Keys to Flyers’ Second Half Success

As January wraps up, many Flyers fans might be left wondering how things became so dismal in such a short amount of time. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote some New Year’s resolutions the Flyers should note in order to keep themselves afloat in the Eastern Conference.

They didn’t follow them.

December was a cake walk for the Flyers, they appeared to have solidified themselves as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, going 9-4-1 over the course of the month. Then January hit.

The Flyers struggled their way through the month and somewhat salvaged it by amassing a three-game win streak towards the end, but they still aren’t scoring or looking remotely as good as they previously did. There are a few important things we can take away from the Flyers play this month and a lot we can tell about where the team is headed.

Here are three things they need to focus on heading forward.

Consistent Goaltending

The Flyers had some pleasant surprises during their three-game winning streak. One of those happened to be the play of Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason.

Mason has been one of the Flyers’ most important pieces this season, in good ways and in bad. He, along with Neuvirth, struggled at the onset and that held the Flyers back. Then Neuvirth went down to injury and suddenly Mason became the Flyers’ best player. During the 10-game winning streak, there were multiple occasions where Mason stopped north of 40 shots.

That consistency didn’t last.

Neuvirth needs to be a formidable backup down the stretch. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As soon as the Flyers started to run downhill, Mason’s play slid as well. He appeared to be fatigued from playing too many games while Neuvirth was hurt. It was so bad, that he went over a month without recording a single win.

That’s not to put all the blame on him because it wasn’t Mason’s fault, but the Flyers needed better play in net.

That better play started with a huge win against the New York Rangers last week. Mason stood tall against a Rangers barrage early in the game and led the Flyers to a shutout win over their Metropolitan Division rivals. Neuvirth followed that up the night after with another stellar performance in net, allowing one goal against a Maple Leafs team that has been scoring at a very high clip (3.5 goals-per-game) in January.

Goaltending will be the most critical piece of the Flyers’ stretch run since they have lived and died by it all season long. During the 10 game winning streak, Mason (8 GP) had a .926 save percentage while facing the fourth most shots (256) of any goalie over that span. In the 15 games he’s played since the winning streak ended, Mason has an .897 save percentage, which is less than flattering.

When the goalies are playing well, the Flyers are winning games. Mason and Neuvirth will both have to kick it into high gear if the Flyers want to make the playoffs.

Finding The Net Again

If there was one thing that held true for the Flyers over the 2016 portion of the season, it was that they were scoring goals at will. From the beginning until the winning streak ended in mid-December, the Flyers were averaging 3.2 goals-per-game. As a measure of comparison, during the same time frame in the previous season, the Flyers were averaging a dismal 2.1 goals-per-game. Then, as if a switch turned on, they averaged nearly 3.0 goals-per-game from February onward last season.

Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers, Fantasy Hockey
Sean Couturier has been quiet offensively.  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The opposite is true this year.

As I mentioned above, the Flyers were averaging 3.2 goals per game from October to December of this season. That number has fallen off of a cliff in January, where they are averaging 2.1 goals per game over the month. That won’t be good enough to compete with teams in the Metropolitan Division. Four of the five highest scoring teams in the league are in their division and each one averages over 3.25 goals per game.

Even during their modest three-game winning streak the Flyers only managed three goals once, with the third one coming in overtime.

There was a point in the season where the team received scoring from throughout the lineup. Different players had multipoint games each night. That is long gone. Even Shayne Gostisbehere, who was an offensive machine last season, has two points in his last 10 games.

The Flyers are going to need to ramp up their offense in the coming weeks, especially with a slew of games remaining against high-scoring teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.

If the Flyers can bring back their scoring touch, they will put themselves on a clear path to the playoffs.