The Philadelphia Flyers' season-opening road trip could scarcely have ended in more controversial or frustrating fashion that the club's 6-5 regulation loss in Nashville on Tuesday. Overall, however, the Flyers showed encouraging signs as they faced four tough Western Conference opponents right off the bat. The road trip certainly would have felt more satisfying with five or six points in the bank before the home opener at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday but the team's overall performance in the four games was a step in the right direction.
Now the Flyers return home for the next five games. The team will have an opportunity to build upon things they did well - specifically outskating opponents and gaining territorial advantages for long stretches, and rolling four lines and three defense pairs without having to shorten the bench very often at five-on-five - for much of the opening road trip. There will also be ample practice time to improve on areas of early inconsistency.
It is no secret that the Flyers have been a playoff bubble team in recent years. Much less well known even among many Flyers fans is the fact that, while Philadelphia has struggled to varying degrees in road matchups, the club has actually been one of the NHL's best home teams over the last four seasons.
"It's easy to get fired up playing for the fans in Philly," Flyers alternate captain Wayne Simmonds said. "The word that's always used is 'passion,' and we feed off that. We know our road record has to get better but, definitely, we take pride in being a good team at home."
Video: Voracek, Simmonds and Konecny on home opener
Added Claude Giroux, "Our fans are behind us all the way, every year. We owe them our best. They want us to succeed and they have high expectations. They'll obviously let you know if you aren't playing the way you should, but that keeps you honest."
Last season, the Flyers posted a 25-11-5 record (55 points) at the Wells Fargo Center. Unfortunately, the club produced just 33 points (14-22-5 record) on the road. This is a familiar Jekyll-and-Hyde pattern.
Over the last four full NHL seasons (2013-14 through 2016-17), the Flyers enjoy the league's seventh-best home record. Of the teams that are ahead of them -- Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Bules -- all but the Capitals have gone on in at least one of the seasons within the time period to reach at least their respective conference final in the playoffs. The Capitals, meanwhile, have won the President's Trophy each of the last two seasons.
The teams immediately behind the Flyers in home record in this four-season time period are the Nashville Predators, LA Kings and a tie (209 cumulative points) between the Minnesota Wild and Montreal Canadiens. Among this group, three have reached their conference final at least once. The Wild advanced to the second round twice.
Thus, the Flyers are the outlier among these 11 teams. As a matter of fact, the 2016-17 Flyers season as a whole was an oddity relative to league norms. Only two teams in NHL history - the 2014-15 Los Angeles Kings (57 home points) and the 2005-06 Vancouver Canucks (56 home points) - have ever recorded more than the 55 points on home ice that the Flyers did last season and still missed qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Add in the fact that the Flyers became the first team in NHL history to have a winning streak of 10 or more games and fail to qualify for postseason play.
The root cause: As good as the Flyers have been at home during this time period, they've had road issues. The Flyers rank 24th in the NHL in their road record over the last four seasons, with a cumulative 149 points.
While the New York Rangers, who have actually been a much better road than home team in this span, have the NHL's best road record from 2013-14 to 2016-17, the leader-board otherwise looks fairly similar to the home record rankings: the Blues, Capitals, Ducks, Sharks, Penguins, Canadiens and Wild are all represented within the top 10.
The Flyers have reached at least the 50-point mark on home ice in each of the last four seasons: 51 points in 2013-14, 53 points in 2014-15, 54 points in 2015-16 plus the aforementioned 55-point season in 2016-17. As a matter of fact, excluding the 48-game 2012-13 season which had just 24 home games and 24 road games, the Flyers have attained at least 50 points at home in every season dating back to 2008-09.
In the two seasons where the Flyers earned a playoff spot (2013-14 and 2015-16), the team was able to eke out slightly above .500 points percentages on the road: 43 road points in 2013-14 and 42 in 2015-16. In 2014-15, the team built a solid 53-point foundation (23-11-7 record) at home but mustered only a unacceptable 31 points on the road (10-20-11 record).
The question is why the discrepancy has been quite that stark. No club in the entire NHL has had a wider discrepancy between their home and road performance than the Flyers over the duration of the last four seasons.
The road is mental grind for teams. The last line change is still something of a factor in home ice advantage, although the icing rule that prohibits substitutions for the offending team reduces that advantage somewhat, as does the rule that requires whichever center is in the defensive zone to put his stick down first on faceoffs (as opposed to the older rule that required the visiting center to get set first before all faceoffs).
Ultimately, however, all teams are in the same boat. Every club plays the same 41/41 split in home and road games each season.
While the Flyers first road trip of 2016-17 goes down in the books as a .500 trip, the team's in-game processes were of the type that generally produce more wins that losses. It was the beginning of a foundation to build upon as the season continues. In the meantime, the Flyers are a team that is accustomed to finding ways to win at home.
Over the next five games, and throughout the season, the Flyers will have to hold serve against some tough visiting teams: Washington, Florida, Nashville, Edmonton and Anaheim. If the Flyers can do that successfully, they'll enter a two-game road trip into Ontario (Ottawa and Toronto) in late October on solid footing in the early-season Metro Division standings.