VOORHEES – The second half of the Flyers’ season starts Monday and the big question is: Are they just playing for pride?
No Flyer team has ever come back from more than a four-point deficit (out of the playoff picture) as late as Jan. 6 of any season to make the playoffs.
As of Monday morning, the Flyers were 14 points out of postseason contention and showing no signs of a miracle run.
Generally, it takes about 96 points to secure a playoff spot.
That said, the Flyers – who are winless in their last six (0-4-2) — would have to go something like 30-11 (not factoring in overtime/shootout losses) the rest of the way to make the necessary comeback.
A long shot, to say the very least.
The Flyers will point out that as recently as last year, they came back from an eight-point deficit, but that rally started way back on Dec. 4 in game No. 27 with the start of a six-game winning streak.
They went on to go 34-15-7, basically clinching a spot with 98 points on the final weekend of the season.
This season, there are few indications of a repeat.
So much has gone wrong – from bad special teams to uncertain goaltending to a general manager/coach change – that the Flyers would seem headed to one of their worst seasons in recent years.
They are on pace for 72 points, which if you don’t count lockout-shortened seasons and ones of below 80 games, would be their lowest since the all-time worst of 56 points in 2006-07 and third-lowest if you toss in the 71-point campaign of 1989-90.
Compounding the troubles: Very little help appears to be on the way.
Most of the position players are healthy. No one is exactly certain when the team’s top two goaltenders – Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth – will be back in action.
In the meantime, the Flyers are relying on a 20-year-old rookie, Carter Hart, and a 35-year-old journeyman, Mike McKenna, in goal.
So, it’s looking more and more like the Flyers will be sellers at the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline.
Maybe the Flyers will realize their season is essentially over and start to play some of the kids in their farm system, namely defensemen Philippe Myers and Samuel Morin (when he returns from ACL surgery next month), as well as forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
The heavy favorite to be traded is veteran Wayne Simmonds, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Michael Raffl could probably fetch a mid-round draft pick. Someone might be interested in defenseman Andrew MacDonald, although his $5-million contract (which ends in 2019-20) would appear to be prohibitive.
Mention this to the players and some of them just shrug.
They say they have to stay focused on what’s immediately in front of them.
“I know we’re not in the same spot as we were last year,’’ Scott Laughton said after Sunday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “But we did it (overcame an eight-point deficit).
“It’s a cliché, I know, but I think we have to take it a day at a time. It feels like every time we’re up in games and stuff like that and then we give up a goal. Everyone gets down. We have to create our own bounces.’’
Jake Voracek believes the longest march has to begin with the first step. There’s no other way to look at it.
“We have to put together three or four games to win,’’ he said. “Get on a winning streak then look at what we have to do to make up some ground.
“Right now I would say it’s too far but we don’t know that. Play better, win a few, then start looking at the bigger picture.’’
What turned it around last year?
“When you’re losing on a nightly basis, it feels like you’re never going to win again,’’ Voracek said. “Then you put two or three together, get lucky, goalie steals one, all of a sudden you feel good about yourself and you believe you can get on that roll, win six or seven.
“I wouldn’t get carried away that we need this many points to make the playoffs. Just focus on tomorrow (vs. St. Louis) and go from there.’’
James van Riemsdyk wasn’t here last year but has been on teams that have had to fight uphill battles.
“The one good thing we’ve had since day one, even though we haven’t had success, we haven’t quit at all,’’ he said. “No matter what the scores in the games are, we keep putting the effort out there.
“When you do that, you give yourself a chance to stay in it. You start doing the math and realize you have to start getting hot. I think we have the mindset to do that. The guys are still pushing as hard as they can.’’
Hockey players are realists. They know if the team is helplessly out of contention, changes will come. In essence, some guys might be playing for jobs.
“There’s a lot of honor and pride to play for this organization,’’ Laughton pointed out. “I think we’re all pros, you have to play every day and not worry about what’s going on outside.
“If something happens, it happens. I like the room in here but it has to translate on the ice.’’
Coach Scott Gordon agrees small steps are in order. The Flyers are in most of these games, they just have to cut down on the mental mistakes.
“At some point in the season, every team in the playoffs has some sort of streak,’’ he said. “We haven’t had an extended streak yet. We certainly need one. We need it quick.
“We just need to stay consistent and not try to gain 14 points in one game.’’