Why Flyers need strong start to 2018

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When things are as tight as they are in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division, each team needs to exploit opportunities; such a point only becomes clearer for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, two teams currently on the outside looking in on the playoff picture.

Earlier today, PHT’s Adam Gretz took a look at how the Penguins need to pick things up. The Flyers are in a similar spot themselves, and despite holding games in hand, are in a tougher spot as far as the postseason goes depending upon which projections you look at. (Sports Club Stats smiles more upon them than the Penguins, on the contrary.)

As this post was being constructed, Tuesday’s NBCSN game against the Penguins (watch live) really started to fall apart for the Flyers, with a 1-1 tie devolving into a 4-1 deficit.

Anytime the Flyers fall* to the Penguins, it stings, considering their cross-state rivalry. They either need to wage a comeback or shake this one off quickly, though, as a bad start to 2018 could really shovel some dirt on Philly’s up-and-down 2017-18 season. Consider how the calendar year begins for Philly:

Tue, Jan 2 vs Pittsburgh
Thu, Jan 4 vs NY Islanders
Sat, Jan 6 vs St. Louis
Sun, Jan 7 vs Buffalo
Sat, Jan 13 @ New Jersey
Tue, Jan 16 @ NY Rangers
Thu, Jan 18 vs Toronto
Sat, Jan 20 vs New Jersey

Coming into tonight’s game, the Flyers experienced an even home-ice split (19 games each way), so this four-game homestand and stretch of six of eight games in Philadelphia stands as a crucial opportunity.

If this goes especially poorly, it may very well push the Flyers closer to becoming sellers at the trade deadline, among other considerations. With five games against Metropolitan Division teams and only one on-paper “easy” contest (Jan. 7 against a Sabres team that might be making positive strides), it’s a true test for a Flyers team that’s often difficult to gauge.

* – In this case, potentially fall, as there’s plenty of time for a comeback.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.