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?