With only about two months left in the season, the Flyers are once again put in a position where they have to up their play to get into postseason action.
Here, in our opinion, are five things the Flyers need to improve in order to make the playoffs:
>1. Better road record: Duh! Yes, it’s rather obvious (OK, completely obvious). As has been mentioned in this space before, a sub-.500 record on the road (the Flyers entered Friday night’s game at Pittsburgh with a 10-13-2 mark) won’t get it done.
Of the nine teams ahead of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference, all nine have road records above .500.
The solution? On the road, make an all-out effort to not fall behind early. Overall, the Flyers are 5-14-2 when trailing after one period. That has to change.
>2. Higher team goal differential: It’s a proven fact: When teams finish in the black (a positive number), they generally make the postseason. Through 50 games, the Flyers were a plus-8, a big improvement over last year’s minus-37, but still fairly mediocre when one considers Carolina (just a point ahead of the Flyers) stood at plus-27, while Toronto (also just one point ahead of the Flyers, albeit in the Atlantic Division) was a plus-16. It comes down to concentrating more on keeping the puck out of your own net than worrying about the other end of the rink so much.
A stat worth mentioning: The Flyers are plus-38 at home and minus-30 on the road. Just sayin’.
>3. More production from bottom six forwards: While the Flyers’ top six ranked forwards (Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek) are averaging around 13 goals apiece, the players who see the most action on the third and fourth lines are producing only about four goals apiece. Obviously the loss of Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom play into this statistic but the fact is, the Flyers could use some more offense from the likes of Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Tyler Pitlick, etc.
>4. Consistency on the power play: Coach Alain Vigneault has been experimenting all season, trying to find the right mix. Things started off with much promise, with 10 power-play goals in the first 10 games. Since then, there have been long droughts, including a six-game drought in early December and an 4-for-25 going into the Pittsburgh game that had the Flyers down to 19th in the NHL at 19.5. Get more pucks on net, more bodies in front of the goalie and play with a sense of urgency.
>5. Find a way to produce one good, long winning streak: Of course, that’s much easier said than done. But if the Flyers are going to beat out teams like Columbus, Carolina or even the Islanders, a streak of seven or eight wins could do the trick. Right now, the Flyers’ longest winning streak of the season is five games, which was back in late November/early December when they were seven points into the playoff picture. Once again, the season is winding down and the Flyers are chasing a spot in the position instead of defending one.
>Does a ‘Ghost’ trade make sense?
Speculation continues to increase that the Flyers will attempt to trade defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere before or at the NHL deadline on Feb. 24, possibly for a proven scorer.
My question is, if you’re an NHL general manager and you’re looking for an offensive-minded defenseman, are you shopping for someone who has three years left on a contract with a $4.5-million cap hit, plus has gone through two knee operations?
Granted, Gostisbehere is still only 26. But he’s had only one really good year since he finished second in Calder Trophy voting his rookie year (2015-16).
At this juncture, he’s basically gone from a No. 1 defenseman back in the day to No. 4 or 5.
TSN/Canada’s “Trade Bait List’’ has Gostisbehere placed at No. 7 for a possible change of address.
But a careful look at that list shows that nearly all of the familiar names, including the Rangers’ Chris Kreider and so forth, are either potential unrestricted or restricted free agents.
In fact, of the top 20, Nashville’s Kyle Turris is the only other candidate with multiple years left on his contract (four).
Makes you wonder who would take on someone like Gostisbehere under those circumstances.
Maybe a big-time contender with plenty of cap space. Maybe Florida, since Gostisbehere hails from that state.
It bears watching. In their history, the Flyers really haven’t traded away a big-name player at the deadline. Maybe this is the year.