsburgh’s bottom six. Reaves played really well in two games against the Flyers. It will be interesting to see if the Pens miss Reaves' physical presence. Eventually, giving up first-round picks has to catch up to Pittsburgh management. At 27, Jooris has been a journeyman. GM Jim Rutherford typically goes big and bold on this day, but did neither.

Grade: B 

Capitals
Added: Defensemen Michal Kempny, Jakub Jerabek

Lost: 2018 third-round pick, 2019 fifth-round pick

Kempny moves into the Capitals' everyday lineup while Jerabek adds depth in the system, but is not expected to contribute right away. Washington simply didn’t have the cap space to make a major move without unloading salary at the same time.

Grade: C 

Blue Jackets
Added: Forwards Thomas Vanek, Mark Letestu; defenseman Ian Cole

Lost: Forwards Jussi Jokinen, Tyler Motte, Nick Moutrey; 2018 fourth-round pick, 2020 third-round pick

As the second wild-card team right now, the Blue Jackets are looking to make that playoff push by adding scoring winger Vanek coupled with veteran depth and leadership. Ranked 29th in goals scored, the Blue Jackets were desperate to add offense. Solid penalty killer Letestu rejoins the Jackets after leaving in 2015. Cole was a player I thought the Flyers might pursue to provide some depth in the event of injury. Columbus now has a rather solid three defensive pairs moving forward and didn’t give up a draft pick in the top two rounds.

Grade: A-

Devils
Added: Forwards Michael Grabner, Patrick Maroon

Lost: Defensemen Igor Rykov; 2018 second-round pick, 2018 third-round pick

The Devils want to play with pace and they added one of the fastest players in the league in Grabner, who scored 25 goals this season prior to the trade. Grabner can also chip in on the penalty kill. The second-round pick seems to be a steal considering what Vegas forked over for Detroit’s Tomas Tatar. New Jersey also added size with Maroon, who played sporadically with Edmonton this season. The Devils needed depth at the forward position and they got it.

Grade: A

Rangers 
Added: Forwards Vladimir Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey; defensemen Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren, Rob O’Gara; 2018 first-round pick, two 2018 second-round picks, 2018 third-round pick, 2019 seventh-round pick

Lost: Forwards J.T. Miller, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash; defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden

A mass Manhattan exodus as the Rangers' rebuild is now in full swing. They could have as many as eight picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft. They traded the captain McDonagh and received the Lightning’s top two selections (Howden, Hajek) from the 2016 draft, plus a first-rounder. It’s a good return but will this put the Rangers back on track in four to five years? Difficult to say. McDonagh is the toughest loss. If you’re grading purely on the return, the Rangers did well.

Grade: A-

Islanders
Added: Forward Chris Wagner; defenseman Brandon Davidson 

Lost: Foward Jason Chimera; 2019 third-round pick

The Islanders gave up a third-rounder for a defenseman who was placed on waivers earlier in the season. Wagner isn’t much of an upgrade over Chimera, if any, but he’s younger and cheaper. For a team that has surrendered more goals than any other team in the league, the Islanders did very little to improve in that area.

Grade: C- 

Hurricanes
Added: Forward Greg McKegg

Lost: Forward Josh Jooris

A week ago, the Hurricanes were still pushing for a wild-card spot, but since then, they've faded fast, having lost five straight. Carolina GM Ron Francis had some pieces that he could have moved whether that was Justin Faulk, Justin Williams or even goaltender Cam Ward, who’s in the final year of a contract. Ward would have been a good fit with the Islanders.

Grade: D