Litmus Test Time
Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers (15-7-3) showed something in their small west coast swing last week. Yes, they came back against the lowly Anaheim Ducks (7-14-5) and won. Yes, they started strong and cruised to a win in Phoenix over the Coyotes (14-9-3). Yes, the team took care of business and did what they were supposed to do.
Was it a litmus test? In terms of the ability to win on the road after a long layoff and a plane trip longer than one in-flight movie, it was.
In terms of where they stand as a contender in the Eastern Conference at this point, no, it wasn’t.
That comes this week.
With a back-to-back that has some travel thrown in, the Flyers will show everyone who they are this week. Wednesday, they travel to Buffalo (14-11-1). Wednesday night, they come home. Thursday, they host the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-4) with hockey’s best player leading the way.
Sidney Crosby loves playing in Philadelphia, and Thursday will mark his first game against the Flyers since his concussion woes. Also, it’s the first contest between the cross-state rivals this season.
Much will probably be made of Jaromir Jagr facing the team that is a big part of his legacy for the first time. Maxime Talbot facing his former teammates is another interesting subplot.
Don’t be fooled, those interesting storylines are storylines, not what matters this week.
What matters? The Flyers finding a way to play consistent hockey against the best of best in the NHL matters. Pittsburgh is the litmus test, and no bones should be made about it.
When the Penguins game is sandwiched between the Sabres on Wednesday and a home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning (11-13-2), who have had the Flyers number lately, this stretch matters.
Coming into the season, no one knew what the Flyers would be about. So far, there’s a general and vague idea that they’re good. There’s still no way of knowing how good they are.
They lack a signature win against a quality opponent. They beat Boston, but on the first night of the season. The Bruins were still on a Stanley Cup hangover, now they’re the NHL’s best team again. When one looks at this year’s team in orange and black, there’s nowhere to hang their hat.
It’s not a knock on the campaign, because a team can only play who’s on their schedule. It’s not a confidence-builder either.
The Flyers can't get by against the best of the league by playing 20 minutes of hockey a night. They can't play 40 minutes of hockey and survive. Having just five players register a point as they did against Anaheim won't cut it against Crosby and company. Consistency is key, and the opportunity to prove it is around the corner.
It's time for the young players (and there are plenty) in orange and black to be baptized in the fire.
Philadelphia at Buffalo. Philadelphia versus Pittsburgh. Philadelphia versus Tampa Bay.
Three games, four days.
Finding out who the Flyers truly are awaits.