The Philadelphia Flyers of 2013-14 are a hard team to understand. It’s frustrating to most fans because as soon as you think they’re starting to roll, something seems to set them back. On paper, they certainly have a lineup that should do damage in the Eastern Conference. But for some reason, they can’t seem to gel consistently enough on the ice to get out of the middle of the Metropolitan Division standings.
The playoff format change this year, might actually help the Flyers. Just to refresh everyone, the NHL divided the teams into two Conferences, the Eastern and Western. The traditional conferences were split into two divisions each. The West has seven teams in each of the Central and Pacific Divisions and the East has eight teams in each of the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions. The top three teams at the end of the season in each division earn automatic berths into the playoffs. The next two teams with the most points in each Conference will earn a wild card berth. That’s a total of 16 teams, eight in each Conference that will play for the Stanley Cup.
Heading into their home game tonight against Colorado, the Flyers are currently clinging to the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. However, they play in the Metropolitan Division and currently are tied in points with the third place Columbus Blue Jackets, with Columbus holding the tie breaker. Still, any sort of winning streak would likely push the Flyers past the Blue Jackets.
The problem with generating any kind of win streak, is that the Flyers are entering perhaps the hardest part of their schedule. The Flyers have 25 games left, 15 of which are being played at home. That is the only good news about the Flyers remaining schedule. If you just count losses as losses, whether they’re in overtime or not, there are 14 teams with winning records in the NHL. The Flyers happen to play 18 of their 25 remaining games against those teams. In that mix of 18 games, the Flyers square off against the NHL’s elite teams (Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St Louis, Colorado, San Jose, Anaheim) 10 times. Among the many teams fighting for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers easily have the hardest remaining schedule.
Since the introduction of the “three point” game by the NHL, the playoff race stays open longer to teams that aren’t even competitive. The NHL schedule is just over two thirds done, and in the Eastern Conference, only three teams (New York Islanders, Florida, Buffalo) are truly eliminated from playoff contention. Three teams out of sixteen! While this is exciting for most teams and their fans, it has really given some undeserving teams a shot at making the post-season. Ottawa, Detroit, and New Jersey have double digit lose totals in overtime and the shoot-out, but they have still earned double digit point totals in that format—which has been huge in keeping them in the playoff hunt. The Flyers should be ahead of these teams by a fair margin with their higher win total, but find themselves in a dog fight because the NHL gives teams a point for a losing.
With a few key wins during the season, the Flyers wouldn’t be worrying about not making the playoffs. Instead, a few big wins could have had the Flyers looking towards seeding and who they were going to play in the first round already. But those wins haven’t happened yet, and a team loaded with talent could very well miss the playoffs if they struggle down the stretch. Is there still a good chance that the Flyers make the playoffs? Of course, but they’ve taken the hard road and have to hope that other teams with easier schedules don’t run away from them.
While Pittsburgh, Boston and Tampa Bay have distanced themselves from the pack in the Eastern Conference, 10 others teams are fighting for the last five playoff spots and are within seven points of each other. Philadelphia is one of those teams involved and with their remaining schedule they could find themselves watching the playoffs—rather than playing in them.