Flyers' Remaining Schedule a Gauntlet of Rivals and Playoff-Hopefuls

Flyers' Remaining Schedule a Gauntlet of Rivals and Playoff-Hopefuls

After returning from their long western road trip, the Flyers began a stretch run that is dominated by Eastern Conference matchups with a win over the Islanders on Thursday. Just one Western opponent remains in a packed month of hockey, that being when Detroit is in town on Mark Howe night this Tuesday.

The remaining schedule is undoubtedly challenging and represents what should be ideal preparation for the postseason. They'll face a handful of teams that can to some degree be considered rivals, including the Capitals, Maple Leafs, and Devils twice each, plus three battles with the Penguins. There are also single dates in Boston and hosting the Rangers, as well as a pair against the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers, and one each against the  Lightning, Senators, Sabres, and Canadiens.

That's a veritable gauntlet, but one the Flyers should be able to do well in if they're going to make any kind of noise in the playoffs. How many wins do you expect over the remaining 19 games?

Currently sitting in the five slot, the Philadelphia is locked in a very crowded middle of the playoff pack, and with the top three seeds owned by the division leaders regardless of conference merit, there's a very good chance they'll finish within a slot of that after all is said and done in the regular season.

The Penguins have edged ahead of them on the strength of five straight wins. Their 81 points are second only to the Rangers' 89, a mark that's looking increasingly untouchable, though certainly not so just yet. The divisionally weighted second-seed Bruins were 10 points back heading into this afternoon's tilt at Madison Square Garden and are lately looking quite vulnerable in the Northeast Division, where the Senators have surged to within three points of their lead (albeit having played three more games). At 77 points apiece, the Flyers and Devils currently find themselves sandwiched by those clubs.

Meanwhile, tonight's opponent, the Capitals, are battling for a playoff spot, having fallen out of the top eight temporarily with the Winnipeg Jets using an extra two games to a one-point current advantage. A popular preseason pick to be Stanley Cup favorites, the Caps have struggled to consistently play anywhere near their perceived potential.

Nipping at Washington's heels, the Lightning have a line into the postseason as well, and a three-game winning streak puts the Sabres just two points behind that eighth position. Toronto's hot start is long gone, as is their head coach, but they're certainly still alive at three back.

As you can see, the East is shaping up to be a fine mess as all but [probably] three teams are playing with at least dreams of postseason. The league wouldn't have it any other way, with so many nightly contests carrying significance for each side. Removing the Canadiens (currently dead last) and the Isles—who have given the Flyers trouble this season—all of the remaining 19 games will be against a team playing for more than just the reward of a W.

Some will be desperate; others, good enough not to have to be. We should be in store for an exciting month of hockey.

Any predictions for the Flyers' record the rest of the way? Which teams make the final eight, and which will be left out?

Flyers Notes: Wayne Simmonds, Flyers not giving up hope with 21 games left

Flyers Notes: Wayne Simmonds, Flyers not giving up hope with 21 games left

PITTSBURGH – Wayne Simmonds remained defiant.

Yes, the Flyers have lost seven of their last nine games. Yes, they are five points out of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
But it's not over in terms of the playoffs.

"We played a great game, but unfortunately, it didn't go our way," Simmonds said after the 4-2 loss to the Penguins in the Stadium Series outdoor game at Heinz Field (see game recap).

"It wasn't good enough. I don't know what to say, guys. We have 21 games left and a never-say-die attitude. We're gonna keep pushing, no matter what. We've got to be desperate every game and play it as if it’s our last."

The Flyers had their chances and their moments. When Shayne Gostisbehere scored his first goal in 34 games early in the third period, it was a 3-2 game and momentum had been building in the Flyers' favor.

Then a key moment. A lost faceoff and the puck goes back to the point where Chad Ruhwedel fires so quickly that goalie Michal Neuvirth couldn't track the puck.

That was it. Game over.

"We brought it back [to 3-2]," Simmonds said. "We just had to get the tying goal and it slipped away. … We've got to score."

Still, there is time to regroup again with 21 games left.

"We have to have a short memory," Simmonds said. "Whether it's a good game or bad game, you move on."

They’re moving on but they're not gaining traction.

Weal back in lineup
Jordan Weal (concussion symptoms) re-entered the lineup in place on Roman Lyubimov. Weal missed two games after suffering the injury Feb. 16 in Edmonton.

Weal moved to left wing on Claude Giroux’s line with Simmonds.

“It’s a short sample, but it’s his body of work since he has been with us over the last couple weeks,” coach Dave Hakstol said of moving Weal there.

Before his injury, Weal played left wing on Sean Couturier’s line with Jakub Voracek. Brayden Schenn went back to center Saturday night between Nick Cousins and Voracek. It was another new line for Schenn.

If you’re wondering, Schenn has played left wing 33 times this season in 58 games.

Weal said he “felt good” and seemed excited to play in an NHL outdoor game.

Midway into the game, Michael Raffl went back to the top line and Weal moved to a line with Couturier and Dale Weise.

Weal played 15:43.

Power-play position
Shayne Gostisbehere played the point this game with the first unit and not the half wall. He also scored a goal there.

Coach Dave Hakstol has been rotating him from the point to the half-wall depending upon the personnel on the ice.

"It's a little bit of an adjustment no matter where I am," Gostisbehere said. "It's just nice to be on the power play. Whatever position they put me in out there, up top or on the wing, it's something I have to be ready for. I think I'm comfortable in both spots."

Outdoors
General manager Ron Hextall liked the outdoor game concept.

"It’s unique," Hextall said. "When they first started, I don’t love change. I was a little skeptical, I guess. I think they’re terrific. I really do.

"It’s good for the game. People watch an outdoor game and will pick that game because it’s an outdoor game. There is something about them. They’re neat."

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).