The picture the Flyers have painted over the past five weeks is pretty clear, on the surface. 10 consecutive wins, 20 points, a leap from 13th in the Eastern Conference to 7th with a nine-point cushion. That's been followed by a seven-game stretch with a 1-4-2 record, four points, and a drop to 8th place with a three-point cushion.
Surely something has gone wrong, right? Well, not so fast. Look beneath the wins and losses, and there is a whole web of things that is part of what often makes hockey such a maddening sport to quantify. On any given night, the better team doesn't always win. Luck is a part of the game perhaps moreso than any other team sport.
It might be best quantified by comparing two different games from the past month. On December 10, Dallas outshot the Flyers 17-12 over the first two periods and led 2-1 with five minutes to play, but two late penalties allowed Brayden Schenn to complete a power play hat trick en route a 4-2 win. On Sunday, the Flyers smothered Anaheim with 55 shots, but Ryan Kesler's hat trick gave the Ducks enough to get to overtime and take an eventual 4-3 shootout win.Video: Schenn on recent struggles and road trip positives
It would be hard to look at those two games and argue the Flyers played better against Dallas than they did against Anaheim. Yet the results dictate they did, unless you look underneath the surface. So while the wins and losses point to a significant drop-off, in reality the team's overall play has been pretty consistent with the exception of a short stretch around Christmas.
"We played a hell of a game," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said following Tuesday's practice in Voorhees. "That's the way the game is. You can go back through that streak, there's a couple games there where we maybe didn't deserve as good an outcome as we got. The other night, we played well. We'll come back and build off that and just keep doing the things that we did. I wouldn't change a thing out of that game other than hopefully you get a couple breaks and some of the pucks go in the net rather than find a way to stay out."
As for that dip in effort against New Jersey and St. Louis, Hakstol sees that as a part of a long season that every team will have.
"We had a couple games we didn't play well," Hakstol said. "Everybody knows that, and we meet that head on and accept that. We didn't play very well. But you're going to go through stretches like that where you're trying and just nothing is happening. The energy is not there. We saw signs of it in San Jose, just the overall mentality and energy level was a little bit better. Two nights later in Anaheim - very happy with our hockey game other than the fact that we couldn't get the second point."
The players recognize this as well, and it's why they have tried to maintain an even keel throughout these runs - not too high after wins, not too low after losses.
"The games are so tight that the smallest things can determine between winning or losing," said Flyers goaltender Steve Mason. "Even in the games when we were winning 10 in a row, some of those games could have gone either way. It's a tight league and no games are easy. We're going through a tough stretch, [and] It's just a matter of sticking with it here, not getting discouraged and keep pushing forward."Video: Mason on close games, hot and cold streaks
Said Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere: "I think we took a hard look at ourselves after a couple losses and realized it's not going to be that easy like the 10 game win streak. We had a lot of fortunate bounces then, and we can't rely on those. We just had to look ourselves in the mirror there and realize we have to fight every night for two points, they're not just going to come."
Michal Neuvirth was pronounced fit to return to action Tuesday when the Flyers activated him from injured reserve and returned Anthony Stolarz to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Neuvirth hasn't played since November 12, when he departed a home game against Minnesota following the first period with what was later diagnosed as a lower body injury.
"It was a great test for me, practicing for the team for eight days now. [Stolarz and I] were sharing nets, but today the majority of the time was for me, and it was another test I passed. My body feels good," added Neuvirth
Stolarz returns to the Phantoms after making his NHL debut, earning an 29-save win over the Calgary Flames on Nov. 27 and made it two in-a-row with his first NHL shutout in his second start after stopping all 28 shots at Detroit against the Red Wings on Dec. 11. He also filled in relief of Steve Mason on two occasions to own a 1.79 GAA and .938 save percentage.
The Flyers will practice in Voorhees ahead of Wednesday's nationally-televised showdown with the New York Rangers, which will start at 8 PM.