The Philadelphia Flyers head into the final eight games of their '07-'08 season with a 36-28-10 record, good enough for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
For a franchise that finished dead last in the NHL last season, this would seem like an enviable position.
But looks can be deceiving.
Before a mild 3-2 victory over a paltry Thrashers club on Tuesday, the Flyers had come up on the short-end of their previous four contests - capped off by a demoralizing 7-1 defeat at the hands of inter-state rival Pittsburgh.
In fact, over their past 22 games, the Flyers have only managed to come away with 17 out of 44 possible points during that span. (thanks for the correction, aightwebang)
In short, this team is struggling.
And it's not because they have been victims of circumstance, bad breaks or poor luck (although these virtues always play a small role). They've been out-worked, out-hustled, out-muscled and out-played.
The leadership committee has been questioned. Each player's determination has been put on trial. Scapegoats have been vilified. The will to want to win more than their opponent has been kidnapped and held for ransom.
To say that the Flyers grasp on the final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference is weak is quite the understatement.
But, there are still eight games remaining.
Eight more chances at redemption. Eight more contests to prove that they belong. Eight more opportunities for vengeance.
The road to a playoff berth will not be an easy one. Their final eight games are all against dangerous division foes. However, there is room for some optimism on this journey:
- Goaltender Martin Biron is 10-7-2, 2.35 GAA, .922 SV % vs. the Atlantic Division this season; including a gaudy 1.58 GAA and .951 SV % vs. the Rangers.
- Mike Richards, Vinny Prospal and Joffrey Lupul (just a shade under) all averaging over a point per game vs. the Atlantic Division; including Richie's 3 goals and 6 assists in 8 games vs. the Devils.
- The Scottie's love playing the Islanders. Upshall has 6 points in 4 games vs. the Islanders; while Hartnell has torched NY goaltending with 6 goals and 2 assists in 6 games.
- The Rangers and Devils' powerplay units are near the bottom of the league at 16.2% and 16.3%, respectively; whereas the Flyers remain 2nd in the league, despite their recent drop-off.
- The Penguins penalty-killing is among the worst in the league, including a meager 77.1% on the road.
This next game versus the Rangers will go a long way in determining the playoff fate of this young and inconsistent squad. A win at home would not only do wonders for the players' confidence, but would also go a long way in restoring the faith of an increasingly pessimistic fan base.
Hockeybuzz blogger Bill Meltzer has stated numerous times that he dislikes the term "desperation" when applied to hockey. He feels that it's synonymous with panic and despair. And mostly, I agree with him.
However, this Flyers club has thrived on adversity all season long. How many times has this team squandered initial leads to its opponent, only to battle back and win the game in the final frame? How many man games have the Flyers lost this season due to injury?
There should some amount of desperation on the ice tomorrow night vs. the Rangers. It'll definitely be present in the stands.
At the very least, it'll show that the players do have the heart and desire to win. The last thing we should have to question in this town is effort.
Here's to hoping that tomorrow truly is...Good Friday.