Monday, March 19, 2012

Philadelphia Flyers Look to Take Division with 10 Games Remaining

The Flyers have the best player in the NHL right now, two weeks running. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has won NHL 1st Star honors for his second week in a row.

Bryz's performance helped the Flyers come back from 2-0 twice in two days against Eastern Conference favorites and defending Stanley Cup champions Boston Bruins and the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers earned 3 out of the possible 4 points.

However, the 1-0-1 record does not bring justice to the importance of this past weekend's results.

Matt Slocum

First, shootout losses are ties in my book. When the NFL and MLB start deciding games by throwing footballs through tires and home run derbies, I'll start counting the skills competition at the end of overtime as meaningful. Second, the Flyers had games at 1:00pm on Saturday and 12:30pm on Sunday. Look beyond just the fact that these games were within 24 hours. Saturday's game was in Boston while Sunday's was in Philadelphia. The Flyers had to play two hockey games against two of the East's heavyweights within 24 hours while traveling, that is both mentally and physically exhausting. Third, the Flyers were without Andrej Meszaros, Maxime Talbot, Andreas Lilja, and Pavel Kubina. And that is on top of long-term injured James van Reimsdyk.

The stepped up play of Bryz kept them in the games, while the young nucleus of skaters won the games.  Nicklas Grossmann and Braydon Coburn were among the most physical of the defense this weekend which really allowed Bryz to see the puck and kept the Bruins and Penguins from setting up on the cycle a lot. Matt Carle made the tape-to-tape breakout passes. Sean Couturier and his line were charged with shutting down Boston's top line and Penguins' likely NHL MVP Evgeny Malkin. Malkin was obviously frustrated by the rookie's defensive work that he had to stick Couturier in the groin. The top scoring lines needed to come up big in limited amounts of time to get those much needed points. Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Briere, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek all created offense.

Now the Flyers sit 5th in the East with 92 points and 10 games remaining. Here is how the standings in the East look:

NY Rangers  71GP  95pts
Boston Bruins 71GP 85pts
Florida Panthers 71GP 83pts
Pittsburgh Penguins 71GP 94pts
Philadelphia Flyers 71 GP 92pts
NJ Devils 72GP 87pts
Ottawa Senators 73GP 84pts
Washington Capitals 72GP 78pts

The Flyers are a mere 3 points from division lead, with one less game to play than the Rangers and the Penguins. The way the Rangers have been playing lately (4-5-1 in last ten) it is pretty possible both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia surpass them in the standings.

The thing is, can the Flyers get 2 points more than the Penguins can the rest of the season? Even with one less game to play? Even with the return of Crosby and Malkin to an already potent lineup?


Just look at the Flyers' remaining schedule (posted below). The Flyers play the Penguins twice more (a chance to earn 4 points while giving the Penguins zero) and the Rangers once more (another chance to leap frog in the standings). Beside that, the Flyers do not play one team with more points than them. They play 4 out of 10 against teams that are not in the playoffs as of now. Another against a Washington team that is barely in the playoffs. 7 of the 10 are on home ice.

But there are some negatives to this as well. The Flyers are only 19-10-5 on home ice this year. For whatever reason, the Flyers have had a harder time on the home bench, rather than the visitors'. The Flyers are playing 7 games out of their final 10 against teams that are trying to make it into the playoffs or improve their seed for the playoffs. Teams with that much desperation and motivation are tough to play at end of March and the beginning of April. The other 3 games are typical "trap" games. No, not left wing lock, system trap. Trap as in, the Flyers go into it thinking easy win but end up with a loss.

When all said and done, with both positive and negative spins, the Flyers have a real shot at winning the division still. If they can keep the momentum they gained this weekend, if Bryz can play as stellar as he has been, if the Flyers can continue their return to full health, if they can win the games against their Atlantic Division rivals, if they can not get lulled into the trap games.... you get my point. It is an uphill battle but it is a battle the Flyers have a solid shot of coming out on top and have been setting a precedent lately that it is more of the norm than the occasional.

Check out the remaining schedule with my predictions "penciled" in.

Tue Mar 20, 2012
Florida@Philadelphia 7:00 PM ET     W 4-2

Thu Mar 22, 2012
Washington@Philadelphia 7:00 PM ET      W 3-0

Sat Mar 24, 2012
MontrĂ©al@Philadelphia 7:00 PM ET         W 5-2

Mon Mar 26, 2012
Tampa Bay@Philadelphia 7:30 PM ET       L 4-1

Thu Mar 29, 2012
Philadelphia@Toronto 7:00 PM ET           W 3-1

Sat Mar 31, 2012
Ottawa@Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET           OTL 4-3

Sun Apr 1, 2012
Philadelphia@Pittsburgh 7:30 PM ET          OTL 5-4

Tue Apr 3, 2012
NY Rangers@Philadelphia 7:00 PM ET      W 3-2

Thu Apr 5, 2012
Buffalo@Philadelphia 7:00 PM ET         L 4-2

Sat Apr 7, 2012
Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh 4:00 PM ET     W 4-2

Flyers finish with 106 points and the 4th seed, only 1 or 2 points behind Pittsburgh for the division. Flyers gain home ice for the 1st round, which will be helpful as they will be facing off against the NY Rangers.  

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