5 Keys to the Philadelphia Flyers' Playoff Push

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMarch 14, 2014

5 Keys to the Philadelphia Flyers' Playoff Push

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    The Flyers are counting on players like Claude Giroux and Steve Mason.
    The Flyers are counting on players like Claude Giroux and Steve Mason.Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Flyers have 17 games remaining on their schedule and find themselves in a competitive race to reach the NHL playoffs.

    They had a slow start to this season but have played better since November. But even with the improved play, Philadelphia is in a tie for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

    Here is a look at the five biggest keys to the rest of the season for the Flyers. If the majority of these things happen, they should qualify for the postseason. They are listed in order of importance, although all five of these are vital for the team's success.

    Feel free to comment on any of the items on this list or mention one that was not included. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.

5. Special Teams Needs to Improve Slightly

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    Kimmo Timonen helps make the Flyers power play go.
    Kimmo Timonen helps make the Flyers power play go.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The Flyers' special teams haven't been bad this season, but a slight improvement and a little more consistency would be a big help down the stretch.

    Thus far, the Flyers are 12th in the league with a 19.4 percent conversion rate on the power play and 10th on the penalty kill with 83.7 percent of opposing penalties successfully killed.

    Those numbers place them in the top half of the league and are not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Still, as we come down the home stretch of the season, having both special teams get hot would be a big help in winning close games.

    There aren't many "easy" games on the schedule. The Flyers play only three games against teams that are out of the playoff picture right now.

    A hot power play and a strong penalty kill could make a difference in one or more games, especially when checking gets tighter and scoring chances are harder to come by.

4. Secondary Scoring Needs to Improve

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    Wayne Simmonds is one of many players who need to play better for the Flyers.
    Wayne Simmonds is one of many players who need to play better for the Flyers.Matt Slocum/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Scoring depth is always important in the NHL, but it's even more important in the playoffs and in the stretch drive for the postseason.

    A successful team needs more than one line that is a consistent threat to put the puck in the net. This allows a coach to match lines more effectively and keep the opposition off balance.

    Early in the season, the Flyers were struggling to score. With the exception of Vincent Lecavalier, nobody was putting the puck in the net.

    Since then, the scoring has returned, but the Flyers have been most successful when the second and third lines have been able to provide some goal scoring. Whether it's Wayne Simmonds, Lecavalier, Michael Raffl or Brayden Schenn, the Flyers need scoring depth in the final games of the regular season if they hope to make the playoffs.

3. Keep Steve Mason Effective and Rested

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    Steve Mason needs to continue to be effective.
    Steve Mason needs to continue to be effective.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Flyers have gotten consistent goaltending (for the most part) from Steve Mason this season.

    In 50 games, he is 26-16-6 with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 save percentage. He was at his best early in the season when the Flyers were struggling as a team to score. He has had a few mini-slumps this season, but there is no way Philadelphia would still be in contention for a playoff berth without his play this season.

    Ray Emery has been injured recently and has not appeared in a game since February 27. The backup goalie resumed practice with the team on Thursday and may play this weekend in the home-and-home series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Emery's return is a key. While Mason should get the vast majority of the work down the stretch, coach Craig Berube needs to spell him enough to keep the goalie fresh and effective for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

    Cal Heeter has played well in the AHL this season, but the Flyers cannot be sure he'd be reliable even as a backup in these important games. He is 25 and has never played in an NHL game during his career.

    Having Emery back and healthy would help spell Mason and keep him fresh the rest of the way. Then it's up to Mason to play at a consistently high level to help his team qualify for the playoffs.

2. The Defense Needs to Be More Consistent

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    The addition of Andrew MacDonald should help the Flyers defense.
    The addition of Andrew MacDonald should help the Flyers defense.Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    The Flyers acquired defenseman Andrew MacDonald from the New York Islanders just before the trade deadline.

    Thus far, in three games with the Flyers, he has one assist and an even plus/minus rating. He has averaged slightly more than 19 minutes of ice time per game.

    These statistics are nothing outstanding, but the Flyers didn't expect him to play a flashy, high-powered game. They acquired him to be consistent and versatile.

    So far, he has more or less fit the bill. Adding MacDonald also hopefully makes the other defensemen have more defined roles and puts less pressure on them by taking up valuable minutes.

    The defense has been a sore spot for this team for most of the season. For Philadelphia to make the playoffs, MacDonald and the rest of the defense need to play consistently down the stretch.

1. Claude Giroux Needs to Continue to Play at an Elite Level

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    As Claude Giroux goes, so go the Flyers.
    As Claude Giroux goes, so go the Flyers.Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Claude Giroux is the best player on the roster and remains the key to the team's success. The Flyers cannot win consistently over the long haul if he is not being productive. When their captain is on a hot streak, the Flyers are usually winning a lot of games.

    How hot has he been? In his last 50 games, he has 23 goals and 58 points, which puts him close to Sidney Crosby's numbers.

    In their last 50 games: Giroux 23 goals, 58 points; Crosby 23 goals, 65 points.

    — Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) March 13, 2014

    Opponents have also come to respect what Giroux can do on the ice.

    Jake Gardiner on Giroux: "He'll make you look like a fool sometimes when he has the puck coming down the wing & does a little stutter step"

    — Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 8, 2014 

    The Flyers are 16-2-1 in the 19 games that Giroux has scored a goal in this season. If he is productive, the Flyers should continue to accumulate wins and points in the standings.

    But if he slumps, the Flyers will likely do the same. Keeping the captain productive is a big key for Philadelphia in the remaining 17 games of this season.