Surprisingly in a playoff spot, can the Philadelphia Flyers stay in the hunt?

Calgary Flames' MacKenzie Weegar, left, and Philadelphia Flyers' Travis Sanheim battle for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Philadelphia. (Derik Hamilton/AP)

The Philadelphia Flyers entered this season with a clear direction. After several failed attempts at staying competitive, the franchise pivoted toward a rebuild under new leadership.

Surprisingly, the Flyers are in the mix in the Eastern Conference as the NHL approaches midseason, holding the first wild-card spot. But after six losses in seven games (1-3-3), has reality set in for them?

The key to the Flyers’ success this season has been their rush attack, ranking second in goals and scoring chances. That is fueled by forcing turnovers in the neutral zone; Philadelphia’s 390 neutral-zone takeaways (10.3 per game) are third most in the league. Flyers forwards lead the league with 7.97 defensive plays, which include stick checks and pass blocks, per game in the middle third of the ice.

Individually, all-star forward Travis Konecny has flourished; his nine rush goals top the league, as do his four breakaway goals and nine breakaway attempts. (Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee are tied for second with seven breakaway attempts each.) 

“(Konency) is such an instinctive guy,” Flyers coach John Tortorella told reporters last month. “For me, you’ve got to be really careful how you coach him. I think if you over-coach him, you could turn him into an average player. … I think you need to let him run.”

As is often the case when a team overachieves, the Flyers have been propped up by their goaltenders, who have saved 8.51 goals above expected — 10th most in the league. Carter Hart and Samuel Ersson have combined to steal six games. (A goaltender is credited with a steal when the number of goals saved above expected is greater than the score differential in a game.)

Over the past seven games, though, the Flyers’ goaltenders have performed at an average level (0.21 extra goals allowed). That might not be enough to keep Philadelphia in playoff position.

Philadelphia’s most glaring weakness is its league-worst power play (9.8 per cent). Opposing penalty killers are barely tested; the Flyers average 1.43 scoring chances per two minutes on the power play — tied for 29th in the league. (Five teams over the past 25 years have qualified for the playoffs after finishing last on the power play.)

Four points separate second place from seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. If the Flyers can find consistency, they have a real shot at making the playoffs.

“The immediate future is just to continue to grow and continue to play with the type of spirit that we’ve played with so far this season,” Flyers president of hockey operations Keith Jones told The Philadelphia Inquirer in November. “But also keeping a close eye and focus on the future — and that is threading the needle in some (respects).”

All stats via Sportlogiq

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