Put the bags away.
The headline from the weekend was that the Flyers didn’t set a dubious club record for consecutive losses and instead started to show glimpses of life.
They ended a 10-game losing streak – equaling the fourth-longest in franchise history, and two shy of tying the record – and they won two straight for the first time since Oct. 27-28. They also slowed a social-media movement that encouraged fans to wear bags over their heads at home games.
Stanley Cup, here we come?
Hardly. But the schedule has finally loosened, and the Flyers have a chance to move closer in the (gulp) playoff race this week.
The team has six more losses than wins (10-12-4) and we’re talking about potential playoffs down the road?!
Well, a much-needed total rebuild isn’t going to happen overnight -- it figures to start closer to the March 21 trade deadline -- so let’s look at where the Flyers stand after road wins over Vegas, 4-3, and Arizona, 5-3, on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“Obviously the confidence isn’t that high when you lose 10 in a row,” said Scott Laughton, the gritty left winger who has played well since moving onto the top line with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny. “To go into Vegas and play a back-to-back here [in Arizona], I think the guys did a really good job. ... The legs probably aren’t that good and you have to play a smart game and I thought we did that.”
They are six points from the last wild-card spot but have played two more games than Boston, the last qualifier. However, starting with the win against the worst-in-the-NHL Coyotes, the Flyers began a four-game stretch in which they play teams that are struggling just as much as, or more than they are. The next three games: New Jersey, Montreal, and Ottawa.
The Flyers just completed a rugged five-games-in-seven-nights stretch that included lots of travel, little time for practice, and the fallout from a head coach and an assistant coach being fired.
Now they get a chance to incorporate interim coach Mike Yeo’s system at practices, and they don’t have to play any powerhouses this week.
Hey, if there’s ever going to be a turnaround, it has to start somewhere, right?
Before their recent skid, the last time the Flyers had lost 10 in a row was in 2017-18, when they made the playoffs and finished with 98 points.
If they are going to have any chance to repeat that, ahem, “feat,” they will need Carter Hart to play the way he did in the streak-breaking win against talented Vegas.
After a hot start this season, Hart quietly went into a funk, losing six straight and allowing 4.22 goals a game in that span, but his struggles were overshadowed by the Flyers’ offensive futility.
Hart regained his mojo Friday, stopping 41 of 44 shots as the Flyers won for the first time since a 2-1 overtime victory over Calgary on Nov. 16.
“He was incredible,” said left winger Max Willman, who scored his first NHL goal in Vegas.
It seems the more shots Hart faces, the better he plays. He is now 14-1-2 in his career when facing 38 or more shots.
Hart’s performance wasn’t the only encouraging sign during the weekend. Streaky James van Riemsdyk, who had only two goals in his first 24 games, scored three times in the two weekend games, including two tallies in Arizona.
“JVR is back in his office. He had been working virtually on Zoom,” Flyers analyst Keith Jones cracked.
“For a lot of the year, I’ve felt pretty snakebitten,” van Riemsdyk said. “I’ve been getting some decent looks and they just haven’t been going in. Sometimes they come in bunches, and I’m just trying to continue to get pucks to the net and make good decisions without the puck.”
Another positive: The power play, which was probably most responsible for the dismissals of head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien, was 2-for-3 against Vegas and 1-for-3 against Arizona. The Flyers had scored two power-play goals in just one other game before Friday, and they entered the weekend an unfathomable 6-for-61 (9.8%) in their previous 20 games.
“For us to have success, I think the power play has to be in the top one-third of the league,” van Riemsdyk said after scoring two goals with an extra attacker over the weekend. Heading into Sunday, the Flyers had climbed to 24th in the 32-team league with a 16.7% conversion rate on the power play.
Generating power-play chances gives “confidence that leads into your five-on-five play,” van Riemsdyk said. “This unit we have together now, we had together earlier in the year and we had some good success, so we have to continue to build on that.”
Martin Jones, the winning goalie in Arizona, said the Flyers played with an improved structure in their weekend victories. “We’re supporting the puck better and it’s allowed us to get on the forecheck and be more effective, and we’re in better position to jump on loose pucks. … and make plays offensively and defensively, as well,” he said.
It was more of Hart’s heroics than team structure that created the win in Vegas, and it’s easy to have your way against woeful Arizona. But the Flyers need a stronger structure when they play the heavyweights, such as those that dotted their schedule during the 10-game losing streak.
“We dug ourselves a hole here,” Jones said, “so we’ve got some work to do.”
Lots of work.