After a maddening up-and-down ride through the first part of their season, the Flyers reached the holiday break with a dual personality.
Were they a bottom-of-the-pack team, as they looked when they had a 10-game losing skid (0-5-5) and were outscored by a 14-2 margin after the second period?
Or were they a legitimate playoff team, as they appeared during a six-game winning streak in which goalie Brian Elliott was superb, all four lines contributed, and a new 1-2-2 alignment boosted their overall play?
"Obviously, we need to be more consistent," defenseman Andrew MacDonald said.
The Flyers (15-13-8), who resume play Thursday in South Florida against the Panthers, showed positive signs by going 7-2-1 before the break. They are still last in the crowded, eight-team Metropolitan Division, but have inched to within four points of a playoff spot.
Considering they went through a stretch in which they picked up only five out of a possible 20 points, "we're very fortunate to be in this spot," said winger Travis Konecny, who moved up to the top line and had one of his best games of the season Saturday in a hard-fought 2-1 shootout loss in Columbus.
They can avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons by improving in these areas:
Special teams. The Flyers' penalty kill is ranked 29th out of 31 teams, and their power play is 15th. Perhaps giving Claude Giroux more penalty-killing time would help, and moving Sean Couturier back to the No. 2 power-play unit might give the Flyers two lines that are dangerous with an extra skater instead of one.
Better starts. As has been the case during much of Dave Hakstol's coaching tenure, the Flyers seem to start slowly. And when they fall behind early, they aren't good at playing catch-up. They won just one of 13 games when trailing after the first period. Overall, they have five wins in the 20 games in which their opponent scored first, regardless of the period.
Improvement at home. The Flyers are just 8-7-4 at the Wells Fargo Center. That's not playoff-worthy.
Stronger play after regulation. The Flyers are 2-8 in games that have gone into overtime or a shootout. If that record had been reversed, they would be in a playoff spot.
The good news is that the Flyers' five-on-five play has been solid – they have outscored opponents, 62-53 in those situations — and that is usually the biggest indicator for a team's playoff chances.
"It's hard to win six in a row in this league. We dug ourselves out of it, but we're not there yet," center Scott Laughton said. "We need to continue to push and get better as a group."
The Flyers need to get more offense out of Konecny (four goals), Jordan Weal (three), and rookie Nolan Patrick (two), three young forwards trying to get their games in order. The development of another young player going through growing pains, defenseman Travis Sanheim, will also be a key factor in the last three-plus months.
The Flyers play 39 of their last 46 games against Eastern Conference teams, so they control their own destiny.
The fact the players didn't start pointing fingers during the losing streak, general manager Ron Hextall said, will make the team stronger in the long run.
"Trust me, it's not easy. Ten games, a lot of nastiness goes on," he said. "Give our group credit; they stuck together. In saying that, we've got a lot of work to do."