Defense, goaltending holding Flyers back right now

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At the start of the season it was pretty much assumed the East Division was going to be a five-team race for the four playoff spots between the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, and Philadelphia Flyers. At the halfway point that is exactly what it has become. But right now some of these teams are starting to trend in very different directions. While the Islanders, Penguins, and Capitals are stacking wins together, the Flyers are starting to fall behind the pace.

Their 5-4 loss to the Capitals on Saturday was their ninth loss in their past 15 games dating back to February 1, and it continued what has been a very concerning trend during that stretch.

They can not stop anybody.

During that stretch they have allowed 3.40 goals per game, the eighth-worst mark in the league, and have had major problems defensively and in goal.

They have allowed at least three goals in 12 of those games, with the only three exceptions being a 2-1 loss to Boston back on February 5 and back-to-back shutouts against Buffalo two weeks ago.

If you look at it since just the start March they are allowing more than four goals per game. It is not what you want to see.

It is not any one particular problem, either.

Defensively, the team has simply not been good enough and it is becoming increasingly clear they are badly missing Matt Niskanen following his retirement this past offseason.  Add in the fact that Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have not really become the players the Flyers hoped they would become and it is not a particularly great group. Both players are fine, productive NHLers. But is either one of them a No. 1 on a contender? Not even close.

Adding to the issue is the fact the goaltending duo of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott is in a major funk of its own.

Hart is probably not 100 percent at the moment and has seen some regression in his game this season overall.

That has resulted in Elliott playing more than the Flyers probably want him to at the moment, and that workload might be catching up with him.

Both goalies have a sub-.890 save percentage since February 1. They are both under .850 since the beginning of March.

It is next to impossible to win consistently with that level of goaltending, and frankly it’s a minor miracle they have even two wins in March.

The Flyers’ offense has not been bad, and has probably been good enough to compete this season. But unless the defense and goaltending — and especially Hart — get back on track sometime soon it still may not be enough.

After Saturday’s games the Flyers are now on pace for only 64 points this season. The Bruins, currently the fourth team in the division, are on pace for 71 games. That is a lot of ground to make up in the second half with a lot of games against the Islanders, Capitals, and Bruins remaining. If they can win the majority of those games they can make it up quickly. If not, they are going to be in trouble.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.