By Tommy Hendricks, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
It's beginning to look a lot like "Chrismas" in Allentown. Chris Conner took center stage on Friday as the Phantoms faced the Rochester Americans.
PPL Center was host to another Phantoms comeback win on Friday night, a 4-3 victory over Rochester. After going down 2-0, the Phantoms used a late first period marker and a three-goal second period to escape with the win.
The Flyers topped the Edmonton Oilers in thrilling fashion on Thursday night (see recap), and rather than overcoming two two-goal deficits or Michael Raffl's late heroics, the big story is Connor McDavid's postgame comments about Brandon Manning.
Manning, allegedly, made comments on the ice that referenced his hit on McDavid last season -- the hit that cost the prolific forward 37 games of his rookie year. That didn't sit too well with McDavid, who called Manning out in his postgame meeting with reporters.
Don’t look now, but the Philadelphia Flyers are in possession of a playoff spot and not just a wild card slot.
The Flyers are now in third place in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference, only 2 points behind the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins who are tied for first with 37 points. The Flyers currently are only four points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the most points in the league.
Yes, this is the same team that finished the month of October with just a 4-5-1 record. The same Flyers team that had nine wins and 13 losses, three in overtime, prior to the start of their seven-game winning streak after losing to the Rangers on Black Friday. They had 21 points going into the Sunday game against Calgary on Nov. 27.
Now, the Flyers have 35 points with the streak at seven, adding 14 points to their total. Coach Dave Hakstol said that just before the current win streak, the team was playing well in losses to Toronto and New York. But with losses piling up, moral victories weren't cutting it for Flyers fans. The team had definitely turned a corner he felt and was playing a more complete game, competing for the entire 60 minutes, but didn't have anything to show for it in those losses.
While Hakstol still sees areas where the team can continue to improve upon, he believes the team as a unit has raised their compete level and has contributed to the winning streak and credits the improved play of goaltender Steve Mason as a significant factor in the winning streak.
Mason has started six of the seven games on the Flyers winning streak. Anthony Stolarz got the streak going with the win over Calgary seven games ago. Mason has started every game since.
Including Thursday's game against the Edmonton Oilers, who tallied for five goals, Mason has a 2.26 goals against average and a .926 save percentage over those six wins, a substantial turnaround from the first 17 games he played in where he amassed a goals against of 3.04 with a save percentage of only .892.
If you remove the Edmonton game, Mason had recorded an outstanding goals against average of 1.74 with a similarly impressive save percentage of .947 over the first five wins of the streak.
It has not been just the play in the net that has driven the current successful play of the Flyers though. The Flyers had struggled to register goals at even strength prior to their recent success. They were in the bottom-third of the league at even strength. That has changed dramatically of late. Five of their six goals on Thursday were at even strength.
As a matter of fact, their power play is the most noticeable areas of struggle during this run. The Flyers converted on only 1-of-5 power-play chances Thursday. Over the seven-game span, the Flyers are 6-for-32 on the power play, a success rate of 18.75 percent, well below their overall rate of 23.8 percent.
The Flyers blueline has continued to contribute to the offense at a high rate. They still lead the league in scoring from the blueline, well ahead of the Rangers for second place.
Individual defensemen are also playing better of late as well. Ivan Provorov has really come into his own of late. This was so clearly highlighted by his outstanding play against Florida and Jaromir Jagr specifically. The 19-year-old rookie was able to get under Jagr’s skin and drew the elder statesman into a penalty and losing his cool with Provorov.
Overall, the Flyers play has come together despite the injuries to key players such as Sean Couturier and Michal Neuvirth; neither of whom have appeared in any of the last seven games for the Flyers.
Additionally, Matt Read has missed nearly the entire last three games since getting injured in the first period of the Nashville game on Sunday. Radko Gudas also missed three games with the flu. Still, the Flyers kept finding a way to win in their absences.
This team has shown pride and resilience in finding a way to win night after night. They climbed their way from near the bottom of the division and to within two points of the top and four points of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. If they can continue to fine tune their game and receive high-level contributions in net and from the blueline, to complement the performance from their top-line stars, the Flyers could be a formidable opponent come playoff time.
The play turned Connor McDavid's rookie season. The No. 1 overall pick, dubbed to be the next great player in the NHL, was facing the PhiladelphiaFlyers for the first time on Nov. 3, 2015.
McDavid and Brandon Manning went crashing into the boards after a hard rush into the Flyers zone. McDavid hit the boards and suffered a broken collarbone as a result. He missed the next 37 games as a result.
McDavid clearly hasn't forgotten the other player involved in the collision. He exchanged words with Manning several times on the ice on Thursday and after the game called out the Flyers defenseman.
Two times tonight the Edmonton Oilers held two goal leads. Two times tonight the Philadelphia Flyers erased them. Behind three third period goals, the Flyers came back to extend their winning streak to seven games as they defeated Edmonton 6-5 on Thursday night.
Edmonton would get on the board at 4:39 of the opening period. Leon Draisaitl took a pass from Jesse Puljujarvi near center and went in almost untouched before beating Steve Mason clean. The goal was his 12th of the season.
The Philadelphia Flyers (15-10-3) return to the ice tonight for a showdown with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers (14-10-4). This is the first of two meetings with Edmonton. The teams will face off on February 16th in Alberta. Opening face off is set for 7:00pm.
The Flyers extended their season high win streak to six games on Tuesday with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Florida Panthers. If they are to get it to seven games it will take all hands on deck to slow down McDavid and the high flying Oilers.
In the 1967 Expansion Draft, the first 12 players selected were all goaltenders. The Flyers had the second overall pick and used it on a goaltender from the Boston Bruins, 22-year-old Bernard Marcel Parent.
Bernie Parent will join a host of others to tend the Flyers net in being honored on the third Heritage Night of the season on Thursday, when the Flyers hold Goalies Night before facing the Edmonton Oilers.