We know all about how the experts either panned the offseason roster moves of the Philadelphia Flyers or acknowledged that they were necessary to seemingly make the team worse in the immediate term as theyset their sights on a brighter future. Once the games started, however, John Tortorella's club was unexpectedly feisty, racing out to a nice 18-10-3 record through 31 games played. They had beaten contending clubs like the Avalanche, Kings, Hurricanes, and the defending champion Golden Knights, as well as sweeping the Penguins in a home-and-home. Life was grand.
But things change quickly in the NHL, as the Flyers have gone cold. Beginning with their final home game of 2023, a 4-2 loss to Nashville, the team set out on a 5-game road trip that yielded only one win and culminated with them gettingragdolled by Connor McDavid to bring their record to 1-3-2 over a six-game span that goes back two weeks. The result is that the Flyers have seen themselves slip down a rung in the standings as we near the midway point of the regular season.
The Flyers hadn't really worked themselves into what you'd call a 'comfortable' spot, thanks to the logjam of teams in the Eastern Conference right around the playoff cutline. It was still a desirable position, however, with expert projections even putting their odds of making the postseason at a greater than 50% chance. Now, however, even a blip like their current one has them set up for a dogfight.
And so we seem to have reached the inflection point for the 2023-24 Flyers. As they lick their wounds from an unsuccessful Western trip, the Flyers have a chance to 'get right' with four straight home games coming up. In fact, they'll play 9 of their next 13 games at the Wells Fargo Center, which will take them into the NHL All-Star break. At that point, Keith Jones and Danny Briere should have a very accurate assessment of how to handle this team for the rest of the season, with 50 of 82 games played.
Despite their recent road woes, the Flyers have still performed better away from Philadelphia (11-6-4) than they have on home ice (8-7-1) so far this year. But this trend is going to need to reverse itself quickly before their current swoon completely erodes the impressive progress that was made over the first few months this season.
If you had asked Flyers fans last September if they would have been happy with their team sitting in a playoff spot in the first week of January of 2024, most of them would have taken this scenario. The tank brigade would prefer to be in dead last by a mile, of course, but the chance for this team to actually play meaningful hockey into the springtime should have been too good for most real fans to pass up. It's very much still a possibility, but the Flyers are going to need to take care of business and avoid slip-ups against bad teams while putting up a worthy fight with better opponents, especially ones like the Bruins and Rangers that they can't seem to buy a win against.
Some players have unquestionably stepped up their play this year, but the team is going to need more offensive production from young guns like Tyson Foerster. The Flyers are a bottom-10 team in goals per game, and they need everyone to contribute. They should be buoyed by Noah Cates' return to the lineup in the coming days, which will help, but black holes like Cam Atkinson have to be remedied at some point or this could get ugly. The power play also needs to start figuring things out. It's too far gone to even finish in the middle of the pack this season, but it's been so demoralizing that it will be the team's downfall if it can't pull itself up from its current miserable 10.2% success rate.
Over the next few home games and the subsequent weeks that follow, we will see what this Flyers club is truly made of. Will they sink back down and prove that they were merely playing above their heads for a few dozen games? Or can they dig deep enough to retain their early-season gains and make a legitimate case for a playoff spot? Adversity has arrived, and now we sit and wait to see how the Orange and Black will respond to it.