LOS ANGELES – If just making the playoffs was the Flyers’ bottom-line objective this season, they are in pretty good shape as the schedule begins the second half.
Due to an outstanding home record (13-2-4) and relatively good health, the Flyers find themselves positively positioned in the standings.
At one point they were all the way up to third in the Metropolitan Division. Only a recent 7-0-3 run by Columbus has kept Philadelphia from keeping a firm hold on the final wild card spot.
Three losses in the Flyers’ first four games on the current six-game road trip (before Saturday night’s game at Arizona) have taken some of the luster off their encouraging first half, but there have been some positive signs.
For one, they’ve incorporated a number of first-year players into their lineup, including Joel Farabee, Mikhail Vorobyev and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
And let’s not forget veterans Matt Niskanen, Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick are new to this team as well.
Coach Alain Vigneault should be commended for getting the most out of players such as Travis Konecny, who was recently named to his first NHL All-Star Game, and Ivan Provorov, whose nine goals have already exceeded last year’s total.
Another plus: The Flyers have used only two goaltenders, Carter Hart and Brian Elliott – this after using a franchise-record eight last season due to injuries, etc.
One number that jumps out of the stat pack is the Flyers’ positive team goal differential which, despite giving up 16 goals in losses at San Jose, Los Angeles and Vegas, remained a plus-nine.
This is in sharp contrast to last season, when the Flyers were a minus-37.
The Flyers have been averaging 2.76 goals allowed per game, which is tied for ninth-best in the NHL.
A lot of that has to do with the steady work of Hart and Elliott, who not only have answered the bell every night but kept the Flyers in it in games when they simply didn’t have it.
In particular, Elliott has already exceeded expectations. He was re-signed to what many thought was a backup role but basically has played well enough, especially on the road, to justify almost an even platoon arrangement.
And look at defenseman Philippe Myers, who entered the season still technically a rookie. Although he was sent down to the Phantoms at the beginning of the season and has been shuttled in and out of the lineup with Robert Hagg, Myers has posted an eye-opening plus-17.
We’re not sure how high that number has to get in order to earn the towering backliner steady employment but the guess is we must be getting close.
Make no mistake, there’s still much room for improvement. Having lost Oskar Lindblom for the season due to a rare form of bone cancer and Nolan Patrick for the indefinite future due to a chronic migraine headache condition, some of the young guys like Farabee and Vorobyev will have to continue to step up.
Perhaps promising rookie Morgan Frost can make a strong enough showing in Allentown to earn a ticket back to Philadelphia. For a while there, he was demonstrating first-line talent. It’s just a matter of showing that sort of ability on a nightly basis.
The veteran stars – Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes – all enjoyed strong second quarters.
One big negative hanging over the Flyers has been their road play. Prior to the Arizona game, the record stood at 9-12-1, which was the only sub-.500 mark among the other top 10 teams in the Eastern Conference.
A lot of that has to do with Hart’s performances away from the Wells Fargo Center, where he’s only 2-8-1 with a 3.84 goals-against average and .855 save percentage.
On the flip side, Hart is 11-1-2 at the WFC with a 1.49 GAA and .947 SP.
It’s safe to say one of Vigneault’s prime objectives for the second half will be to get Hart’s confidence on the road restored. If he’s going to get the majority share of starts on the road, his record there has to improve dramatically down the stretch.
Otherwise, the Flyers would appear to have things headed in the right direction.
Their schedule is favorable in that they play only three more games outside the Eastern time zone: St. Louis on Jan. 15, Dallas on March 20 and Nashville on March 21.
Plus, the Flyers have a 7-2-2 record against the Metro Division and ultimately that’s where the battle is going to be won or lost.
The Flyers missed the playoffs last season and haven’t stayed home in back-to-back years since 1992-94. It appears they want to keep that streak going by once again returning to postseason action.