9 Game Review #7 – Philly is Flying to the Playoffs

Coming into this stretch of games, the Philadelphia Flyers played pretty well coming out of the bye week and All-Star Break to keep themselves in the thick of the playoff race. However, the past nine games saw the Orange and Black face a true make-or-break set of games, with most of their matches coming against teams they were battling for a playoff spot. If the Flyers wanted to be playing hockey well into April, they needed to deliver strong wins.

Safe to say, the Flyers didn’t disappoint.

Games 55-63 (home games underlined):

  1. 7-2 W at Washington
  2. 4-1 W vs. Florida
  3. 5-3 L at NY Islanders
  4. 6-2 W at Florida
  5. 5-3 L at Tampa Bay
  6. 5-1 W vs. Columbus
  7. 4-3 OTW at Columbus
  8. 4-2 W vs. Winnipeg
  9. 4-2 W vs. San Jose

The Flyers played extremely well during the past nine games, posting an incredible 7-2-0 record and ending the stretch with a four game win streak. Not only that, but these were games the Flyers had to win due to how tight the Metropolitan Division is this season. If the Flyers truly wanted to show that they deserved to be in a playoff spot, this was the time to do it. With 4 wins combined against Columbus and Florida, Philadelphia firmly put these division rivals in their rearview mirror. They thrashed the Capitals, one of the strongest teams in the league, and were able to keep up with Tampa Bay despite the loss. Philadelphia clearly demonstrated that they want to be playing hockey past Game 82 – and deservedly so. With their amazing run, Philadelphia has been able to catch up to Washington and Pittsburgh in the fight for the division title. They are currently third in the division, and eighth in the league; it wouldn’t be surprising if the Flyers came away with the division crown.

Best of all, during this time, the Flyers showed to us that they are in fact a really good team. Gone are the days of mediocrity and rosters with little talent beyond Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. Gone are the days where the most exciting days to be a Flyers fan were the annual NHL drafts. General manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault have started a new era of Flyers hockey, where the boys in Orange and Black are hungry to win. For the first time in a long time, the Philadelphia Flyers are the best team in town – and that’s not an exaggeration. This city has waited what feels like an eternity, but the Flyers are finally returning to their winning ways; they are well poised to contend for the Stanley Cup for the foreseeable part of the next decade. If you’re not already, get excited about this team – because it’s only getting better from here.

Some More Observations:

Forwards:

  • Earlier this season, many Flyers fans, including myself, worried that Claude Giroux’s slow start to the season was the beginning of the workhorse captain’s inevitable decline. Fear not, as it appears that Giroux still has plenty left in the tank; he put up 11 points (4g-7a) over the past nine games. His best moment during this stretch was passing Flyers legend Bobby Clarke in powerplay assists, becoming the franchise leader in this metric. He accomplished this impressive feat with a wicked pass from his knees to Voracek that gave the Flyers a 5-1 lead against the Blue Jackets.
  • The trade deadline was Monday, the day before the home game against the Sharks. Chuck Fletcher didn’t make the flashiest moves, but provided some depth that will help this team in the playoffs. He acquired Nate Thompson from Montreal and Derek Grant from Anaheim. In order to make room for them on the roster, Joel Farabee was sent back down to Lehigh Valley. Farabee has begun to show more confidence on the ice as of late, but a few games with the Phantoms won’t hurt him – especially because if he racks up points, Fletcher won’t hesitate to call him back up.
  • Travis Konecny continues to have a stellar season. In the past nine games, the young star put up 13 points (5g-8a). He has played at almost a point-per-game pace, racking up 60 points through 62 games. The Flyers’ fanbase should be ecstatic to watch Konecny pot points for the next several years!
  • Nicolas Aube-Kubel is quickly evolving into a key member of the team’s bottom-six. He is a firecracker on the ice, with his fast skating and his ability to break up plays. NAK has also begun to showcase the offensive talent that made him a second round pick back in 2014, by racking up 4 goals and 2 assists during the past nine games. Vigneault has come to trust him as well, putting NAK in tight-game situations and on the power-play. It’s become clear during this time period that NAK will no longer be a call-up from Lehigh Valley when injury strikes Philadelphia – he is here to stay.

Defense:

  • The second pairing of Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers has continued their dominant play. This duo doesn’t make the flashiest of plays, but they are excellent defenders in their own zone. They are excellent contributors to the team’s offense as well, as they have produced a 53.36 CorsiFor%, 55.56 GoalsFor%, and a 66.67 High-Danger GoalsFor%, despite having only 47% of their faceoffs in the offensive zone.  They are quickly and quietly evolving into a very strong second pair.
  • Speaking of Sanheim, he unfortunately made headlines for his tussle with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nathan Gerbe. The 6’4” Sanheim and the 5’4” Gerbe got into a fight, and Gerbe was able to take down Sanheim. Not the best moment for the Flyers’ defenseman, but aside from the fight, he played a solid game against the Jackets
  • Shayne Gostisbehere, still hampered by his knee injury, was sent to the Phantoms on a conditioning stint for a couple of games. He was recalled by the team on Saturday, February 22, and has not played since.

Goaltending:

  • Carter Hart continues to be red-hot. In six appearances, the young netminder posted a .925 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average. Carter Hart’s excellent work has been a major part of why the Flyers were able to win seven of their past nine games. The “franchise savior” is developing into one of the league’s best goaltenders – oh, and he’s only 21 years old.

Up next for the Flyers: a home-and-home with the Rangers, a back-to-back against the Caps and Canes, three straight matches against Atlantic Division foes Sabres, Bruins, and Lightning, then wrapping up with home matches against the Wild and Oilers. The Flyers face some tough competition with four matches against teams in the league’s top 5, but they also have four matches against teams well behind them in the standings. Luckily, the Flyers are not scratching and clawing their way to playoffs like years past, but they should try to win as many games as possible in order to improve their standing within the division and secure an easier first-round matchup.

Stats from NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick. Image credit to Len Redkoles (via NHL.com)

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