Look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ record in their last 10 games and it’s easy to see why they’re in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Watch the first 10 minutes of their last four games and you’d think they were competing for the first overall pick with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Simply put, of late, the Flyers are a step behind when their games begin. In its last four games Philadelphia has been outshot 46-26 in the opening period. If that number keeps up, the team will be watching the Red Wings, Islanders and Penguins locking up playoff spots before too long.
Despite being outshot by 20 in those four games combined, the Flyers have gone on to be outshot only twice in that stretch. They also have two wins and five of a possible eight points, so how is the team rebounding from such poor starts?
The answer is really quite simple: goaltending. Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, when healthy, are keeping the team in games. The pair has weathered the storm in most of those games until the Flyers
could pull out of their tailspin. Luckily for the skaters they were able to reward their goalies, except in Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and in a horrendous finish Tuesday night in Columbus.
But Neuvirth’s injury may start to affect the team soon. Mason and Neuvirth were able to rotate more often, almost in platoon roles. That’s not an option anymore with the former Buffalo Sabre out until mid-April.
Mason played back-to-back Monday and Tuesday night and with three more on the schedule, the 27-year-old could be seeing a heavy workload. It would be nice if the team could give him lighter work in those games, which wasn’t done on Monday or Tuesday.
Another reason for the moderate success during that period goes in-hand with the play of the netminders; the Flyers have scored first in three of those four games.
Fixing The Issues
Unfortunately for Philly, fixing slow starts isn’t as clear-cut as changing the lineup or system, not that that’s easier. With playoffs on the line the team should be motivated to go out and play hard every night. But the team hasn’t done that since it stifled the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of their game on March 15.
Here’s the tough part though: the Flyers now enter their busiest stretch of the season with three back-to-backs and 10 games in 18 days. Flying right off the bat isn’t going to be simple.
But there’s also good news for Flyers fans. Philly has rebounded in every game after the initial 10 to 20 minutes, even in the loss against the Pens.
However it will get harder to do that day-in and day-out with one goalie and a tough stretch coming up. Skating hard from the first puck drop will be crucial over the next three weeks for the Flyers.