The signing of high-scoring James van Riemsdyk — and a healthy mix of quality veterans and promising young players — figured to help the Flyers make strides this season.
The St. Louis Blues, whose offseason additions included Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Patrick Maroon, were also expected to improve.
Instead, both teams have tumbled out of their respective playoff races, have fired their coaches, and are trying to stay out of the NHL’s basement.
The underachieving teams will meet Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center in what is unofficially the Jack Hughes Bowl.
It might be a little premature to think about draft positions and Hughes, the speedy center who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in June. The Flyers, who played a mostly strong game Saturday in a 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary, still believe they can salvage their season.
But they are 14 points out of a playoff spot and have never in franchise history overcome that kind of deficit and reached the playoffs.
“We have to put together a winning streak, then we can start looking at what we have to do to make up ground,” right winger Jake Voracek said after Sunday’s practice in Voorhees. “Right now, it’s too far. We all know that right now. We have to win three or four [in a row]. I don’t think our hockey is that bad, but we have to find a way in the important parts of the game to do a better job.”
Since the franchise started in 1967, the only time the Flyers weren’t in a playoff spot on Jan. 6 and still played in the postseason was last season, when they overcame an eight-point deficit.
The Flyers need to take things “day by day and do the little things right every day — play together, play as a team — and everything will take care of itself,” right winger Travis Konecny said. “If you’re doing the right things, you should get rewarded. Last year is proof of that.”
A year ago, the Flyers lost 10 straight (0-5-5) before rebounding and winning six in a row en route to finishing with 98 points and a playoff berth.
The Flyers have lost 11 of their last 14, including six straight (0-4-2) since returning from their holiday break. They are on a 72-point pace.
“When you’re losing on a nightly basis, like we have since Christmas, it feels like you’re never going to win a game again,” Voracek said. “Then you put two or three together. … we can get lucky, the goalie can steal one, special teams can win one, and all of a sudden, you feel good about yourself, and you feel like you can get on a roll and put six or seven together. It’s all about that confidence.
“I wouldn’t get carried away and say we need this many points to make the playoffs,” Voracek added. “We need to look at [Monday’s] game.”
Like the Flyers (15-20-6), the Blues also have 36 points (in 39 games), and they are directed by interim coach Craig Berube, the former Flyers coach. Ex-Flyer Brayden Schenn has nine goals for the Blues (16-19-4).
“There’s probably going to be some chirping going on, for sure,” Voracek said. “He’s a good friend of mine. He’s missed here in this locker room.”
“I’ll give him a little smirk or a bump,” Konecny said. “It won’t be anything too crazy. He’s a pretty respected player.”