With less than three months left in the regular season, the Flyers are on the playoff bubble and trending in the wrong direction.
If they miss the playoffs, they will probably look back on the Death March portion of their schedule as the turning point.
Ten games that could be viewed as the difference. Ten games that stopped the momentum they took into their holiday break.
They still have a chance to stop the tailspin and salvage some respectability during the 10-game stretch. All they have to do is beat Boston (27-8-11) and the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues (29-10-7), teams tied with Washington for the most points in the NHL.
Good luck with that.
After winning four straight and moving into third place in the Metropolitan Division, here how the Flyers’ schedule set up after Christmas: A season-high six-game, 12-day road trip, followed by four games against elite teams — Washington, Tampa Bay, Boston, and St. Louis.
“It’s a good test, a good challenge,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said before the murderous 10-game stretch began.
Heading into Monday’s home matchup against Atlantic Division-leading Boston, the Flyers are 2-5-1 since coming out of their break.
Yes, the Flyers (23-16-6) have key players sidelined, but so do other teams. Pittsburgh has been missing superstar Sidney Crosby for two-plus-months and hasn’t skipped a beat. Ditto St. Louis, which has been without high-scoring Vladimir Tarasenko since late October.
There are plenty of other examples, but you get the point.
The Flyers need others to step up to make up for the loss of Oskar Lindblom, who is battling bone cancer, and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder). Several of their forwards, however, are fighting it. Consider:
-- James van Riemsdyk has no points and is minus-6 in his last eight games.
-- Claude Giroux has two goals over his last 11 games.
-- Jake Voracek, arguably the Flyers’ best player the last few weeks, has been a superb playmaker but has no goals in his last nine games.
-- Michael Raffl has one goal in his last 26 games.
-- Rookie Joel Farabee has one goal in his last 28 games.
In addition, the Flyers’ power play has dried up — no goals in 11 chances over the last four games. They squandered three opportunities in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to surging Tampa Bay.
“A few too many times we did not have clean entries or get possession back after they pressured and caused a turnover,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
“We’re not finishing,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’re one and done a lot of times.“
Vigneault moved Voracek to the front of the net on the power play because van Riemsdyk has struggled in that role, but that didn’t help.
“For whatever reason, he’s not finding it this year,” Vigneault said of van Riemsdyk, who has just two power-play goals all season. “I thought by trying Jake there, it might give us another look.”
On Monday, the Flyers will face a Bruins team that has won three in a row and has the league’s best special teams. Boston is the only NHL team that entered Sunday in the top three on the power play (third, 27.7% success rate) and penalty kill (tied for second, 83.3%).
The Flyers have dropped to 19th on the power play (18.7%) and are 10th on the penalty kill (82.3%).
Bruins right winger David Pastrnak leads the NHL with 35 goals — 21 more than the Flyers’ leading goal scorer, Travis Konecny (14 goals). Brad Marchand has added 20 goals and 42 assists for the B’s.
Pastrnak, drafted with the 25th overall selection in 2014 —eight picks after the Flyers took Travis Sanheim — has a league-high 16 power-play goals. In the Flyers’ 3-2 shootout win in Boston on Nov. 10, Pastrnak had nine shots (four on goal), including a penalty shot, but he didn’t score against Carter Hart. Farabee netted the winning goal in the shootout.