Flyers and Devils face off for the second time in four days in Newark
Photo Courtesy of Kate Frese
The Philadelphia Flyers (24-21-10) will head up the turnpike for another crucial game against the division rival New Jersey Devils (29-21-7). This is the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs. Game time is 7:00.
The Devils are 2-0-1 against the Flyers this season. New Jersey has won both games in Philadelphia including Saturday afternoon's 2-1 decision in overtime. The Flyers defeated the Devils in New Jersey by a 4-3 overtime score earlier this season.
As the calendar turned to 2016, the Flyers found themselves in familiar territory -- on the outside looking in, yet still flirting with the possibility of a playoff spot.
They have been playing some Jekyll and Hyde-like hockey since then, looking like a decent and playoff-caliber team one week yet looking miserable the next. Sure, they're still learning and adjusting to Dave Hakstol's system and have looked better by leaps and bounds since October, but they still have a long ways to go.
Their playoff push took a drastic shift just over a week ago, when it was announced that Sean Couturier would miss roughly a month with a lower-body injury. At the time of Couturier's injury, the Orange and Black found themselves just 2-6-1 without his presence in the lineup; they are now 3-9-3 if you factor in the three games that he's missed since.
Losing one key cog of the Flyers' lineup is bad enough, but of course, injuries continued to take their toll and deplete the Flyers even further. A collision involving Michael Del Zotto, Kyle Palmieri and Michal Neuvirth in Saturday's 2-1 loss to New Jersey led to Del Zotto leaving with a wrist injury, and a return timetable unknown.
Del Zotto, of course, injured his wrist in a Dec. 21 game against St. Louis, and missed just two games before returning to the lineup. He had been playing through wrist pain, yet still managed to contribute to the lineup. Evidently, his wrist problems caught up with him, and he will stay out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. He had been making a strong case for the Barry Ashbee Award, and now, his chances have dropped.
The Flyers, just like any other team in the league, did not have much options to replace two key cogs. They turned to their American League affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and called up familiar faces in Nick Cousins and Andrew MacDonald.
Cousins and MacDonald happened to lead the Phantoms in scoring at the times of their respective call-ups -- Cousins with 12 goals and 38 points in 38 games, and MacDonald with five goals and 36 points in 43 games. Cousins had been continuing to develop in his third professional season, while MacDonald had been enjoying a rejuvenated season while reunited with his first NHL coach, Scott Gordon.
In his second call-up of the season, Cousins has been productive in the lineup. He's recorded his first NHL goal on Feb. 11 against Buffalo, and has added two assists in Couturier's spot on the second line. While Cousins is regarded as one of the Orange and Black's top prospects, it's unrealistic to expect him to pick up Couturier's slack right away.
NHL seasons are always unpredictable. Just about anything can happen at any given time, and this especially holds true with injuries. Injuries can pop up at any time without fail, and often can be the difference between a Stanley Cup contender and a team on the outskirts. Hell, an unpredictable injury was the turning point of the Flyers' season -- when Mark Streit went down and Shayne Gostisbehere was called up in his place.
The Orange and Black have also been fortunate when it comes to man games lost due to injury. Following Sunday's game, the Flyers' total stood at 116 man games lost, or 22nd in the NHL.
Injuries, of course, are one of many uncontrollable factors in any given NHL season. They are one of few things that a coach can not plan or prepare for. Sure, advancements in conditioning and sports science can help cut down on injuries, but there's no way they can be eliminated entirely.
The Flyers are no exception. They've been fortunate with injuries all season, but now, with the chance of a playoff berth at stake, long-term injuries to Sean Couturier and Michael Del Zotto may seal their playoff-less fate.
Rob Riches is a contributor to Flyerdelphia and Sports Talk Philly. Follow him on Twitter @Riches61
Until Next Year? Another lost weekend may be dagger for Flyers
It was just 10 days ago that the Flyers managed to score their third straight win, scoring six goals in a 6-3 victory over the Nashville Predators. Their next game came two days later against the New York Rangers.
The Flyers were 12 seconds away from a fourth straight win. Keith Yandle scored to tie the game as the Flyers failed to clear the zone and ice the game.
That is the first of six games that have come and gone for the Flyers. Five of them have been losses. In the six-game stretch, the Flyers have scored 12 goals -- five of them coming in the only win, a 5-1 drubbing of the Buffalo Sabres. In two straight weekends of back-to-back games, the Flyers have come away with just one point in the standings. In the two games in between, their only win of the six-game stretch has accounted for the only two-point effort.
Make no mistake about it, the Flyers have completely fizzled out. With injuries to Sean Couturier and Michael Del Zotto, being shorthanded certainly has played a factor. But Sunday night's loveless affair between the Rangers and Flyers not only probably spelled the beginning of the end for the Flyers potential playoff hopes, but also showed how poorly this group approached this stretch of games.
The Flyers kicked off their Eastern Conference road trip with a visit to Madison Square Garden in search of points, and came up short.
They were not able to generate much offense in the Garden -- a rink that has been a notorious house of horrors for them since the beginning of the decade -- and posted 22 shots in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers, in the season finale between both teams.