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Inconsistent Flyers have a long road to the NHL playoffs – again

Based on a Thanksgiving Day formula, the Flyers are again going to be long shots to make the playoffs. They bucked the odds last season.

Goalie Cal Pickard has struggled since the Flyers claimed him off waivers from Toronto just before the season.
Goalie Cal Pickard has struggled since the Flyers claimed him off waivers from Toronto just before the season.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Since the NHL introduced the salary cap in 2005, about 78 percent of the teams that were in playoff spots on Thanksgiving remained there when the regular season ended.

The Flyers bucked that trend last season. They will probably have to buck it again this season.

A year ago, the Flyers had just 21 points on Thanksgiving and were out of a playoff spot as they sat in last place in the strong Metropolitan Division. They got hot, however, and had the fifth-highest point total in the NHL from Dec. 4 through the end of the regular season. That not only put the Flyers into a playoff spot, it also enabled them to finish third in the balanced Metro.

With Thanksgiving approaching, this year's up-and-down Flyers are in a similar spot. The Flyers, who are 9-9-2 and have 20 points, will play in Buffalo on Wednesday in their final game before Thanksgiving. Even if the Flyers beat the upstart Sabres, the odds are high that they won't be in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving.

That would put their playoff chances at about 22 percent, based on recent history. And those chances will be even less if the goaltending, which has been decimated by injuries, doesn't improve. The Flyers are last in the league in save percentage (.880) and tied for 18th in goals-against average (3.08).

The Flyers will be trying to end a three-game losing streak Wednesday.

"It's tough to lose three in a row at home, but we'll bounce back," right winger Travis Konecny said after the Flyers overcame a four-goal, third-period deficit Saturday and salvaged a point in a 6-5 overtime loss to Tampa Bay.

"It's not good enough," left winger James van Riemsdyk said of a 2-2-1 homestand that started with wins over Arizona and Chicago but ended with losses to Florida, New Jersey, and Tampa Bay. "But there are some things that are encouraging and some things we can work on."

The encouraging signs:

– The Flyers power play, which is loaded with firepower but had just two goals in 32 chances over its previous 11 games, was 3 for 5 Saturday. Is it a sign of things to come?

– Konecny, who has shot into tough luck, scored two goals against Tampa Bay and might be about to go on the type of offensive surge that highlighted his 2017-18 season.

– Van Riemsdyk, who returned to the lineup Thursday after missing 16 games because of a knee injury, has energized the top power-play unit and should give the lines more scoring balance. He had a goal and two assists Saturday.

– The Flyers are 5-3-1 on the road, including a 3-0-1 mark in their last four games away from the Wells Fargo Center. (They are just 4-6-1 at home.) Thirteen of their next 19 games are on the road.

The discouraging signs:

– The penalty kill continues to struggle mightily. The Flyers' PK has clicked at just 68.6 percent, placing them last in the 31-team NHL.

– The Flyers special teams are a league-worst minus-15. In other words, they have allowed 15 more goals on special teams than they've scored.

– Third-line center Jordan Weal (two goals), who hasn't generated many shots, has one goal in his last 13 games and none in his last six. It wouldn't be surprising if Scott Laughton (six goals) replaced him and Weal was demoted to the fourth line.

– Injuries to veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth have left the Flyers with goaltending questions. Cal Pickard has a 4.60 goals-against average and an .852 save percentage in eight appearances. Alex Lyon, recalled from the AHL's Phantoms last week, is inexperienced but didn't look overmatched in 11 NHL games last season. Lyon is expected to get the call Wednesday in Buffalo.

Entering Monday's matchup in Pittsburgh, the surprising Sabres had won five straight, their longest winning streak since March 19-27, 2012, and their .650 point percentage was tied for fifth in the NHL.

Meanwhile, only seven teams have a lower point percentage than the Flyers' .500.