With a snap of his fingers, Wayne Simmonds rather succinctly summed up how long it felt like it took the gap between the Flyers and a wild card spot grow by five points.
“You come back and we don’t play three good games, and that’s what happens,” Simmonds said following Monday’s practice. “It’s a quick turn. We’ve got to stop it and we’ve got to stop it now. There’s no more time to lose more points here. The teams that are above us, they’re winning games. So we can’t afford to lose any more here.”
Indeed, the Flyers were two points out of a wild card spot when the NHL broke for Christmas after games on Dec. 22. But they’ve stayed in the same spot since then with their three losses on the recent road trip, while other teams have climbed. As of Monday, the gap between themselves and Boston, the current holder of the second wild card, is now seven points.
The good news for the Flyers is they still have a lot of time. They are four games shy of the season’s halfway point, and in the second half, they will have a chance to make up some ground with a little less reliance on what other teams are doing by just beating those teams themselves.
“The second half of the season has a lot of divisional games,” Brayden Schenn said. “Obviously there’s some ground to make up, but we’re certainly capable of doing it. We’ve just got to play a whole lot better.”
Said Simmonds: “That’s what generally happens the back part of the season – you play teams within your conference and your division where every game’s potentially four-point games. We’ve got some work to do, and that’s what video’s for. That’s what our coaches are here to do, to get us ready. As players, we’ve got to be responsible and be ready mentally and physically to come to the rink every day.”
Up until this point of a given season, players tend to pay less attention to standings and point totals, oftentimes because it seems like there are many opportunities ahead to get plenty of points. But once the calendar turns to the new year, it seems like crunch time is closer.
“You start paying attention more and more,” Simmonds said. “We’re coming up on the halfway point. To this point you’re aware of what’s going on, but you’re not watching every single point. Now, you’ve got to be aware of where you are, how many points back, and who you’re chasing.”
Even when the Flyers were only two points out, they were part of a huge pack of teams that were not that far back. They’re still in that pack – one of 13 teams that are separated by 13 points, starting with Florida at 50 points and going back to themselves and Toronto at 37 points. They’re just not quite as far up the ladder as they were a week ago.
“A lot of teams are playing really good hockey, and every game means a whole lot,” Mark Streit said. “From this point on, it’s going to go quick. You know what position you’re in. Every game is going to be more important than the last, but at the same time you can’t look too much ahead. Focus on tomorrow’s game and go step-by-step.”
Indeed, head coach Dave Hakstol stressed to his team that it’s not time to panic – just to keep focus and work to make up the ground.
“We talk about the big picture of what we’re working towards,” Hakstol said. “A week like last week puts a big dent in a lot of the work that we did before we went for the Christmas break. Now we have to readjust and we have to scratch and claw and get those points back. You’re not going to do that overnight or in one day. That’s got to be a sustained effort over time.”