The Philadelphia Flyers begin a three-game West Coast road trip on Thursday, Dec. 29, against the San Jose Sharks. They’ll round out the California swing with a matinee against the Los Angeles Kings on New Year’s Eve followed by a short ride to face the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 2. When Disney on Ice visits the Wells Fargo Center right after Christmas every year, it forces the Flyers to hit the road. They have limped through an astonishing trend of brutal road trips at this time of year in recent history.
Disney on Ice Sinks the Flyers
The Flyers own a combined record of 3-20-4 in their past seven road trips following the short Christmas pause dating back to 2014-15 season. The schedule makers send them away every year to make room for Mickey Mouse. The Flyers know it’s coming, but they always fall into the same trap and come out with terrible results.
The trend began in 2014-15 under head coach Craig Berube when Philadelphia lost all five road games and came away with just one point during a long trip right out of the Christmas break. The 2015-16 team put up a similarly cringe-worthy performance with regulation losses to the Ducks, Sharks, and Kings before coming back to the Wells Fargo Center for their first home action after the holiday on Jan. 5, 2016.
The 2016-17 trip wasn’t any kinder to the Flyers. Losses to the St. Louis Blues and the Sharks in regulation and an overtime loss to the Ducks stretched a winless streak during their annual trips to 11 games. The schedule-makers didn’t keep the Flyers away from home very long in 2017-18. They traveled only to the Sunshine State for a loss against the Florida Panthers and a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, the 2018-19 season resumed the disaster even without a flight to the West Coast. The Flyers went 0-3-1 during a swing through the Southeastern United States in the wake of firing general manager (GM) Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol.
The 2019–20 team was the franchise’s best over the past decade, but they stumbled through their worst stretch of the season during the Disney on Ice trip. After a convincing home win against the New York Rangers on Dec. 23, 2019 brought their record to 21-11-5, they killed their own momentum with a 1-4-1 road trip primarily on the West Coast.
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They finished the 2019-20 trip with a final stop in Raleigh, where they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime and stretched a losing streak to four games. Philadelphia caught fire and climbed through the standings without losing back-to-back games again until the Eastern Conference Semifinal in the Toronto bubble in August 2020. The 56-game season in 2020-21 provided at least one sense of relief for Philadelphia because it didn’t begin until Jan. 13, 2021.
Alain Vigneault lost his job on Dec. 6, 2021. Interim head coach Mike Yeo stepped behind the bench with a slim chance to salvage a mess of a season in 2021-22, but he did drag the Flyers into a decent stretch leading up to Christmas. The Flyers won their fifth game in six tries to begin the dreaded West Coast trip in their first-ever game at Climate Pledge Arena against Hakstol and the Seattle Kraken. They salvaged a point against the Sharks the following night, but consecutive regulation losses to the Kings and the Ducks sunk them to 1-2-1 on the trip.
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Their recent holiday history also includes two losses in the Winter Classic. The Flyers fell to the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day in 2010 and again at the showcase event against John Tortorella and the Rangers in Philadelphia in 2012.
Lengthy History of Post-Holiday Trips
The Flyers played the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2007 and then departed for a six-game road trip. It was the only time since 1975-76 that they have played their first game after Christmas at home. Beginning in 1979-80 and excluding 2007-08, the Flyers have left for a multi-game road trip in every full-length NHL season immediately after the short Christmas break.
The annual trip didn’t become a dreaded necessity until recently. The Flyers even had a favorable trend going when the trip usually included the Western Canadian teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They blasted the Vancouver Canucks 8-0 on New Year’s Eve in 1997 and followed it up with a 6-2 victory in the same building exactly one year later. They swept a three-game trip during the 1999-00 season that included a win against the Canucks on Dec. 29, 1999. Their 2001-02 trip also included a win in Vancouver on New Year’s Eve. Their last successful post-holiday trip in 2013-14 included the Western Canada rounds as part of a 5-1-0 stretch.
How did this trip become such a devastating obstacle in recent seasons? Would the fortune of Philadelphia change if the schedule-makers kept them out of California and sent them to Vancouver immediately following Christmas every year?
Why Do the Flyers Struggle?
Some bizarre trends follow the Flyers as a franchise. They hold the worst record in the NHL in shootouts since the new overtime format began in 2005. It’s not because they’ve lacked skill players, and more recently, they haven’t been sunk by bad goaltending in shootouts. Over the past two seasons in particular, they’ve also dealt with a head-scratching amount and variety of injuries at the NHL level and throughout multiple levels of their prospect pool.
Sometimes, unexplainable trends persist. The struggles on the annual post-Christmas road swing make the list. However, it’s not hard to correlate the majority of the information. The Flyers have won one playoff series in the past 10 seasons during the worst era in franchise history. The first of their annual road trips during that span went well, and they’ve followed it up with seven tough ones because they haven’t had many good seasons during that time span.
Related: Philadelphia Flyers History Trivia
It’s no coincidence that the 1996-97 Flyers during the prime of Eric Lindros and the Legion of Doom went 4-0-1 on this trip in a season that ultimately ended with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. The better part of the history of the franchise includes great heights in successful eras with excellent talent, and the past decade does not. Good teams are more likely to succeed on long trips.
The Kings are a solid team in second place in the Pacific Division in 2022-23, but the Sharks and the Ducks sit in the basement of the NHL. Even with uncertainty surrounding the availability of Carter Hart, the Flyers don’t face daunting odds on their upcoming trip aside from the bizarre trend of futility away from the Wells Fargo Center during Disney on Ice. However, the Flyers are not a safe bet to outplay any NHL team in 2022-23, and they really haven’t been for a long time.