Exactly one month ago to the day the Flyers woke up last place in the league with a record of 16-23-6, fifteen points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. However, following a miraculous eight game win streak — and ten game point streak — they now sit eight points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for that same final wild card spot. So, with 25 games remaining, how many games do the Flyers have to win to make the postseason?
The rest of the East
The most simplest way to find an answer to that question is to look at the other teams in the Eastern Conference and figure out how many standings points they’re on pace to finish the season with. To make things easier on the eyes we’re going to round down for every team’s point pace. After all, it’s not as if you can receive a portion of a point.
At the top we find the Tampa Bay Lightning on pace to finish with 126 standings points, the most of any team since the Detroit Red Wings finished the 1996 season with 131. The Flyers aren’t catching them, check. Following the Lightning we have the rest of the 100-point club that includes the Toronto Maple Leafs (106), New York Islanders (105), Boston Bruins (103), and the Montreal Canadiens at 101. To reach 100 points, the Flyers would need to take 41 of a possible 50 points out of their final 25 games, a feat that was last accomplished by, of course, the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators. It’s in no way impossible, but assuming that the Flyers don’t have a Senators-esque run ahead of them, and that the teams on pace for a 100 point season continue to play as well as they have through their first 55-plus games, they won’t be catching any of them either. But that’s okay, they don’t need 100 points to make the playoffs. There are still teams currently in a playoff position on pace for less than that. Three, to be exact, each with their own unique weakness heading towards the final stretch.
Columbus Blue Jackets
32-20-3, 99-point pace
First up are the Blue Jackets, winners of four straight, and home of former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky. A scenario in which Columbus fails to make the postseason is somewhat easy to envision, with arguably their two most important players possibly being on their way out in Artemi Panarin and the aforementioned Bobrovsky. Number one on TSN’s Trade Bait list, Panarin currently sits 20th in the league in points with 64 in 53 games, and ranks 13th in goals above replacement per Evolving-Hockey. He’s one of the best wingers in hockey, and it’s extremely unlikely that Blue Jackets would receive a player of his caliber back should they decide to trade him at the deadline.
If Panarin gets moved, things would go from bad to worse if Bobrovsky would then also wind up playing for a new team two weeks from now. Even though his numbers are not what we’re used to seeing from Bob, Joonas Korpisalo hasn’t been any better, and there’s not exactly a ton of good goaltenders rumored to be available. If they were to lose both Panarin and Bobrovksy without adding, say, Mark Stone and Jimmy Howard, they’d undoubtedly be making their team worse, and could easily slide down the standings. It can’t be overstated how massive these decisions will be for Jarmo Kekalainen and company.
31-18-7, 99-point pace
The defending Stanley Cup Champions’ have one big secret weakness, and it’s that they simply haven’t been that good this season. Per Corsica, among teams currently in a playoff spot only the Dallas Stars have an adjusted 5-on-5 CF% below the Capitals, and no playoff team has a worse xGF% than their 46.63%, which is the fifth-lowest in the league. They’re a somewhat vulnerable team that has benefited from a league-best on-ice shooting percentage of 10.55. Their underlying numbers, along with a few other factors like the strength of their remaining schedule, has The Athletic projecting them to finish just below their current pace, and in the second wild card spot.
There’s a lot less for the Capitals to worry about than the Blue Jackets, but what happens if Alex Ovechkin stops shooting at over 17%, which is just under 5% above than his career average, and their offense dries up? Braden Holtby has been fine, but would just fine be enough to get them through that? Possibly, but there’s certainly a chance that they go on a late season skid here, and give way to a late push by the Flyers.
29-20-7, 96-point pace
And finally, everyone’s favorite, the Penguins. The absolute best, most fun scenario possible would be for the Flyers to bump the Penguins out of the playoffs. You know, until they’d win the draft lottery and we’d be forced to play against Jack Hughes constantly for the next decade. But getting back on track, the Penguins are technically the easiest team for the Flyers to catch based on points percentage, but they’ve underperformed a bit this season, and they’re a team that can turn it on at any moment. Even though they might not have the easiest schedule ahead of them, with just under half of their remaining games coming against teams currently in a playoff spot, the Penguins’ star talent likely gets them to the postseason as usual.
However, along with their 12 games against playoff teams, they have another six games coming against the three teams vying for their spot in Carolina, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. The Penguins look the least susceptible to a late season collapse among the three teams the Flyers could realistically jump, but they do have a lot of tough games ahead of them. It’s worth keeping an eye on Pittsburgh.
What do the Flyers need to do?
The Flyers can’t rely on one of the above doomsday scenarios for each team coming true, so with the cutoff looking like 96 points, their job will be to add 37 standings points over their final 25 games. To do that, they’ll need to play at a 122-point pace the rest of the way, a pace that only the Lightning have been able to surpass this season. This also makes the absolute minimum amount of games that the Flyers can win if they want to hit 96 points on the season 12, but that only works if all 13 of their losses require extra time, which, well, isn’t going to happen. A more realistic record that gets the Flyers to the cutoff line would be for them to go 17-5-3, a tough ask for a team that just got done rattling off eight straight wins to give them this long-shot chance to begin with. And even then, that might not be enough with the Hurricanes and Sabres also ahead of them in the standings.
On the flip side, if they lose seven more games in regulation you can just about count them out entirely. A lot — a lot — of things will need to go their way for it to happen, and they probably won’t make it in the end, but the fact that the Flyers aren’t already out of the conversation in mid-February after how this season began is a small miracle in itself.