Tough Sledding Ahead
After 35 games, the Philadelphia Flyers sit atop the NHL standings with 49 points. But, they'll have to endure a brutal next month to stay there. Every team in the league as well as their fans probably hopes that the orange and black will find nothing but coal in any stocking they own on Christmas morning. With the upcoming slate of games the Flyers will face, coal may be a pleasant surprise.
The Flyers don’t take the ice again until the 28th of December when they begin a brief west coast road trip. First on the schedule is Vancouver, followed by Los Angeles and Anaheim. They’ll stop in Detroit (where they haven't won since 1988) on the way back home and then head to New Jersey. The Devils and Flyers will meet up again in Philadelphia, and then the Flyers will hit the road again.
Buffalo is the first destination in the Flyers’ next vacation, followed by Boston and Atlanta. The trip ends in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Afterwards, Philadelphia returns home for three games at the Wells Fargo Center. They’ll host Washington, Ottawa and New Jersey before traveling to Chicago for a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Finally, the team will close out their month of January when they welcome Montreal to Philadelphia on the 25th.
Playing 15 games in 28 days is no easy task, and what makes the task even more difficult is the quality of opponents the Flyers will face. As of December 22, nine of the 13 different teams that Philadelphia matches up against are in the top eight of their respective conference. Three of the remaining four teams are within six points of a playoff spot to date. The only team that is far from playoff position is New Jersey and the Flyers will face them three times over 28 days. Although the Devils have had a pretty rough start to the season, they are a divisional rival for the Flyers and can stake claim to one of the team’s overtime losses this year.
Although the Flyers will play on the road for 10 of their next 15, they may not mind the travel. In the first 35 games, the team has only had two regulation losses in 15 games thus far. Their competence on the road will have to continue if they want to keep their crest at the top of the NHL’s standings. Their opponents over the next month have won 50.67% of their games combined. The team’s wherewithal will most definitely be tested, especially with the absence of Chris Pronger.
It’s always difficult for a team to win on the road in today’s parity-filled NHL, and the going only gets tougher with the highest level of competition. As of now, the Flyers have put themselves in an excellent position moving forward, but the next month will go a long way in showing the league if they are still equipped for a deep playoff run.
If they play well, it could be a Christmas gift that keeps on giving. If not, coal won’t seem so bad.
Things to Keep an Eye On
Goaltending Situation : It just wouldn’t be a Flyers season without some type of worry about the man in the crease. Sergei Bobrovsky started the year as strong as anyone not named Tim Thomas. However, he has struggled recently and Brian Boucher has looked much better. Not to mention, Michael Leighton is also on the team’s roster. The distribution of starts over the next month should be compelling.
The Loss of Chris Pronger : The Flyers defense is one of the deepest in the league, but Oskars Bartulis has struggled since being activated in Pronger’s place. Andrej Meszaros should be able to fill in for Pronger as well as anyone, but the third pairing with Sean O’Donnell and Bartulis could leave Flyers fans begging head coach Peter Laviolette for them to have less ice time.
Will Zherdev Continue to Shine?: For as enigmatic as Nikolay Zherdev has been this season, he’s been equally effective over the last few games for the Flyers. The third line which includes Zherdev, James van Riemsdyk and Jeff Carter is as talented as any third line in the league offensively. If Zherdev can continue his strong play, the line will create enormous match-up problems for any team on the schedule.