Will the Next 10 Games Sink the Philadelphia Flyers' 2013-14 Season?

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Will the Next 10 Games Sink the Philadelphia Flyers' 2013-14 Season?
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers handled their business over the weekend, sweeping a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins to move into second place in the Metropolitan Division.

The victories gave the Flyers some breathing room in the chase for a playoff spot in the East, pushing them three points ahead of the ninth-place Washington Capitals, who have played two more games than the Flyers.

Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Yet there's a chance those victories against the Metropolitan-leading Penguins by a combined 8-3 score will be the beginning of the end, the final happy moments for the Flyers, who are about to embark on a 10-game stretch that could leave them watching from home when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

It's important to realize the Flyers didn't so much sweep the Penguins as they did sweep Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a collection of hockey players who are better suited for the AHL or the press box as healthy scratches. The Penguins were without James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis and Paul Martin, leaving them at something far less than full strength.

Any wins are always welcome, but these wins weren't as impressive as they seemed.

The Flyers scored five of their eight goals on special teams (three power-play, two shorthanded), which highlights the larger problem: The Flyers have been getting dominated at five-on-five all season without really paying a price for it.

The upcoming schedule, which is a veritable gauntlet of the NHL's top teams, is likely to change all that if you believe the numbers at ExtraSkater.com:

Philadelphia Flyers Next 10 Games
Date Opponent Record Fenwick rank PK rank
3/18 vs. Chicago 39-15-14 2nd 22nd
3/20 vs. Dallas 32-24-11 7th 20th
3/22 vs. St. Louis 46-14-7 8th 2nd
3/24 vs. Los Angeles 38-24-6 1st 11th
3/26 at N.Y. Rangers 36-29-4 5th 7th
3/28 vs. Toronto 36-25-8 29th 28th
3/30 vs. Boston 45-17-5 4th 10th
4/1 at St. Louis 46-14-7 8th 2nd
4/3 vs. Columbus 35-26-6 13th 16th
4/5 at Boston 45-17-5 4th 10th

NHL.com, ExtraSkater.com

The Flyers' next 10 games feature eight games against teams that are currently in the top eight in Fenwick differential with a ninth game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who rank 13th, and the 10th game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who continue to defy logic by winning games despite being one of the worst possession teams in the NHL.

The Flyers are the NHL's sixth-worst team in Fenwick differential but have found success since a 1-7-0 start thanks largely to their top-10 power play and penalty kill. Goaltender Steve Mason has a .901 save percentage since Dec. 7, but the Flyers have masked their defensive issues by scoring 3.28 goals per game over that time.

The power play has driven the scoring since Dec. 7 for the Flyers, who have received 24.2 percent of their goals with the extra man.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There are two teams who have sustained similar overall offensive numbers for the entire season: the Blackhawks (3.31) and the Blues (3.21), who will both play the Flyers during this 10-game stretch. The Blackhawks have scored 19.8 percent of their goals this season on the power play; the Blues have 22.3 percent of their goals on the power play.

Truly quality teams achieve that status with consistent dominance at even strength, something the Flyers certainly can't boast. They have been sustained by their power play almost all season, but that will be difficult to continue during this 10-game stretch.

Six of the Flyers' next 10 games are against teams with top-11 penalty kills (St. Louis twice, Boston twice, the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers). Not only are those teams excellent while shorthanded but they've also carried the play at five-on-five throughout the season.

Will this 10-game stretch knock the Philadelphia Flyers out of the playoffs?

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It could be a recipe for disaster for the Flyers.

This is hockey, and luck can play a major factor, even during a 10-game stretch like the one facing the Flyers. Something as simple as a 4-4-2 record against some of the best teams in the NHL could be enough to cement the Flyers as a playoff team.

But a 2-8-0 showing in those games isn't out of the question for a team that has been defying the math almost all season. That would be the type of showing that could open the door for the teams that aren't all that far behind the Flyers.

The next three weeks aren't guaranteed to be a disaster for the Flyers, but no one should be surprised if that's how things turn out.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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