How tight is the race for the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots?
Heading into Sunday, just two points separated the four teams battling for those positions. That means those teams, including the Flyers, need to be playing with lots of desperation over the final two-plus months.
After a rather listless loss to visiting Montreal on Thursday, desperation returned to the Flyers’ game in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Kings. They outhit and outworked Los Angeles and got three goals and seven points from their new Alphabet Soup Line in the much-needed win.
Leading the way were James van Riemsdyk (goal, two assists), Claude Giroux (two assists) and Travis Konecny (two goals), commonly known as JVR, G and TK, respectively.
If the Flyers are going to earn a playoff berth, they need van Riemsdyk to show more consistency over the final 33 regular-season games.
He has had an up-and-down season, scoring 13 goals in 49 games, a 22-goal pace.
The Central Jersey native helped keep the Flyers afloat by scoring eight goals in an 11-game stretch from Nov. 29 to Dec. 21, but he then had a 12-game goal-scoring drought entering Saturday.
“When you’re not scoring, you’ve got to make sure you’re solid with the other aspects of your game,” van Riemsdyk said after Saturday’s victory. “I’ve been trying to focus on that and do a good job of being strong on the walls, not turning pucks over, being responsible in my own end. Things like that.”
Van Riemsdyk, 30, had had his second three-point game of the season – the other was Oct. 26 against Columbus.
“He’s starting to get a rhythm,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “I thought it was a good game for him as far as skating and getting to loose pucks.”
Besides his power-play goal, van Riemsdyk added a pair of primary assists on Konecny’s goals.
“He makes those all the time; they go unnoticed,” Konecny said. “He’s an incredible passer and thankfully we could capitalize on a few of them.”
Giroux, shifted from left wing to center, also had a pair of assists. The Flyers are now 9-3-3 with Giroux at center and 17-14-3 with him playing wing.
“It’s fun to play with them,” Giroux said of his new linemates. “They are winning a lot of puck battles and they both know how to score.”
When the Flyers host the surging Penguins on Tuesday in their final game before the All-Star/bye-week break, Giroux will remain between van Riemsdyk and Konecny, Vigneault said. The Flyers will be trying to avenge an early-season 7-1 loss in Pittsburgh, a game in which Giroux centered van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek.
The Penguins, who are second in the Metropolitan Division, have van Riemsdyk’s respect.
“Those guys, all year long, they’ve been having to deal with some big-time injuries and they’ve just been rolling,” van Riemsdyk said. “Different guys have been chipping in and stepping up. And now they’re getting healthy, too, so we know what kind of challenge that is. One more game before the break, so you want to go into the break feeling good about where you’re at with your game and the standings.”