Eric Hartline- USA Today Sports-January 11, 2014
The Philadelphia Flyers have a grueling schedule to finish out the season and try to make a playoff push.
The Flyers have 14 games left in the season and 11 of them are against teams that are fighting for playoff positions. Those teams include the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Dallas Stars may be fifth in the Central Division, but they are fighting for the second wild card spot out West. They are 14-14-4 on the road and 6-3-1 in the last 10 games played. The Stars picked up Tyler Seguin in the off-season and he leads the team with 70 points and 31 goals. Jamie Benn is second on the team in scoring with 64 points, but the Stars offense drops off significantly after those two. The Stars score a lot of goals as a team but they also give up a lot of goals.
The St. Louis Blues are in first place in the NHL and in the Central Division with 101 points. The Flyers play them twice down the stretch, once at home and once on the road. The Blues are 22-9-3 on the road and 25-5-4 at home. The Blues are second in goals scored, third in goals against and the power play and penalty kill units are both in the top three in the NHL. Their scoring is spread out so the Flyers defense will have to step up big if they want to win these games.
The Los Angeles Kings are one of the stingiest teams in the NHL and have only allowed 144 goals on the season, but they don’t score a lot either. The Kings are currently in third place in the Pacific Division and in the playoff picture. Their leading scorer is Anze Kopitar and he only has 57 points on the season. Jonathan Quick has a 2.10 goals against average in 39 games played, while back up Martin Jones has a 1.90 goals against average in 16 games played. The Flyers will need to get traffic in front of the goalie if they want to score some goals.
The New York Rangers are battling with the Flyers for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. The one good thing for the Flyers is that this is a road game for them and the Rangers are only 16-16-4 at home this season. The Rangers don’t score a lot of goals per game, but their goalies don’t allow that many goals per game either. Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello are tied for the scoring lead with 47 points apiece. They have a balanced scoring attack and the Flyers should expect a tough, physical game from them.
The Toronto Maple Leafs currently occupy the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The team gives up about three goals against per game. If the Leafs want to win this game then they’ll have to stay out of the penalty box. They have the 28th penalty kill in the NHL, while the Flyers power play is operating at a 19.7 percent success rate this season.
The Flyers will face the Boston Bruins once at home and once on the road. The Bruins are 18-10-3 on the road and 28-7-2 at home. The Bruins are undefeated in their last 10 games and are a balanced team offensively and defensively. The Bruins and the Flyers both have seven players that have scored 15 or more goals this season. The Bruins are in the top ten in the NHL on both the power play and the penalty kill. If the Flyers expect to win either of their games against the Bruins, then they’re going to have to play a full 60-minute game. They’ll also have to limit their mistakes defensively because the Bruins will make them pay.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are getting some timely goal tending from Sergei Bobrovsky, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner. They are fighting for the second wild card spot in the East. The Flyers had to come from behind earlier in the season to beat the Blue Jackets 5-4.
The next two games are against teams that are out of playoff contention, but are the games where the Flyers might fall short. The Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers are two of the worst teams in the league. The Flyers tend to get up for the big games, but don’t play with that same intensity against the weaker teams in the NHL. The Flyers have to come out strong in both of these games because the Sabres and Panthers will be looking to put a damper on the Flyers’ playoff hopes.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are second in the Atlantic Division and have Steven Stamkos back for the playoff push. They are 20-8-5 at home and 17-16-2 on the road. They tend to struggle on special teams but can score goals. They have a pretty balanced team scoring-wise.
The Philadelphia Flyers vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins is one of the best rivalries in the NHL. They’re physical and the Flyers always seem to get up for the big game against the Pens. The Penguins have the best power play in the league and are ranked third on the penalty kill. This should be an entertaining game even if both teams’ playoff fates are sealed.
The Carolina Hurricanes will be looking to play the role of spoiler when they play the Flyers on the last day of the season. The Flyers need to stay focused and not let the Hurricanes come out and jump all over them. The Hurricanes don’t have good special teams and have given up more goals than they have scored this season.
The Flyers may have a grueling schedule, but if they play team defense and can score timely goals, then they should get through it and be in the playoffs come April 16.