A 5-3 win Saturday night at Phoenix pushed us past the halfway point of the 82-game season. What a long strange trip it has been. A record of 21-17-4 is equal to second place in the Metropolitan division and a guaranteed playoff spot, right now anyway.
The year started with five losses, a shootout loss, and a shootout win in the preseason. It is a good thing these don’t count. Three straight losses to start the regular season and Coach Peter Laviolette was sent packing. Chief took over and we immediately won our next game. Four more losses and we were 1-7. Only 14 Flyers goals were scored in eight games, an average of 1.75 per game. Six games under .500...time to start perusing the top draft-eligible players.
Our first winning streak was short-lived, two wins against the Rangers and Islanders followed by a loss to the Ducks. Another loss was looming in Game 12 in one of the most memorable games of the season. But first, General Manager Paul Holmgren dealt Max Talbot to Colorado for Steve Downie. Welcome back.
Getting back to Game 12 now, the Caps strolled into the Wells Fargo Center and a couple beat-downs ensued. First, the Washington club whipped us 7-0 on the scoreboard and then Ray Emery whipped Braden Holtby 13-0(punches) in a controversial goalie fight slash line brawl. It all started with Wayne Simmonds trading punches with Tom Wilson. Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn each squared off with a Capital and threw down. It was Downie’s first game back in an Orange and Black sweater. He was hurt in a fight with Volpatti earlier in the game and ended up in the hospital with a concussion. The loss put the group from Broad Street six games under .500 again.
Many people think the Game 12 loss to the Caps and the Emery fight is what turned the season around. But the next three games weren’t spectacular. A trip to New Jersey resulted in a 1-0 shutout win. An overtime loss at Carolina followed by a 3-0 shutout loss at home against the Devils put the Flyers six games under .500 yet again. The record was 4-10-1. Only 22 goals scored in 15 games, now we’re down to an average of 1.47 goals per game. After the game the Boys held a players-only meeting. It worked, finally.
Game 16 was a 4-2 home win against Edmonton. Jay Rosehill scored the first goal. Hartnell and Lecavalier scored as well. Mason had another great game. No one cared about any of that. The headline was much, much bigger. Perhaps the biggest goal of the year was scored that day. The 800-pound gorilla draped across the Captain’s shoulders was gone. Claude Giroux netted his first goal of the season at 11:26 of the third period. Yeah, baby!
Game 16 and G’s first goal was the start of a 7-game stretch in which the Flyers went 6-0-1 earning 13 of a possible 14 points . Three wins, a shootout loss, and then three more wins got the Flyers to .500 for the first time all season. The record was 10-10-2. Sean Couturier finally got his first goal of the season in the fifth game of this stretch. His confidence soared, his line started dominating, and he looked once again like the kid who completely frustrated the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin a couple of years ago in the playoffs.
Since the players-only meeting the Flyers are 17-7-3. 86 goals were scored by the Flyers in this 27-game stretch. This is a much better average of 3.19 goals per game. They have won nine straight at home and are a respectable 8-7-3 on the road. Ten of those road games were against Western conference teams which have feasted on Eastern conference foes this year.
In Game 35, the first of a home-and-home with Columbus, we went above .500 for the first time. The record was 16-15-4. It lasted only one game as the Flyers dropped the second half of the home-and home. A win in game 37 at home against Minnesota put us back above .500 and we have stayed above since. It was the first of a 4-game win streak and 5 wins in the last six games.
Michael Raffl joined the Giroux line and looked good. Hartnell joined a line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds and they are playing extremely well. Simmonds scored 2 goals in three straight games. Lecavalier is returning from a recent back injury. Gustafsson was lost to a knee injury. Matt Read and Michael Raffl have missed games lately with injuries which really shuffled the lines.
It is a little weird to be saying this, as a longtime Flyers fan, but the goaltending has been great most of the year. Imagine that. After a long stretch of games in which Mason hadn’t let in more than 3 games going back to his acquisition late last season, he hit a rough patch. In mid-December, Mason allowed 4 goals in 4 different games…12/7 @ Dallas, 12/9 @ Ottawa, 12/15 @ Washington, and 12/19 at home vs. Colorado. Ottawa and Washington were shootout losses, and Colorado was a win, so even in this little slip-up by Mason, the Flyers earned 4 points in these games. Mason and Emery have been awesome this year for us. Keep it up.
So we move into the second half of the season. An Olympic break looms. Will Claude Giroux play for Canada? If Raffl is healthy he will play. Voracek is a lock, I think…I haven’t heard. Will anyone else play? Timonen? Mason? Gustafsson, if healthy?
What does the second half hold for us? Will Berube get the Flyers to take less minor penalties? Can the Boys hang on to this playoff spot? Will the goaltending performance continue? Can we stay healthy? Will Holmgren make a trade? I can’t wait to find out. Go Flyers!