It is rare that an NHL team can start the season 1-7-0 and be back in the playoff race by mid-November. However, that is exactly where the Flyers can be on November 13th when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Console Energy Center. The Flyers have seven games between now and then. They are currently sitting at 3-7-0 and nursing a two game win streak. The Flyers schedule looks like this over the next two weeks:
Tuesday October 29: Anaheim @ Philadelphia – 7:00 PM
Friday November 1: Washington @ Philadelphia – 7:00 PM
Saturday November 2: Philadelphia @ New Jersey – 7:00 PM
Tuesday November 5: Carolina @ Philadelphia – 7:30 PM
Thursday November 7: New Jersey @ Philadelphia – 7:00 PM
Saturday November 9: Edmonton @ Philadelphia – 1:00 PM
Tuesday November 12: Philadelphia @ Ottawa – 7:30 PM
The combined record of the Flyers opponents (counting the Devils twice) is a weak 29-38-15. These teams are not very good, and there is no reason why at least 12 points are not up for grabs. To take advantage of this manageable stretch of games, here are five things that the Flyers will need to do:
They need a strong showing against the Ducks on Tuesday night. Anaheim is by far the strongest team on this list. They are 9-3, which is the third best record in the NHL. Even without Bobby Ryan, the Ducks are able to score plenty of goals thanks to forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. They are currently average 3.25 goals per game and are a strong all-around team. The Ducks are also the only Western Conference team on their schedule for a while. The Western Conference has manhandled the Eastern Conference so far this season. The Flyers will need to be ready for one of their toughest games to date. This relatively easy stretch starts off with a bang Tuesday night against the Ducks.
They need to take advantage of weak goaltending. With the possible exception of the Ottawa Senators, none of the teams they will face in the next seven games have strong goaltending right now. Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth (Anaheim’s goalies) have been moderately good, but the team is still allowing 2.6 goals a game. Devil’s goalie Corey Schneider has looked pretty good, while Martin Brodeur has been downright awful. Brodeur has let in three or more goals in every game this season. The Hurricanes recently brought in Rick DiPeitro on a tryout contract because both of their goalies, Cam Ward and Anton Khubodin, are injured. Washington’s starter, Braden Holtby, has had flashes of brilliance, but is only an average goalie and the Oilers continue to receive shaky goaltending on a night-to-night basis. There is no for a lack of offense over the next seven games.
They need Claude Giroux to get going offensively. The Flyers captain is the teams’ catalyst. One must only look at his first shift in game six of the 2012 opening round of the playoffs to see the effect a confident Giroux can have on his teammates. As I mentioned in a post last week, Giroux is no stranger to slow starts. He started in a similar slump last year and still ended the year as a point-per-game player. Giroux had two assists against the Islanders and seems to have chemistry with Vincent Lecavalier. Claude Giroux is clearly lacking confidence. He needs to find it if the Flyers are going to get back into the playoff race.
They need to take advantage of home ice. So far this season the Flyers have gone 2-4 at home. That is unacceptable. In their upcoming seven game stretch the Flyers have four more home games. The first second, fifth, and sixth games of this stretch will be played at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers cannot afford to be giving up points on home ice. The Flyers did a good job of this last year going 15-7-2 at home while going 8-15-1 on the road. Their play on home ice will be crucial in getting back into the divisional hunt.
They need to beat the Devils. In this stretch of games the Flyers play the 2-5-4 Devils two times. In the last ten regular season/playoff meetings between these two teams the Flyers have gone 2-8. One of their wins came off of an overtime goal by Danny Briere in game one of their 2012 playoff series and the other came from a shootout victory last season on March 15. In the last ten meetings the Flyers were outscored 35-18. For all of the fun that the Flyers-Penguins rivalry brings, playing the Devils brings equal amounts of frustration. Under Craig Berube the Flyers are playing a more defensively minded system and are in much better shape. A real test of Berube’s system will be against Pete DeBoers’ Devils.
There is no reason that the Flyers can’t be 9-7-1 or 8-8-1 by the time they play the Penguins on November 13th. Even though that record would not be ideal, it would be a huge improvement over where they are now. The Flyers are lucky to be playing in a division with a multitude of struggling teams. Having 17-19 points by November 13th may be enough to put the Flyers right back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The next seven games are a window of opportunity for this hockey team that could get them back into the playoff race.