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Flyers return from West Coast trip to face tough slate of opponents during homestand

Disney on Ice strikes again.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

After a largely unsuccessful 1-2-1 road trip out West, the Philadelphia Flyers return east where they face a tough five game stretch — though four of them are home tilts at the Wells Fargo Center.

That stretch begins with the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins tonight followed by home games against the surprising San Jose Sharks and stacked Carolina Hurricanes. A trip up to Boston to face the Bruins precedes a visit from the New York Rangers, who are rather fuego themselves.

Even though they’ve somehow earned points in seven of their last nine games overall, the Flyers will have their work cut out for them if they intend to keep inching their way (read: loser pointing) closer to the playoff picture.

Only the Sharks are currently out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture of this writing, and presents a sizable challenge as the Flyers return from a lengthy road trip to usher in the New Year. Also a challenge — as for just about every team — is COVID-19 protocols, which added Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov to the mix on Tuesday afternoon.

Despite cancellations and COVID-19 protocols affecting lineups left and right, the Flyers have been better under interim coach Mike Yeo, and have at least seemed to open up an offense that largely stalled under former bench boss Alain Vigneault. Under Yeo the Flyers have scored 3.4 goals per game as opposed to just 2.31 under Vigneault — sure the sample size has been small, but at least it’s something.

For starters, the return of Joel Farabee has helped as he’s potted three goals in four games since the coaching chance. The ever-streaky James van Riemsdyk has scored five goals while enjoying more favorable deployments in 10 games since AV’s dismissal. Oskar Lindblom has found his scoring touch, as well, with seven points in 10 games and Giroux has been a point per game player as well.

Even those not putting the puck in the net themselves are setting other up — Travis Konecny has been a popular battering ram of criticism, but has nine assists in his last 10 games is third on the team in scoring and would have double figure goals if his shooting percentage (5.7%) wasn’t more than half of his career rate (12.1%).

Losing Sean Couturier hurts big time, and he can’t be replaced but his scoring is down a touch already this season and the Flyers could at least get by with scoring by committee for the time being — especially if JVR, Farabee, and TK can keep creating and others like Lindblom and Hayes can add secondary support.

While scoring is seeing an uptick under Yeo, the Flyers are slipping into some goal prevention issues that have seeped in of late — a concern with some high scoring opponents filled with firepower on the docket. Carter Hart has missed time and you know, the whole No. 1 defenseman being on the long-term injury list essentially all season long thing is starting to finally take its toll.

Absent of Ryan Ellis, the Flyers have treaded water on defense with Provorov cementing his status as a No. 2 with uneven play night-in and night-out without a trusty partner the Flyers have been searching for since Matt Niskanen’s sudden retirement. We all though that was going to be Ellis, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the ice and the Flyers’ lack of quality depth — looking at you, Nick Seeler and Kevin Connauton — hasn’t been able to support solid campaigns from Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen. It’s not worth getting into how bad Keith Yandle has been, but the Flyers’ lack of available and quality depth has left Yeo with a dearth of options.

Perhaps Cam York’s stellar season debut in Anaheim will provide Yeo with an option he simply can’t keep off the ice, but given Yandle’s pursuit of the NHL Iron Man streak it would seem an uphill battle for anyone to supplant the veteran at this point just a handful of games away from the mark.

A tough stretch awaits the Flyers here, but there’s at least some room for optimism given their recent play and perhaps keeping this little point generation run going remains possible with a steady dose of home cooking.