SUNRISE, Fla. — For the Flyers, a treacherous schedule in the next week could determine whether they stay in contention for the Metropolitan Division title.
Their next four games are against Pittsburgh, Boston, Winnipeg, and Vegas, teams battling for first place in their respective divisions.
“We’ve got tough teams coming up, but it’s like any other night – you’ve got to be ready,” center Sean Couturier said after the Flyers’ third straight defeat, a 4-1 loss Sunday in Florida. “Whether you’re playing a lower-standing team or a top-of-the-standings team, every team is good and you have to be ready to battle every night. It’s not a different approach or different readiness that we need.”
The Flyers, who are fighting Washington and Pittsburgh for first place in the Metro, have won just one of five games (1-2-2) against their next four opponents this season.
“It’s definitely huge,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said of the upcoming stretch. “We have some games at home here and we need to bear down.”
Of the next four games, only the matchup with Boston is on the road.
The Flyers have not been dominant at the Wells Fargo Center, compiling just a 16-10-6 record. No Metropolitan team has fewer home wins.
Conversely, the Flyers have the most victories of any Metro team on the road, where they are 18-11-5, thanks to a recent 7-1-1 run.
The Flyers’ schedule has been relatively easy recently; six of their last nine games have been against teams currently not in a playoff spot, and they went 6-2-1 in that span.
Starting Wednesday against visiting Pittsburgh, a high-scoring team that has struggled on the defensive end, the competition will intensify.
“We know we’re in the heart of our schedule and we know the task at hand,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s up to us to battle.”
The upcoming stretch is magnified after weekend losses to Tampa Bay (7-6 shootout) and Florida (4-1).
“We wanted more than one point out of this trip; for us, the next two games are crucial,” defenseman Radko Gudas said. “It’s going to show us a lot as to where we are at as a team.”
Pittsburgh overcame a two-goal deficit and scored a 5-4 overime win over the visiting Flyers on Nov. 27, back when Philadelphia was in the middle of a 10-game winless streak. When the teams met again Jan. 2 at the Wells Fargo Center, Brian Elliott allowed four goals on 14 shots and was pulled from an eventual 5-1 loss.
Since that defeat, the Flyers have been one of the NHL’s best teams.
The emergence of right winger Travis Konecny, who has 27 points in the 30 games since he was moved to the top line, and rookie center Nolan Patrick (seven goals in his last 17 games) has helped the turnaround.
But the Flyers are now in a mini-crisis after three straight losses that have featured sloppy defense, shoddy goaltending, and a slew of odd-man rushes by their opponents.
The Flyers’ power play has also slumped, going 1 for 14 in its last five games. That unit could get a boost if Wayne Simmonds, who has a team-high 10 power-play goals, returns to the lineup Wednesday after missing seven games with what is believed to be a hand injury.