Claude Giroux is not a big-picture type of guy, and as the Flyers push themselves further from playoff contention, that’s become even more important.
“I’m a strong believer in not looking at the big picture,” said Giroux, who figures to be one of the most in-demand players approaching the March 21 trade deadline. “And that’s basically looking at it.”
The Flyers want to make the playoffs, but first they have to simply win a game. They came close against the Islanders Tuesday night, going to a nine-round shootout after controlling the pace of the game for much of 65 minutes. Instead, their losing skid extended to nine games.
“Tonight maybe we did deserve to win, but at this point, we’re just finding ways to lose hockey games,” said Giroux, who figures to be one of the most in-demand players at this year’s trade deadline.
At this point, the Flyers are trying to take comfort in the fact that they’re starting to play the right way, and they’re starting to do it consistently. In back-to-back 3-2 defeats to the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers last week, they had spurts of competitive play, but they also had lapses that decided the games.
Other than their first five minutes, the Flyers eliminated those long lapses in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, and it showed. Following the loss, interim coach Mike Yeo said they would focus on that progress and then they would focus on the next game.
It’s “not a secret that we’re far off” from the playoffs, Giroux said. Entering Wednesday, the Flyers were 12 points behind Boston for the final wild-card spot, and are 19 points behind the Rangers for the third automatic qualifier position in the Metropolitan Division. Despite the team’s recent struggles, Giroux isn’t giving up.
“We keep playing the right way, keep battling together as a team, then we can start looking at the standings,” Giroux said. “But, for us, we just have to keep battling, keep winning hockey games, and just climb back into playoff standings.”
The big picture
With a game-by-game mentality, the small picture may be showing hope and progress, but the big picture is currently looking bleak.
Six games from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 13-18-8. They’re not only battling their nine-game losing streak, but they also have never completely recovered from the 10-game skid they endured from Nov. 18 to Dec. 8. They had a seven-game point streak that directly followed, but it included three overtime losses.
“Honestly, they both suck,” Yeo said of the losing streaks. “Like I said, we’re competitors. We’re here to win hockey games. So it doesn’t feel good when you lose.”
With their 34 points, the Flyers sit sixth in the Metropolitan Division. They’re one point behind Columbus and one point ahead of New Jersey — but they’ve played more games than both teams. The Islanders, who beat the Flyers twice in two days, are still in last place, but they also have played seven fewer games. They’re sitting at .500 while the Flyers’ point percentage is .436.
If the playoffs were to start now, the Carolina Hurricanes, Rangers, and Washington Capitals would qualify from the Metro, and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Bruins would get in as wild cards. The Flyers are 1-2 against the Bruins, who hold the final wild-card spot, and trail Boston by 12 points despite playing three more games.
So what now?
For the players, it’s all about snapping the skid. They’ll have their next chance to do that Thursday game against the Blue Jackets.
“We’re being tested right now,” Yeo said, “and we have no other choice but to keep coming back and to keep coming back with a great attitude and keep coming back trying to get better.”
There’s still a chance to make playoffs if the Flyers can start stringing wins together and then carry that momentum through the All-Star break. However, those chances are slim. As of Wednesday, Hockey Reference gives the Flyers a 1.5% chance of making it.
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The situation got even worse Tuesday afternoon when the Flyers announced center Kevin Hayes underwent a procedure to drain fluid from his adductor region. He is expected to be out three to four weeks. While some of that time will overlap with the break, there are still six games the Flyers need to get through.
Hayes’ injury adds to the long list of centers out for the Flyers. Top-line center Sean Couturier has been out since Dec. 21, and Yeo doesn’t know when to expect him back. Patrick Brown, Derick Brassard, and Nate Thompson are all out, as well.
While the players have to keep playing, management has to start making some decisions ahead of the trade deadline. . The Flyers made numerous offseason moves, but their season is looking much like 2021, when they missed playoffs.
While injuries have kept the team from showing its full potential, the Flyers are almost at the point of no return. Management has to decide if it wants to keep tinkering with the roster it has or start trading assets for draft picks and future considerations.
With eight players currently on long-term injured reserve, the team is projected to have $4,490 of cap space, according to Cap Friendly. There are three players — Giroux, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Justin Braun — who make more than $1 million and will be unrestricted free agents after the season. Giroux and Hayes both have no-move clauses. Keith Yandle, whose contract is up at the end of the year, has a no-trade clause. And Cam Atkinson, whose contract goes until 2025, has a modified no-move clause.
As Yeo said, the team has “no choice” but to keep going out there and trying to get a win, and maybe they’ll storm back and make a playoff run. But management has two months if it wants to start thinking about its next steps so the Flyers don’t end up in such a precarious position again.