The Flyers’ chances of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs look rather dim after taking a quick glance at the Eastern Conference standings.
They are buried in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division and six points behind the third place Islanders, who hold the final automatic divisional berth. Then, the Flyers still trail the Penguins and Devils, who are tied for the last wild card spot, by five points. Making matters worse is they also need to leapfrog the Senators, Canadiens and Hurricanes.
After delving a little deeper, though, the Flyers have played anywhere from two to four less games than the teams they are chasing and they have one of the top records in the conference in the last six weeks.
So the playoff chase should be interesting in the second half. Here are the five things the Flyers must do to be one of the eight teams that make the playoffs.
Have better starts
The good news: The Flyers have scored the first goal in eight of their last 10 games. The bad news: They finished the first period with the lead in just two of them. Overall this season, the Flyers have gone into the first intermission with a lead just six times – but are 5-1 in those contests. This pattern of sluggish starts and playing from behind has to change.
Take control of their own destiny
The Flyers pay seven of their first 10 games in February against teams ahead of them in the conference. There is no quicker way to make up ground in the playoff race than to beat the teams they are chasing. It starts with Tuesday’s game against Montreal, which is only two points ahead of the Flyers but has also played three more games. The team’s performance this month will determine whether they are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline on Feb. 29.
Be buyers at the trade deadline
General Manager Ron Hextall has repeatedly said the only way he will improve the team through a trade is without mortgaging the team’s future – i.e. dealing prospects for aging and expensive veterans. However, if he can acquire a young player that can build with the current core, he will no doubt explore his options. With cap flexibility after last month’s trade that sent Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings, Hextall should try to add a bonafide goal scorer.
With little depth in the minor leagues, the team can ill-afford to lose key players for any length of time. An injury to top players Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Shayne Gostisbehere and either goalie would be lethal.
Improve on special teams
Few teams that are ranked in the bottom third in the league in both special teams rarely qualify for the playoffs. The Flyers power play sits tied for 21st while their penalty kill is an abysmal 27th. Without improvement in both areas, there is little to no chance to play in the postseason.