To say the Flyers had a tough weekend would be an understatement.
The were obliterated by their cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers entered this game with the opportunity to bring themselves to within a two points of Pittsburgh with a game in hand.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, the Flyers came out completely flat, and were dominated in every aspect of the game. The Flyers best player was Steve Mason, who was peppered with shots and several odd-man rushes. That effort went by the wayside, because they couldn’t muster up any sustained pressure and seemed lifeless.
But the troubles weren’t limited to just Saturday.
Less than 24 hours after losing a huge game to the Penguins, the team found out that goalie Michal Neuvirth would miss the rest of the regular season with a lower body injury, just about the last thing the Orange and Black needed.
So what does this mean for the rest of the season? Let’s take a look.
The Goalie Situation
The injury to Neuvirth is a devastating blow to the Flyers, and not for the reason you may think. Neuvirth may have the better numbers, but anyone who has watched the Flyers play knows that Mason has been playing exceptionally well. In fact, he gave the Flyers a chance against the Penguins this past Saturday, despite them being severely outplayed.
The problem here lies within the schedule.
The Flyers play back to back games on four occasions before the end of the season, and all of them include games with huge implications. They no longer will have the luxury of putting two very good goalies out on back-to-back nights.
Anthony Stolarz will be backing up Mason, but there’s no telling what he brings to the table. Stolarz has decent numbers in the AHL this season, .916 S% and 2.59 GAA, but he has never played in an NHL game. Now he will be thrust into the thick of things, and will almost certainly have to start two or three games. Those games could easily be difference makers for the Flyers.
The Push For the Playoffs
In all fairness, the Flyers weren’t going to go undefeated for the rest of the season, and the fact that they lost to the Penguins was even worse, but the loss really isn’t as bad as it seems when you break things down.
The Flyers still control their own destiny, and it’s still completely plausible that they could end up snagging the three seed in the Metropolitan division.
I’ll first start with the Islanders, and Monday night’s game is huge. Take a look at the schedule and you will see that the Flyers still have two games remaining against the Isles. Take a look at the standings and you will see that the Flyers currently sit just five points back from the Islanders for the first wildcard spot. The two teams have the same amount of games remaining. That means there is a four point swing on the line, which is more than enough for the Flyers to gain significant ground on the Isles.
The next team on their radar is the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings currently hold the second wild card spot and are three points ahead of the Flyers. However, the Flyers have two games in hand on them and play them once more before season’s end. That’s a possible six point swing in favor of the Orange and Black.
Lastly, there’s those pesky Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been giving the Flyers fits this season. What could have been two points after Saturday, has now turned into an eight point gap in the standings between the two teams. However, the Flyers still have a two games in hand on the Pens, and play them twice more. That’s a possible eight point swing.
Once everything is broken down, it’s easy to see how the Flyers still control their own destiny, but with that, it’s also easy to see the tall task that looms ahead.
If they were to go 5-0-0 against the Red Wings, Islanders, and Penguins, and the Rangers continue to slump, they could put themselves in a very good spot for the playoffs. But every point matters. The Flyers can’t let these games go to overtime, the need to outright win them, and as I mentioned above, with one of their goalies down, that’s going to be a tall order.
But there is reason for optimism. The last time the Flyers came out flat (against one of the worst teams in the NHL), they followed up by going 5-0-1 in their next six games. It’s entirely possible that the they come back and do the same thing this time, just two of their next seven games are against teams that are in playoff position.
The loss to the Penguins on Saturday was a tough pill to swallow, but this team is very much still in the thick of things. They still control their own destiny, and if this team keeps playing at the high level they have been as of late, they will make the playoffs.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.