The Flyers come back to Wells Fargo Center having to turn 20 minutes of forechecking into 60 and one point into two. At 6-4-2 at home, these four games between five and eight-game trips is an opportunity to start knocking down wins.
There is no question they are playing with greater cohesion, energy and resiliency than when, having been shutout out three times in six games, they departed on a trip against five 2014 playoff qualifiers. The Flyers beat the Stanley Cup champion Kings. Twice they forced overtime with the goalie pulled and have suffered only one regulation loss in the last four games.
But even worse than still being seven points out of a playoff spot is having three teams to catch in the division race and eight for the wild card. When you are this far behind, getting one point isn’t a whole lot better than none.
“Guys have to understand the importance of putting together a streak where you can actually start making up ground,” said Steve Mason, one of many Flyers who haven’t been the problem, but still more often need to be the solution. “You can't take two steps forward and then two steps back. It won't get you anywhere."
Systemically, the Flyers have improved to the point where they are keeping themselves in games. Next they need goals and saves in overtime and shootouts.
“We have to find a way to get those extra points, said Claude Giroux. “Good teams find a way to win those kinds of games.”
There still are too many stretches the Flyers let up, still too many instances of brain lock that leave them shorthanded or chasing breakaways in overtime. The Flyers don’t have the margin for error to live with much of either. Of the seven 20-goal scorers that got them to last season’s playoffs, one, Scott Hartnell, is in Columbus and another, Vinny Lecavalier, isn’t dressing, all the more reason the Flyers need more from Matt Read, Sean Couturier and R.J. Umberger.
The support in the defensive zone is improved, but there is no commanding presence there enabling the Flyers to spend as much time defending as they still do. The power play has accounted for 38 per cent of the goals this year, an unsustainable ratio to make the playoffs.
The emergent largest personnel need of the club is for a second line playmaking center. If that isn’t coming, the Flyers are putting Scott Laughton in a position where he must grow up fast.
When Laughton had his pass along the blueline picked for a breakaway in Columbus, the rookie not only put his head down and busted all the way back, but demonstrated the speed to catch up and foil the chance, wonderful to see. But he has two points in 11 games, numbers the Flyers can’t continue to live with between Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, who have to score to reduce the burdens of Giroux and Jake Voracek.
When Berube says he knows these Flyers can do it, he speaks from the experience of having seen it a year ago. But this time the competition pool for the same number of spots is deeper and the Flyers, so far, more shallow in scoring options. Having recovered a year ago, these same guys dig what they have to do. Now they have to pick up the pace of the shoveling.