Trailing by 10 points with 31 games to go, the Flyers haven’t been in such desperate straits since they were down 3-0 to the Bruins in 2010. Unless it was when they fell behind 3-0 after 14 minutes of Game 7.
Peter Laviolette called a timeout and asked his team to get just one goal back before the end of the period. They did and, one shift at a time, the Flyers became the third team in history to come back from 3-0, much like, one game at a time, the 2005-06 Sharks made up nine points in the last 29 games to become, so far, the all-time comeback king of the era of the three-point game.
In the history of sports, practically everything that couldn’t be done indeed has been done, one step at a time. So it is worthless to project how many of the 31 remaining the Flyers have to win, or how many points would get them in, or how many pins in the Bruins or Capitals dolls will finish one of them off.
All the Flyers can do is for a whole lot longer, exactly what they have done for most of the last four games, including...
Steve Mason has the fourth best save percentage in the NHL for goalies who have played 30 games. We can count only two late, momentum-deflating, goals allowed by him all season – against the Devils in the home opener and New Year’s Eve in Colorado.
Factor in what Mason also did a year ago and the only lingering question about whether the Flyers finally have their long term answer in goal is his ability to stay healthy. Mason has had three short injury absences this season. The Flyers can’t get hot unless their goalie stays hot.
In Michael Del Zotto, the Flyers have added another defenseman who can. But that’s not the only reason they are leaving the zone more efficiently.
Whether it is thanks to better support from centers coming back farther to take breakout passes or suddenly higher wattage in some defensemen’s brains, improved outlets have led to open passages through the neutral zone, which has led to more offensive zone time for every line.
“Way better,” says Berube about the breakouts. Those long breath-holding cycles in the Flyers end have shortened. The puck isn’t just barely clearing the blueline but more often hitting a guy moving towards the other end. The D is getting off before it becomes tired and the number of defensive zone penalties inevitably will shrink.
During this modest surge, Chris Vandevelde, R.J. Umberger, Luke Schenn and Nick Schultz have more goals than Jake Voracek, a reflection of more forwards playing with jump and defensemen jumping up to finish plays.
The Flyers made the playoffs last season because they had seven 20-goal scorers. Only one of those seven, Scott Hartnell, no longer is here, yet at the current pace this year the Flyers will have only three. So they can’t keep coming in 2014-15 unless Brayden Schenn and Matt Read are on the come and Wayne Simmonds, who has only seven even-strength goals, gets many more.
Simmonds can score off the rush, if he is getting the puck. So far, we’re seeing a Scott Laughton who will create off his speed, not from the inventive pass. Another playmaking center is a big need going forward.
The game has become about traffic, which is wasted when the puck is rimming worthlessly out of the offensive zone after another missed shot. The Flyers don’t score enough rebound goals.
It has slipped a little lately, even while still headed for a dramatic improvement over 2013-14. The Flyers have killed much of their stupidity of a year ago, when they were the NHL’s most penalized team but they can’t get goofy now, particularly with 28th-place penalty killing.
The PK has been better lately but from here on in, has to be better than just improved. And overworking it rarely works.
That means, of course, Giroux and Voracek, who can carry a team through a 10-game stretch and probably will have to do so.
The Flyers are 7-15-4 away from the Wells Fargo Center. Seven of their 15 remaining road games are against teams with sub .500 records. We know we just said we weren’t into the math. But you can be sure that 3-4 isn’t going to get it done.
The Flyers had a winning record on the road a year ago, no reason these same guys can’t improve the mindset with that big road win. Next week’s games in Washington and Montreal are an opportunity.