The Top Philadelphia Flyers Storylines to Follow After the Trade Deadline

Dan FremuthContributor IIIMarch 2, 2014

The Top Philadelphia Flyers Storylines to Follow After the Trade Deadline

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    After a 19-day Olympic hiatus, the NHL regular season is back in full swing for the Philadelphia Flyers.

    The Orange and Black scuffled out of the break, absorbing a 7-3 thumping at the hands of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, but rebounded nicely over the weekend with back-to-back wins over division rivals the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.

    All told, the Flyers have won six of their last seven games and seven of nine overall. As a result, Philadelphia has vaulted into sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference.

    20 games still remain for Philadelphia amidst the NHL regular-season journey. Here's a look at the top Flyers storylines the rest of the way.

Can Claude Giroux Continue to Be One of NHL's Elite?

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    It's safe to say Giroux's slow start is a thing of the past.

    After a brutal start saw Philly's captain manage just seven points (and zero goals) in his first 15 games, Giroux has been on absolute fire ever since.

    The 26-year-old pivot closed November with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 13 games. That momentum carried into December, where Giroux put forth his most productive month to date in converting seven goals and 19 points in just 14 games. That surge included a career-best nine-game scoring streak, which happened to include six multi-point outings.

    And Giroux's torrid scoring has persisted in the new year.

    In 20 games since January 7 (the date Team Canada announced its roster for the 2014 Olympics), the Hearst, Ontario native has been better than a point-per-game producer, having recorded nine goals and 23 points. The Flyers have won five straight games in which their captain has found the back of the net and are 7-2 when Giroux scores in 2014.

    Philly goes as Giroux goes.

    The Flyers went just 4-10-1 during their captain's early-season struggles, but are 28-14-5 since. If Giroux can continue to produce like one of the game's truly elite playmakers, Philadelphia has as good a chance as any team in the wide-open Eastern Conference.

Will Vincent Lecavalier Reappear?

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    The Flyers have to hope this past weekend was a sign of things to come for Lecavalier.

    Unlike virtually every member of Philadelphia's roster, the 33-year-old forward has been ice cold after a hot start.

    Philly's free-agent prize last summer, Lecavalier registered five goals and seven points in the team's first eight games even though the Flyers were only able to claim three of those outings.

    But it's seemingly been all downhill since.

    Lecavalier managed just another seven points in 14 November outings and then missed the team's first nine games in December with a back injury. He just hasn't been the same player since.

    In 27 games since returning to the lineup, Lecavalier has recorded just five goals and only 12 points. What's more, he's minus-eight during that stretch. Needless to say, it's hardly the sort of production Philadelphia was hoping for when it inked the 6'4", 208-pound forward to a five-year, $22.5 million contract last July.

    But maybe there's room for optimism for both Lecavalier and the Flyers after he scored in back-to-back games this weekend for the first time since early November and contributed the overtime game-winner in Philly's come-from-behind triumph in Washington on Sunday.

    Lecavalier doesn't need to carry the torch as he once did in Tampa Bay, but he does need to be better than he's been.

Can Steve Mason (Finally) Provide Goaltending Stability in Philadelphia?

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    This was projected to be a season filled with goaltending questions for the Flyers.

    Both Mason and Ray Emery entered the year with one-year agreements, and many believed the two would battle for starts all year long.

    As it turned out, Mason answered those questions early on and hasn't faltered.

    Arguably Philadelphia's most valuable player, the 25-year-old netminder is 25-15-5 overall this year with a 2.57 goals-against average (GAA) coupled with an equally impressive .915 save percentage. But those numbers only begin to scratch the surface.

    Mason has already recorded eight victories this season in which the Flyers have scored three goals or fewer. What's more, the Oakville, Ontario native has allowed two goals against or fewer 24 times this season and has turned in 18 30-save performances.

    Even when Mason scuffled in mid-January (2-3-1 in six games, 4.56 GAA, .851 save percentage), he bounced back admirably, winning six of his next eight starts while allowing just 17 goals and posting a .928 save percentage during that time.

    A season without goaltending questions in Philadelphia seems almost unthinkable considering all the club has endured in the crease in recent years. Still, Mason has done his best to solidify the position so far. Whether it can continue long-term, though, is an entirely different matter.

Can Philadelphia's Penalty Kill Continue Its Stellar Work?

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    Through three-quarters of the 2013-14 regular season, no team had committed more penalties than the  Philadelphia Flyers with their 338 infractions.

    No team is guilty of more minor penalties (277), major infractions (38) or misconducts (15). What's more, no squad has accumulated more total minutes in penalties (948) than the Orange and Black—and as a result, no team is guilty of more penalty minutes on a per-game basis (15.3) than Philadelphia.

    In short, the Flyers are the most penalized team by far in the NHL.

    And yet, Philadelphia boasts one of the most successful penalty-killing units in the league.

    After a 6-of-6 performance Sunday against the vaunted Washington power play, Philly's penalty kill jumped to seventh in the league at 84.2 percent. The Flyers have now allowed just three power-play goals against over their last nine games, posting a 90.6 percent penalty-killing percentage during that time.

    Dynamic two-way forwards like Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and Matt Read all have above-average foot speed paired with active sticks. And when all else fails, Mason has been exceptional as the team's last line of defense.

    Obviously, it's an extremely risky proposition to continue taking penalties at the rate at which Philadelphia is taking them. As such, the Flyers have two choices: They must either quickly become a considerably more disciplined team than they presently are, or they'll have to maintain their tremendous penalty-killing work to remain in the playoff fold in the East.

Will the Flyers Make the Playoffs?

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    After Philadelphia's dramatic, come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory in Washington on Sunday, the Flyers have won six of their last seven and seven of nine overall.

    The Orange and Black now enter the week in sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division and sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 70 standings points. As such, Philly holds a one-point edge over the third-place New York Rangers, who have played one fewer game than the Flyers, and a two-point edge over the fourth-place Capitals.

    Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils aren't far behind, trailing second-place Philadelphia by just five points.

    With the exception of the standout Pittsburgh Penguins, the rest of the Metropolitan Division has been up for grabs since day one. And with five teams separated by just five standings points, it's likely to remain that way through the season's final six weeks.

    Eight of Philly's final 20 games come within the division, while 15 of the team's final 20 outings will be played against conference foes. As such, the Orange and Black will control their own destiny and appear to be coming together at precisely the right time.

    One thing is certain: It will be a very entertaining conclusion to an up-and-down campaign for the Flyers.