Flyers feel good at NHL All-Star break, but division rivals loom in Stanley Cup playoffs chase

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Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek has become the National Hockey League’s top playmaker with 47 assists.

Despite a 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday, the Flyers go into the all-star break feeling good about themselves.

A 16-6-1 run since their 10-game losing streak ended has them in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are relatively healthy, and their lines are more balanced than they were earlier in the season, which should help their consistency in the final 33 games.

“We had some ups and downs,” said center Sean Couturier, who leads the Flyers with 26 goals and a plus-16 rating, “but I think we grew from those downs. We learned from our mistakes, and lately I think we’re playing some good hockey. We just have to refocus during the break and recharge the battery and get back to where we were.”

The Flyers are 24-17-8 for 56 points, which is almost the same record they had at a corresponding point last season (24-19-6 for 54 points). There is a major difference, however. This season, Couturier has emerged as one of the league’s best two-way forwards, while all-star Claude Giroux (tied for fifth in the league with 57 points) and Shayne Gostisbehere have fully recovered from surgery that hindered their effectiveness last season.

In addition, Jake Voracek has become the league’s top playmaker with 47 assists, second-year pros Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny have made significant strides, and rookie defenseman Robert Hagg has added some much-needed snarl.

That should make the Flyers better-suited than last year to make a strong playoff run.

Still, the challenge will be stiff. The Eastern Conference, especially in the Flyers’ Metropolitan Division, is filled with parity. Just two points separate the six teams that are battling for second place in the Metro.

In other words, a winning streak can put you in second, while a losing skid can drop you out of a playoff spot.

Since ending their 10-game skid, the Flyers have done a great job preventing a losing spiral.

In fact, they put together four-game winning streaks after each of their recent 5-1 losses to Pittsburgh and the Rangers.

When they return to the ice Wednesday against the powerful Capitals in Washington, they will be trying to bounce back from another 5-1 defeat, this one to Tampa.

“Hopefully this is a little bit of a wake-up call and we get this rest here,” right winger Wayne Simmonds said, “and when we come back, we have got to make sure we come back ready for the first game. … We feel good about our game.”

There are areas they need to show improvement over the final two-plus months. At the top of the list is the Flyers’ woeful penalty kill, which is 28th out of 31 teams and has clicked at just a 75.3 percent success rate.

The Flyers’ power play has been solid (20.7 percent success rate) and is ranked ninth, and they are slightly below the middle of the pack in goals scored (17th; 2.88 per game) and goals allowed (17th, 2.82 per game).

The Flyers will play 27 of their last 33 games against Eastern Conference teams. They are 14-7-4 against the East.

“We’re in the fight and it’s gonna be a dogfight now as soon as we come back from the break,” coach Dave Hakstol said, adding that the team has to “keep finding ways to get a little better.”

As the young players have blossomed,  the Flyers have trended in the right direction. They were a combined 8-10-7 in the first two months, but are 16-7-1 in December and January.

Breakaways

Goalie Alex Lyon was sent back to the Phantoms. Brian Elliott has a minor injury but is expected to play Wednesday in Washington or Thursday in New Jersey. … The Devils’ Brian Boyle, who missed the start of the season after being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, replaced teammate Taylor Hall on the All-Star team. Boyle has 11 goals and 17 points. Couturier and Voracek were among those players bypassed. … Giroux, the Flyers’ lone all-star, will participate in the skills competition Saturday and the three-on-three all-star tourney Sunday in Tampa.