With the 2021 season less than two weeks away, the Philadelphia Flyers are slated to have a tough schedule against arguably the toughest division in the league. With a restructured division called the East, the Flyers are now joined by the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Washington Capitals.
Philadelphia is accustomed to the tough play from the likes of the teams that were formerly of the Metropolitan division. Fans know how tight that division was when the Covid-19 pandemic brought the season to an end. With the addition of Boston and Buffalo, the East division is going to be a marathon race from the first puck drop on January 13th.
In the East, each team plays each other eight times during a 56 game season that will run from January to May. During that 56 game stretch, the Philadelphia Flyers are going to be faced with eight back to back games. The following back to back sets are as follows :
- January 18th and 19th versus the Buffalo Sabres
- January 30th and 31st versus the New York Islanders
- March 17th and 18th versus the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, respectively
- March 29th and 30th versus the Buffalo Sabres
- April 5th and 6th versus the Boston Bruins
- April 17th and 18th versus the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, respectively
- May 3rd and 4th versus the Pittsburgh Penguins
- May 7th and 8th versus the Washington Capitals
These back to back sets will prove as a true test for how prepared this team will be for a busy and tough schedule. The players that should be the most prepared for this season and these back to backs should be the goaltending tandem of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott. Hart and Elliot have been a consistent tandem for the Flyers ever since Hart was called up during the 2018-2019 season.
Hart has all but solidified the term “franchise goaltender” for a city that has been starved of one for so long. Carter Hart plays well night in and night out, but still has much to learn until he solidifies that number one goaltending position. That’s why Chuck Fletcher re-signed veteran goaltender Elliott to help mentor the young Carter Hart. In the 2019-2020 season where the Flyers had played 67 games, Carter Hart started 40 and Elliot picked up the remaining 27.
In a shortened season like the one that we are going to be watching, we can imagine that the goaltending duo would be splitting a similar number of starts as they did last season. In 56 games, Alain Vigneault would be smart to give Hart the majority of games and still allow Elliot to start a decent amount in order to be ready whenever he is needed.
The goaltending tandem of Hart and Elliott are going to have to play on their heads if the Flyers plan to acquire at least half of the points in those back to back series. Could Vigneault and company ponder the possibility of starting Hart in both games of a back to back series? With Hart being so young, he would probably be more inclined to try playing in as many games as he can during this season, but the possibility of hurting our 1A goaltender just doesn’t sit right. With the back to back series’, Vigneault would be smart having the tandem split each series.
Looking back to last season, the Philadelphia Flyers were not an accomplished team when required to play in back-to-back games. In 2019-2020, the Flyers were faced with 13 back to back games. Due to Covid, the Flyers played 11 of those 13 back to back sets. The success that they would have in those back to backs? They were averaging just over a point per game, 1.077 points per game to be exact.
Out of those 22 games, the Flyers were able to come away with 26 points out of a total 44 possible. How many points did they give up due to Overtime/Shootout decisions? Nine of those games during those back to back sets went to overtime or shootouts with the Flyers allowing 13 points to go in their opponents favor. Some of the opponents the Flyers lost points to last year in these back-to-backs will be familiar faces in this upcoming season.
The New York Islanders seemed to have their number last season, playing the Flyers three different times during a second half of a back to back series. Our record against the Islanders in those games was 0-2-1. Just like last year, the Islanders will see the Flyers three different times in the second half of three different back to backs.
If the Flyers drop a similar record to the Islanders in this years back-to-backs, it will be tough to regain ground in the standings. Against their current East Division teams last year, the Flyers posted a 4-2-2 record against the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Similarly to the record mentioned above against the Islanders, that 4-2-2 record needs to be a lot better if they want to maintain a playoff spot in this tough division.
The outcomes of the back to backs could depend heavily on whether or not Philadelphia Flyers fans will be seeing playoff hockey come late May. In order to have a successful season this year, the Orange and Black are going to have to get better in those back to back contests and raise that average point per game to at least 1.5 if not better. In a shortened season where it is going to be an all-out sprint to the playoffs, overtime games and losses are rarely going to play in your favor. Especially when all of these games are against inter divisional opponents. Allowing any ground for your opponents will hurt you in the long run.
Photo Credit – Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire