No one said it would be easy! The Philadelphia Flyers have 14 games to go in the NHL season as of March 11th and need to pass two teams above them to snag a wild card playoff spot. They trailed the Columbus Blue Jackets by five points for the second wild card position in the East, but were also five back of the Montreal Canadiens with a game in hand on the Habs.
With 28 points still on the table, the Flyers also have a slim chance of catching up to the Carolina Hurricanes for the first wild card berth as they trailed them by seven points.
Of the final 14 games, the Flyers have 11 of them against current playoff teams. This includes two more with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and a pair against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have one of the league’s most potent offenses. They don’t play the Blue Jackets again, but could gain some ground on Montreal and Carolina as they play the Canadiens once more and the Hurricanes twice.
The Flyers have been hanging in there by going 6-3-1 in their past 10 contests and are 17-6-2 since January 10th. Those 17 wins included 10 against current playoff teams and a pair over the New York Islanders. They don’t really have any easy touches down the stretch, if there is such a thing in today’s NHL, but they meet the Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers once each.
To make the task of reaching the postseason that more difficult is the two-game suspension of winger Jakub Voracek for his hit to the head of Johnny Boychuk of the Islanders on March 9th. The Flyer was given a five-minute penalty for interference on the play and then handed the suspension the next day when the NHL studied video of the hit.
Voracek and the NHL Players’ Association appealed the ban on March 11th, but they’ll be looking for an answer as soon as possible since the Flyers play that night. Voracek’s offense will be missed as the 29-year-old is fifth on the team in goals with 18, second in assists with 43 and third in points with 61 in 66 games. Voracek just returned to the lineup in the game against the Islanders and notched a pair of assists after missing the previous two games with a lower body injury. He’s scored three goals and eight assists for 11 points in his last five appearances so the suspension comes at the worst time possible.
On a brighter note, 20-year-old rookie goaltender Carter Hart has returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an ankle injury and will back up Brian Elliot on March 11th against the Senators. Cam Talbot, who was acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers in February, will be relegated to the press box for the time being. Talbot played in a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on March 1st and allowed one goal against in a 5-3 loss to the Capitals on March 6th. He played the final 33 minutes of that game after Elliot was pulled when he gave up four goals on 19 shots. Those are the only two games Talbot has played since arriving in Philly.
Head coach Scott Gordon will likely ride Hart the rest of the way when he’s healthy enough to start as Elliot is 1-1 in his last two games with a 4.29 goals-against average and an 87.0 save percentage. And speaking of Gordon, he’s still officially the team’s interim head coach after replacing Dave Hakstol earlier in the season. He’s helped improved the squad’s penalty-killing and power-play units, but there hasn’t been a great deal of difference in five-on-five play.
Even if the Flyers don’t make the playoffs, team management will be grading Gordon and several of the team’s younger players down the stretch run. If they manage to stay alive in the playoff race as long as possible then Gordon may be rewarded with an offer to return behind the bench next season. If not, the club may look elsewhere for an experienced head coach such as Joel Quenneville, who was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks a few months ago.
Overall, it looks like the Flyers have some fine prospects in the organization no matter who they fare over the duration of the season. These include blue liners Samuel Morin, Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim as well as winger Oskar Lindblom. And of course, we can’t forget Hart in net. They also have a few players who haven’t made the jump to the NHL yet including forwards Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost.
In addition, the free agent signing of winger James van Riemsdyk looks to be a lot better now after he was injured in the second game of the season. The 29-year-old was inked to a five-year, $35 million deal in the summer after he walked away from the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s his second stint in the City of Brotherly Love after they drafted him second overall in 2007.
Van Riemsdyk has missed 16 games in 2018/19, but has bounced back strongly with 20 goals and 37 points in 52 contests and is on pace for 25 goals and 47 points. He’s also chipped in with eight power-play markers and three game winners.
The Flyers don’t control their own destiny at this point of the season, but they still have a glimmer of hope. If they can keep up the hard work and get some solid goaltending they may stay alive for awhile longer in the playoff race.
They have no choice really but to win their games against Montreal and Carolina if they hope to catch them, but unfortunately they don’t go head to head with the Blue Jackets again this season. Anything’s possible with 28 points to play for even though making the postseason appears improbable. But that’s why they play the games.