As of Monday, February 12, 2018, the NHL’s Eastern Conference playoff picture looks like this:
The Atlantic Division is pretty set, the top three seeds are the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Metropolitan Division is a lot tighter. The Washington Capitals currently hold the top seed, the Pittsburgh Penguins hold the second seed, and the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils keep flipping back-and-forth between the third seed and the first Wild Card spot. The Carolina Hurricanes currently hold the final Wild Card spot. The Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, and New York Rangers are all within four points of that last spot.
The Flyers currently sit at 65 points, three more than the Devils, five more than the Hurricanes. With that knowledge I firmly believe that the biggest threat to the Flyers success isn’t any of the two teams above them in the Metro. It isn’t the three teams in the Atlantic either. Actually, it isn’t even any of the five teams behind them. The biggest threat to the Flyers success down the stretch is themselves.
It’s no secret that the Flyers are one of the most inconsistent hockey teams in the NHL. If the Flyers want to make some noise come playoff time they will need to tighten up and be more consistent. To start, they will need better play from their bottom-four defenseman. This isn’t to say that Ivan Provorv and Shayne Gostisbehere are perfect, they’re just more consistent than the other four. Andrew MacDonald, Robert Hagg, Radko Gudas, and Brandon Manning will need to play smarter, better hockey. This isn’t to say they haven’t been doing so, they just need to keep doing the little things like keeping good positioning. They need to set-up and do their job when opposing offenses set up in their zone especially considering Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon will get more play time with Brian Elliott nursing a lower body injury.
This brings me to the goaltenders: Neuvirth and Lyon. Neuvy, when hot, is a fine goalie. The problem is he’s very hot and cold. If hot Neuvy comes to play the Flyers will be in good shape, if he plays cold the Orange and Black could find themselves in trouble. Lyon is a bit of a wildcard. He let up some goals in three NHL games: he’s faced 50 shots and allowed seven goals. It looked like he was left out to dry a few times, it looked like the defense wasn’t playing well in front of him. However, I feel like he passed the eye test in his limited play time. I’m actually kind of excited to see more out of him. At the end of the day, whoever is in net for the Flyers needs to keep the game within striking distance for the Flyers newfound offense.
The Flyers’ top line is good. There really isn’t much more to say about that. Sean Couturier is having a career year, Claude Giroux is looking rejuvenated [and on pace for 100 points], and Travis Konecny is really coming into his own. The second line is getting better: Jake Voracek is the NHL leader in assists, Nolan Patrick is starting to come around, and, as seen against the Coyotes, no one deflects a puck quite like Wayne Simmonds. These six players need to keep up the pace because it is paramount to the Flyers’ success.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, the majority of their scoring comes from the top two lines. With that said here’s my thoughts on the bottom-six forwards.
The new-look third line is getting some steam too: Scott Laughton (the younger, poor-man’s Mike Richards) earned a promotion from the fourth line to the third line, Jordan Weal is a lightning rod and can generate some offense, and Michael Raffl brings a veteran presence who has the ability to score. This line is pretty defensively minded but can pack some punch. The fourth line is better than previous years, but still leaves you wanting more. Valtteri Filppula centers a combination of Jori Lehtera, Dale Weise, or Taylor Leier. Filppula is having an average year, but the other three aren’t getting consistent play time to make an impact.
The story for the Flyers all season was that they needed scoring from outside the first line. The second line has been better, and the third line is showing a lot of promise. If they get more scoring from the second, third, and fourth lines, the Flyers will be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch and into the playoffs.
The Flyers will need to do something that they haven’t done recently: play consistent hockey. The biggest threat to their success is themselves. They have proven this season that they can play with the best in the division, they just need to do so on a consistent basis and refrain from shooting themselves in their foot. If they do this and heat up toward the end of the season they
can will make some noise in the playoffs.