The Philadelphia Flyers deserve credit for their patience during tough times, culminating with a six-game winning streak as a response to a 10-game skid. For those advising the team not to panic, the last month provides redemption.
Still, nights like Friday also remind us that the Metropolitan Division can be cruel to teams who stumble for lengthy periods of time. It also serves as a reminder that, in a league of “charity points” and three-point games, the standings can be deceptive. “We’re only behind x points” is a great way to avoid recklessly gutting a team, yet it may also provide false hope.
Despite a late surge, the Flyers fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
On the bright side, this was just the second loss in Philly’s last nine games. That said, when you consider games in hand, this regulation loss places Philly behind the Carolina Hurricanes for last place in the Metropolitan Division. (Both teams stick to 37 standings points, but Carolina’s played one fewer game.)
Of course, there’s a big difference between being in the cellar of the East’s best division rather than last place in the Atlantic, as the Sabres are even after they broke a three-game losing streak.
As of this writing, the lower rankings of the Metro represent the East’s wild-card races:
First wild card: Rangers – 42 points, 35 games played
Second wild card: Islanders – 40 points, 35 GP
Penguins – 39 points, 36 GP
Hurricanes: 37 points, 34 GP
Flyers: 37 points, 35 GP
(The Canadiens could reach 36 points if they win their game tonight, their 35th of 2017-18.)
Looking at the standings, this is again a matter of perspective.
The glass-half-full approach would be to note that the Flyers salvaged their season, and only remain three points behind the Islanders for the final playoff spot. They can maneuver their way up the rankings with their games remaining against the Rangers, Islanders, Penguins, and Hurricanes.
This context makes losing to Buffalo more painful, however.
With a win on Friday, the Flyers would finish the night ahead of the Penguins because of games in hand. Instead, they’re in a familiar spot: needing to make up ground.
This loss began a four-game road trip, so the upcoming schedule isn’t easy on paper. At least this team seems to do some of its best work when people expect things to unravel.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.