Philadelphia Flyers' 5 Keys to Reaching the Playoffs in 2013-14
The NHL changed its playoff format for this season, and the result is a very tight race for the postseason, especially in the Eastern Conference. Now, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of 11 teams battling for six playoff berths.
With 25 games remaining on the schedule and the Olympic break and trade deadline fast approaching, here is a look at the five keys for the Flyers to finish the season strong and reach the playoffs.
This list can include key players who need to come through for the team to be successful and areas that need to be upgraded through trades and/or better performances.
Feel free to comment on any issues discussed on this list or to add one of your own that is not included here. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.
5. Continue to Get Great Special Teams Play
As of February 5, the Flyers were in the top 10 in the NHL in both the power play and penalty-killing.
The power play is ranked ninth in the league with a 19.8 percent success rate.
As we get closer to the playoffs, checking gets tighter and it becomes more important to be able to score when you have the man advantage.
One of the best parts of the Philadelphia power play is how many different players have contributed to its success. Five different players have scored at least five goals while the Flyers have the extra man, including Wayne Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia penalty kill is ranked sixth in the league with an 83.6 percent effective rate.
Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Adam Hall are among the players who help make the Flyers' PK so consistent.
If the special teams unit continues to shine, the Flyers have a good chance of reaching the playoffs.
4. Get Consistent Goaltending
Steve Mason has established himself as the Flyers' goaltender this season and recently signed a contract extension to remain with the team beyond this season.
But Mason has been inconsistent at times this season. He either plays very well or very poorly. It's been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde campaign for Mason.
Early in the season when the Flyers were struggling to score goals, it was Mason who kept them competitive and helped them turn their season around.
But shortly after he signed his extension, Mason turned into Mr. Hyde and went through a six-game stretch when he posted 4.57 GAA and an .846 save percentage. He was also removed early from three of those six starts.
Since then, Mason has returned to form, winning three of his past four games and registering a pair of shutouts.
Mason himself realizes he needs to be on top of his game if the Flyers are going to have a strong finish to the season. "I have to make sure I’m a calm presence back there to make sure that the guys are not panicking or anything like that," Mason told Dave Isaac of the South Jersey Courier-Post. "It’s gonna have to be something that’s a consistent thing moving forward."
Coach Craig Berube realizes Mason can't do it all alone. "We’ve talked about protecting the middle of the ice more," Berube told Isaac. "When a goalie sees shots that are easy to handle and makeable saves, it helps him. It helps everyone."
The team needs to help their goalie, but they also need their goalie to be Dr. Jekyll and not Mr. Hyde down the stretch if they hope to qualify for the postseason.
3. Get Consistent Secondary Scoring
When the Flyers are playing their best, they get scoring from more than just the top line.
While injuries and lineup changes have changed the players on the top line, the bottom line is that to be effective, the Flyers need to make opposing teams pay attention to more than just their top unit.
That means players like Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell, Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds must consistently put pressure on opposing goalies.
A one-line team is easier to stop. If they are to consistently beat and pass the teams they are competing with to reach the playoffs, the Flyers need secondary scoring on a regular basis.
2. Upgrade Team Speed
It may take a trade to accomplish this goal, but the Flyers desperately need to become a faster team if they hope to make the playoffs and do some damage once they get there.
The modern NHL is a speed game and the Flyers are lacking it throughout their lineup.
At forward, Michael Raffl added a different dimension to the top line when Vincent Lecavalier was injured. While Raffl lacks the overall skills at this point in his career to be a top-line player, he added speed to the lineup and helped improve the production of the first unit as a result.
On defense, speed is also a problem. Look at the recent win over the San Jose Sharks. Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly broke down that game, and the lack of defensive speed was a part of it.
When discussing the effectiveness of San Jose's Matt Nieto, Panaccio said, "No Flyer D-man could handle his [Nieto's] quickness. The Flyers' defense is very slow when moving laterally and that’s what the Sharks did to them."
Philadelphia will need to add some players with speed at the trade deadline. It creates space for other players on the team and gives opposing defenses something to think about. Defensively, it helps the Flyers keep up with skilled forwards on opposing teams. This is a short-term and long-term necessity for the Flyers.
1. Trade for a Quality Defenseman
The biggest issue for the Flyers remains their defense. Simply put, it isn't good enough or consistent enough for the team to make a long playoff run this season.
After a recent loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, coach Craig Berube told CSN Philly's Michael Arace, "We’re not very good in our own end. Breaking the puck out, turning the puck over, penalties...I believe we’re not doing a very good job of it and we end up spending too much time in our end."
While Berube added that, "I don’t think it’s a work-ethic thing. I think it’s just execution, for the most part," the bottom line is that the present lineup has had 57 games to get it right and they just haven't done the job well enough.
Dave Isaac of The Courier Post recently added that, "All in all, the Flyers have been a mess in their own zone."
Flyers fans have seen it almost all season long. Poor positional defense, players slow to react, poor backchecking by forwards and defensemen that cough up the puck too often in their own zone.
As of February 6, the Flyers are 19th in the NHL in goals allowed per game. Sixteen teams make the playoffs, so you do the math. When you add the fact that the Flyers have mostly gotten good goaltending throughout the season, you can see team defense is an issue.
The Flyers need to add a top-four defenseman, preferably somebody with speed to keep up with the league's swifter forwards.
This is an essential area the team must address if they hope to make the postseason this year.