Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
In what seemed like a given at the beginning of the season, we are now left looking at the possibility that the Flyers may end up missing the playoffs this year. Under the division realignments for this season, the top 4 teams from each of the 4 divisions will make the playoffs. The Flyers are in the MassMutual East division, and this is where things currently stand according to NHL.com:
At about a 3rd of the way through this shortened 56 game season the top 5 spots in the division are a dead heat. The Flyers are currently in a 3-way tie with the Penguins and Isles at 21 points. The Flyers have a slight advantage over these teams at the moment with the series lead against both and less games played overall, therefore more opportunities to get points. The Flyers would be sitting pretty in first place right now if they could've figured out how to at minimum split their previous games against Boston. With the way I've seen the Flyers play thus far this season, especially in their 5 losses to Boston, the COVID issues and injuries they've dealt with, it's a blessing that we have 21 points right now. Will we continue to hold on to a playoff spot going forward is the question though, so let's take a look at it.
Buffalo, New Jersey, and the Rangers
I am going to say as of now it appears these teams will be the bottom 3 in this division at the end of the season and will likely not be a playoff contender to worry about going forward. Buffalo and New Jersey do not appear to be there from a talent perspective yet, and the Rangers can't seem to put consistent efforts together and win the close games that you need to win to get into the playoffs. These teams play hard every night and will not be pushovers when the Flyers play them, but if we want to secure a playoff spot, then we will have to make sure we are beating the teams that we are supposed to every night. This is especially critical in this shortened season with roughly 42% of our games being against these 3 teams.
New York Islanders
The Islanders got off to a slow start this season beginning the year with a 3-4-2 record including back-to-back losses against the Flyers. Since then they have gone 6-2-1. I'm not exactly ready to buy into the Isles yet, as 4 of those wins were over Buffalo and the Rangers. They managed to beat Boston and the Pens, but all 3 losses in this 6-2-1 run have come to the Penguins. The Isles have lost both of their games against the Capitals this season as well. Yes the Isles have come on strong, but I think it is more a result of their lighter schedule than the team turning a corner. Against the 4 teams above them in the standings this year they are 3-5-3. Against the bottom 3 they are 6-2. They beat the bad teams and lose to the good ones. This pace is simply not going to earn them a playoff spot. They need to be .500 or better against the top teams to have shot, and only if they can keep up this winning pace against the bottom 3.
I misjudged the Penguins going into this season. I expected them to show some signs of aging and take a step back this year. They have not done so at all this season. They aren't playing great hockey, but they're playing just well enough to win most nights. 8/10 of their wins have been by 1 goal. Against the other top 4 teams they are 7-3-1 with 2 of those losses being regulation losses to the Flyers. They are playing good hockey most nights, but just have not been able to beat the Flyers or Bruins yet in their 4 games against them. If they keep the pace they're on and manage to get some games against the Flyers and Bruins, then they should find themselves easily in the playoffs. This issue here is they play in so many close games that likely won't continue to end up as wins every time as they have so far. They have won 6/7 of their games that have gone to overtime or a shootout. There's no way they can keep winning those games at that pace.
This team I don't know, I just can't figure them out. Cup contenders one period, getting outshot 15-2 the next period. They've blown more 2 goal leads this season than Carter Hart has given up goals against Boston. Speaking of Boston they have taken over the role of Flyer's bogeyman from the Isles. 0-3-2 against Boston this season simply isn't going to get it done. Despite our record against Boston, COVID issues, key players missing multiple games with injuries, wildly inconsistent play, and constantly blowing leads this team somehow has a 9-4-3 record and 21 points through 16 games. Our early season wins over the Pens, Isles, and Caps are a major reason as to why we are where we are right now. We need to improve vastly on defense and get way more shots on goal if we want to stay in the playoff picture. We currently have a league low of 23 shots per game this season. The next lowest team has 26. Great play at times from Carter Hart and Moose have kept us in, or won us games that we had no business winning. A big 3 game series next week against the Penguins should tell us a lot about where this team is at.
Another team I cannot figure out. You never know which team is gonna show up from game to game, or even period to period. I watched them look like Cup contenders against Boston going up 3-0 on them in 2 separate games this season, only to blow both of those leads, losing one of the games. At 9-5-4 I'm not completely sold on this Caps team yet. They have the potential to win another Cup, but they need to find some consistency at some point this season, especially in net. All things considered they should most likely find themselves in the playoffs at the end of the year.
This is the best team in this division right now. They have one of the best goalie duos in the league in Rask and Halak, and one of the best offensive lines in hockey in the Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand line. The defense is playing surprisingly well this season after losing Chara and Krug over the offseason. The big reason for Boston's 2 point lead in the division right now is their 5-0 record against the Flyers. Boston's main advantage so far has been their consistency. They are going to play hard every night, and you're never going to run up the score on them or run them out of the building. If you want to beat this team you better play an air-tight 60 minutes of hockey. This division is Boston's to lose right now.
As of right now I would say the 4 teams that are currently sitting in the playoffs in this division at the moment will be there at the end of the season. The seeding will likely change, but the teams should stay the same. I don't think the Isles get in simply because they haven't yet shown the ability to consistently win against the 4 teams above them. If any team gets bumped by the Isles I would say it is likely Pittsburgh at this point. They have been lucky to win as many of their 1 goal games as they have so far. Their season could easily be a much different story at this point. The Flyers need to find some consistency and get all their players back in the lineup for a change, but I think this roster is just far too talented and the goalies are too good to miss out on a playoff spot. If they fail to make it then I'll be firing up the Alan Vigneault needs to be fired bus and everyone can hop on. I'll do an update to this blog at about the halfway mark of the season, but as of right now I'd say yes the Flyers will be in the playoffs.