After big win, consistency is the goal for Flyers
“We have only seven games left, and we can’t go into the playoffs playing up and down hockey. It’s not going to work,” defenseman Kimmo Timonen said after Sunday night’s loss to the Boston Bruins. “Hopefully in these last seven games we can find consistency and play two or three games like that and build on it. The last few games we haven’t been able to do that, so hopefully we can regroup and do it in Pittsburgh.”
Even though the Philadelphia Flyers had been 5-1-4 in their previous 10 games prior to Tuesday night’s meeting with the Penguins, each of the players acknowledged that they weren’t performing at anywhere near the level they will need to attain when the postseason begins in two weeks.
Philadelphia did regroup in a 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh, and it was a tremendous step mentally for the Orange-and-Black. Not only was it a win over an arch-rival, they were also in need of the victory in order to stave off a furious Pittsburgh charge for the Atlantic Division lead.
They did play the style of game that will be key to repeating any kind of long playoff run this year.
At the crux of the team’s recent up-and-down play, as Timonen called it, has been the inconsistency of their efforts. Whether it be on a game-to-game or period-to-period basis, Philadelphia has adopted an almost Jekyll and Hyde-type persona for the better part of a month now.
“Every point is important,” said defenseman Andrej Meszaros after Sunday’s loss to Boston. “We want to make sure that we finish 1st in the conference. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a battle until the end. We have to be ready and get focused for the next game and go from there.”
That’s why it is so important to see what version of the team shows up tonight when the Flyers take on the Atlanta Thrashers at the Wells Fargo Center.
While Philadelphia has posted a 1-0-2 record against Atlanta this season, they have fallen to the Thrashers in each of the last two. Both were within the last three weeks, with one in overtime and the other via the shootout.
The worst part is the way in which they dropped the one played in South Philly. Leading 3-0 heading into third period and 4-2 in the last three minutes on the strength of Ville Leino’s first career hat trick, the Flyers gave up a tying goal to captain Andrew Ladd in the last 45 seconds of regulation.
The resulting loss after defenseman Ron Hainsey’s overtime goal should still sting the players, as it was one of the most-crushing defeats Philadelphia has experienced the entire season.
Atlanta hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from the postseason as of yet, but they are very close. With six games left, they are 11 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. So to say they will be desparate is likely an understatement. They need to win every remaining contest, and hope that they can nose past either the Buffalo Sabres or New York Rangers. But any combination of the Thrashers losing two points or either Buffalo or the Rangers gaining two and Atlanta will be destined for the golf courses in two weeks.
Plagued by bad turnovers and poor defensive zone coverage for weeks, the Flyers have struggled to maintain the level of play that had the club on pace to break the franchise record for points.
One of the reasons is that this campaign has been much different than last season. Having cruised through much of the regular season at or near the top of the overall NHL standings, the desparation needed at this time of year just hasn’t been there. Until last Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, that is. It also reappeared this past Tuesday against the Penguins.
It seems sometimes like Philadelphia needs to have their backs up against the wall before their intensity level rises to the position necessary for them to acheive postseason success.
If there was any time during the course of the season that the Flyers’ hand was forced, it was Tuesday night with Pittsburgh nipping at their heels and the division crown at stake.
And they delivered.
If they can put forth an effort tonight like that of Tuesday’s, it will do wonders in calming the fears of the team’s fan base. The Philly faithful have found the great fluctuation in the Flyer’s amount of determination and results as of late to be troubling, to say the least.
Tonight’s contest can be effectively used as a good barometer as to where the club is heading.
Time to Start Talking “Magic Numbers”
With the win against the Pens, Philadelphia’s magic number is at six points.
The Penguins sit at 98 points with five games remaining, so if they win out the rest of their schedule, the most points they can accumulate is 108. Philadelphia currently has 102 with six games left, so any combination of the Flyers gaining and Pittsburgh losing points that add up to six from here on out will give Philly the Atlantic Division title.
Timonen “Probable” for Tonight
Timonen has been dinged up with a hip flexor issue for much of the season and aggravated it Tuesday. He sat out the third period against the Penguins, and Paul Holmgren told CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio yesterday that the 36-year-old defenseman is “probable” tonight.
It is of the utmost importance for the Flyers to have a healthy Timonen and Chris Pronger (recovering from surgery on his right hand) if they have any chance of a long stay in the postseason.
If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter - @David_Strehle.