With their eight-day winter break coming to an end, the Flyers can now turn their attention to the final 31 games on their schedule.
Despite a stellar 10-4-2 record since the Christmas holiday pause, the Flyers still find themselves six points out of a playoff spot and that with final wild card holder Pittsburgh holding two games in hand.
Regardless of their long-shot postseason chances, the Flyers should still have plenty of reasons to give it their all over the final two months of the season.
>1. **Job security:** Coach John Tortorella has made it a point practically from day one that this season would be about talent evaluation, i.e., which players fit into Philadelphia’s future. One can figure that means veterans and youngsters alike. How much of that depends on how well each player fits into Tortorella’s style and systems remain to be seen.
>2. **Playoff spoilers:** Even if the Flyers can’t crack the list of top eight Eastern Conference qualifiers, they can make life a bit tougher for those intra-conference rivals with serious aspirations.
So far, the Flyers have not had a great deal of success against EC opponents. They hold a 21-21-9 overall record heading into the home stretch but are just 11-15-5 versus the East, including a 6-7-4 mark with Metropolitan Division foes.
Nineteen of the Flyers’ final 31 games are against Eastern teams, so some ground conceivably could be made up there.
>3. **Lots of playing time for the 25-and-under crew:** By now, the young nucleus of Noah Cates, Owen Tippett, Cam York, Morgan Frost and Wade Allison has proven it can play at the NHL level. But the more experience these players can get the remainder of this season, the better. Putting Cates and Frost on the top two lines and pairing York with Ivan Provorov on the No. 1 defense unit has worked so far (as the 10-4-2 mark will attest).
If the newcomers continue their dependable play, it will make things a lot easier for Fletcher when he sits down to make moves, either at the March 3 deadline or in the offseason.
>4. **Work on improving special teams, tiebreakers:** Granted, the past month or so hasn’t allowed much time to practice. In fact, the Flyers played a ridiculous five-games-in-seven-days stretch in which they didn’t even go near a rink on non-game days.
But the bottom line is this: The Flyers have not had an acceptable power play or a very good penalty kill for several years now. Injuries (like a team record number last year) have played a role in that but it still comes down to execution with the players on the ice. Associate coach Brad Shaw and assistant coach Rocky Thompson have done a good job making adjustments but there’s still work to be done. The power play is ranked a dreadful 29th in the NHL at just 16 percent. The penalty kill has improved but still sits 18th at 77.3 percent.
One bright spot: Shorthanded goals. The Flyers were leading the league there for awhile with nine. But they’ve been stuck on that number for some time and Carolina has pushed past with 10. Still, that should be a feather in the hat of the entire coaching staff. A shorthanded goal can do a lot to change the momentum of a game.
Finally, the Flyers have continued their tradition of struggling in overtime. They are just 1-8 in the extra session this year and their alltime mark is a rather pathetic 202-239-220. Don’t even ask about the shootout: 0-1 this year, an NHL alltime worst 54-97 since its inception.
Maybe a little more three-on-three work in practice would help for overtime situations. And how about a few more breakaway drills in practice in case a shootout does arise?
>5. **The possible return of Sean Couturier and where he fits in:** Couturier, considered the Flyers’ best all-around player over the past five years until back problems arose midway through the 2021-22 season, had to undergo two operations last calendar year but is expected back possibly in early March.
The question here is, when he does come back, will this mean he automatically goes back to his No. 1 center spot, necessitating the “demotion’’ of Cates and Frost? The guess here is Couturier is going to need a lot of time to get back up to NHL speed because he hasn’t played in more than a year.
Actually it would be a pleasant problem to have. A fully recovered Couturier would certainly help on the aforementioned special teams and could be a significant contributor should the Flyers continue their winning ways and possibly contend for a playoff spot.