The Philadelphia Flyers are reeling, but they’re not out. The great 23-game run of last season is over and the team is showing every sign of cracking. GM Chuck Fletcher needs a Flyers trade shakeup or the organization risks watching TV as the cross-state lottery winners make the playoffs.
Despite their recent struggles, the Flyers are still just three points behind the Boston Bruins, and six points behind with two games in hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins for a playoff spot. If the Flyers want to turn things around, changes must be made.
Hope is all but lost for the current group.
“I think it’s just sloppy plays right now,” Erik Gustafsson said after he was on the ice for two of the Islanders’ goals. “We got to be better”
Travis Konecny reiterated that point.
“We’re at the point where we just gotta play better,” Konecny said. “If you’re losing games you want to be losing them by one … We have to keep the games tighter and make the right plays. We have to give ourselves a chance to stay in the game. We know what we have to do, we just need to execute.”
But the Flyers aren’t making the right plays and they aren’t executing. Chuck Fletcher has to recognize that and do something about it.
The New York road trip should’ve solidified things a bit, but it didn’t. The Flyers still have a chance of figuring things out but something needs to change before this morass spirals out of control.
If it’s not there already.
The Flyers’ maddening March
The Flyers have not won back-to-back games since winning three straight against the Rangers and Sabres (two shutouts) from Feb. 24-28. They have won just four games since then.
Two of those wins were three-goal rallies. On March 4, the Flyers overcame an early three-goal deficit in Pittsburgh, then did the same thing less than one week later at home against the lowly Sabres.
But this week, the Flyers blew an early 2-0 lead to the New York Rangers before coming back to tie it twice and winning it in overtime at Madison Square Garden. Thursday’s win on Long Island looked easy until the Islanders scored three goals in quick succession to tie the game in the third period.
Flyers winger Oskar Lindblom won the game in regulation, but it was another nail-biter.
The Flyers haven’t had a convincing win all month and it’s fair to argue that they haven’t had an impressive win all season long.
Even worse than the results and the Flyers’ record this month is the team’s play. They are playing uninspired hockey and they know it.
“We have to stop chasing games and it has to stop now,” Konecny said after the Flyers chased yet another game on Saturday night.
It’s one thing for the Flyers to say those things, it’s another for them to execute as Konecny said.
The Flyers’ 1-3-0 record on their four-game road trip was indicative of their play, and that may be giving them too much credit. They were outscored 22-10 in the four games. Nine of those 22 goals came in one game, but a 12-10 goal differential is still poor given the situation.
The Flyers could’ve used at least three points against the Rangers, who are below them in the standings. Instead, they clawed out a 5-4 overtime win before laying a goose egg in a 9-0 loss. Against the Islanders, they allowed three unnecessary goals in the third period on Thursday and got demolished on Saturday night.
Wednesday’s blowout loss was as bad as they come.
“It was embarrassing to be playing on that ice,” Claude Giroux said on Wednesday night. “The way we played, we didn’t help our goalies at all. There’s not a lot of words to say. We know we gotta wake up.”
The New York road trip was an important one. The Flyers’ lackluster performance on it makes this upcoming homestand an even bigger one. They have an opportunity to get things right on home ice. However, they may need a change or two to get back on track.
Chuck Fletcher needs to act now
It is up to Chuck Fletcher and his staff to make a move while the Flyers still have a fighting chance at this thing. The defensive issues have gone on for far too long and the Erik Gustafsson – Nate Prosser pair personified that on Saturday. The forwards and goaltenders have had their fair share of problems as well, but the main culprit is the defense.
Trading for Mattias Ekholm right now would cost too much. The Predators would have all of the leverage and, to be honest, the Flyers simply aren’t in a position to potentially mortgage the future right now. If the team shows that they can get back into the playoff picture, perhaps Fletcher will have his eyes on the bigger target.
That doesn’t leave many options for Fletcher in the trade market, though. The Flyers have been linked to John Klingberg, and Alex Goligoski. Klingberg is in a similar position to Ekholm with his contract through next season. Goligoski would be a rental, as would David Savard. Savard hasn’t explicitly been shopped or linked to the Flyers as of yet, but he’d be a great fit.
If a trade for a defenseman isn’t in the cards, Fletcher may need to look for a different move. Trading a piece of the core may be too drastic, but shaking up the locker room wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world at this point.
One of the other options Fletcher has available to him is to make a change behind the bench. Firing Alain Vigneault probably won’t happen right now, but one of his assistants may be on the hot seat.
Wednesday night’s 9-0 loss should’ve sparked something. Chuck Fletcher has now had three full days to formulate a plan. He needs to act on that plan before it’s too late.
Flyers still have a fighting chance
Just past the halfway point of the 56-game season, the Flyers sit in fifth place in the East Division. They are 15-11-3 for 33 points in 29 games. The fourth-place Boston Bruins had 36 points in 28 games, and the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins have 39 points in 31 games. If the Flyers win both of their games in hand, they would be just two points behind the Penguins.
Unfortunately, given the Flyers’ recent play, that is a huge if. However, they have a prime opportunity right in front of them.
After Monday’s game against the Islanders, the Flyers have a relatively easy schedule to finish out the month. They host the Devils for one game, the Rangers for two, and travel up to Buffalo for a two-game set. If the Flyers get eight points in those five games, they could very well be back in the playoff race. They should be able to get at least six points.
The Flyers are 4-7-0 in March with six games remaining. It’s quite possible that the Flyers could end up with a .500 or better record in the month. But it’s up to Fletcher and the Flyers to figure things out once and for all.