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Four questions for the struggling Flyers with seven games left as they try to clinch a playoff spot

They are still in line for a playoff spot as the second wild card, but amid four straight losses, the Flyers have some things to figure out.

The Flyers' Travis Konecny looks to teammate Morgan Frost after losing 5-1 to the Blackhawks on Saturday.
The Flyers' Travis Konecny looks to teammate Morgan Frost after losing 5-1 to the Blackhawks on Saturday.Read moreElizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer

The Flyers were facing another team below them in the standings — well below them in the standings — and lost. Saturday night it was a 5-1 drubbing by the Chicago Blackhawks, who are ranked No. 31 in the NHL and are just playing for pride these days.

Seven games. That’s all that’s left on the schedule between the Flyers either heading to their first postseason since 2020 or the golf course. Seven games to right the ship.

“We’ve just got to get some sort of energy back and some confidence back in our game,” said coach John Tortorella. “And not lose our belief. We’ve worked too hard to get to this spot, to play these types of games. Now we’ve got to figure it out, we’ve got to figure out how we get back on the other side of it here.”

Here are four questions to ponder:

Where do things stand now?

The good news for the Flyers is they are still in a playoff spot. The bad news is they have fallen to the second wild card.

The Washington Capitals are now in third place in the Metropolitan Division after gaining a loser point against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. They have two games in hand on the Flyers. The Detroit Red Wings also got a loser point against the Florida Panthers and they are two points back of the Flyers, and have a game in hand.

After Monday night’s critical game against the New York Islanders — a team five points back of the Flyers with two games in hand — the Orange and Black don’t play again until Friday. A lot can happen during that stretch. The Capitals and Islanders each play twice, on Tuesday and Thursday. The Red Wings are off like the Flyers after playing the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.

» READ MORE: Flyers’ scoring struggles contribute to 5-1 loss to last-place Chicago Blackhawks

“We [stunk] tonight,” Tortorella said after the loss to the Blackhawks. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t make one play. So maybe that’s what needs to happen. I think we hit the bottom tonight here. And maybe that needs to happen for us to get back into it. ... We’re going to clear the deck. We got to start again Monday and hopefully, we’ll be able to rebound.”

But one question that cannot be answered yet is whether there is enough runway left in the season to rebound.

Have the Flyers just run out of steam?

Game No. 75 was one of the worst 60 minutes the Flyers have put together all season. They looked tired but the bench boss wasn’t sure if it was mental or physical or even both. One thing he can say for sure is his top pair of Cam York and Travis Sanheim have been playing a ton of minutes and the mistakes are starting to pile up. The pair was on the ice for four of the six goals scored on Saturday, three by the Blackhawks.

“I don’t have the answer to why we played poorly. If I did, we would have corrected it in between periods. But I don’t,” Tortorella said. “But when you see as, a group, that struggle, I’d have to think we’ve played a lot of hockey. I know it’s gotten to our two top defensemen because we’re killing them as far as ice time. There are some plays that they could make just checking-wise that they make all the time and they’re just not there.”

York is averaging 22 minutes, 27 seconds of ice time this season — three minutes more than each of his first three seasons. In 15 games in March, he averaged 25:27 and had a plus-minus of minus-6; only Montreal Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson averaged more at 26:07. Since March 14, when the seven-game gauntlet began, York’s ice time jumped almost a minute to an NHL-high of 26:29.

Sanheim, who is quite banged up, is averaging a career-high 23:48 in 2023-24. In March, he averaged 24:10, but it could be all the time he’s spent on the ice since the puck dropped on the season that is taking a toll. He’s hit the 27-minute mark six times, 28 minutes in three games — most recently on March 9 against the Tampa Bay Lightning — and played a season-high 29:14 in November.

“Yeah. Obviously, a lot of minutes for us over the last stretch,” Sanheim said. “But in saying that, we know that we are relied upon and got to contribute and play well in those minutes. We’re going to need to be much better moving forward.”

When will Fedotov play?

If the bench boss had his way, he’d probably prefer to see Ivan Fedotov sooner than later. But the 6-foot-7 netminder hasn’t played a game since March 8 and rust is surely an issue.

Sam Ersson has taken on the lion’s share of the workload this season, although his 45 games in the NHL have yet to eclipse the 54 starts he made last season between the Flyers and Lehigh Valley. But fatigue could be an issue, too.

The Flyers have played 25 games since the All-Star break during the first weekend in February; Ersson has started 20. An NHL rookie with just 57 big-club games under his belt, his 1,111:09 during those 20 games ranks sixth in the NHL. Compared to the guys above him — who don’t have stellar numbers either — his are the only ones above 3.00 for goals-against average (3.02) and below .900 for save percentage (.885).

» READ MORE: Ivan Fedotov’s addition shakes up the Flyers’ goalie rotation. Here’s where it stands.

But there are no guarantees that Fedotov will get the job done either, and the blame should not lay solely at the feet of Ersson. Is there at least one goal he would surely like back in each game, a goal that he should have stopped? Yes, and he’ll be the first to admit that.

In Saturday’s game alone, however, he faced five high-danger chances at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. Three became goals. It seems like every game lately, whoever is in net, is facing at least one breakaway and multiple odd-man rushes. Saturday was no exception, and Joey Anderson scored a breakaway goal off a neutral zone turnover for Chicago, and MacKenzie Entwistle’s goal was on a 3-on-2.

What has happened to the penalty kill?

The power play “stinks,” as associate coach Rocky Thompson said in early March. There’s no denying that when the team has the worst in the NHL at 13.0%. Yet, while everyone has their questions about the man advantage — and why a team tied for the sixth-most opportunities in the NHL can’t score — the power-play struggles are not new and the team is still in a playoff spot despite it.

But the penalty killing stinking is. Once a source of power — it was literally a power kill because of all the shorties — the Flyers’ penalty kill has been downright atrocious lately.

In March it dipped to the third-lowest mark in the NHL at 71.4%. Across the first 60 games of the season, the Flyers’ power play was No. 1 at 86.2% effectiveness. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

“You’re gonna have those stretches throughout a season,” Nick Seeler said after his first game since March 4. “I think we just need to get back to what we were doing to be successful and that’s, I think we’re a pressure PK. Obviously, blocking shots is a big part of that. But not letting their team get set up, I think is going to be important for us moving forward and just putting pressure on their guys.”

Why the collapse? Some of it could be attributed to the change in personnel, especially on the back end. Sean Walker was traded on March 6, two days after Seeler went down with a lower-body injury. Ronnie Attard and Adam Ginning, two rookies with limited NHL experience, were slotted in, as was recently acquired blue-line veteran Erik Johnson.

That’s one factor.

Another is, as associate coach and the guy in charge of the penalty kill, Brad Shaw, noted recently, other teams are getting pucks down low and more pucks to the net. Nick Foligno was able to skate straight down the middle before receiving a pass for his power-play goal on Saturday night. Two nights earlier, Nick Suzuki got the Canadiens on the board after he was left alone at the left post.

The Flyers’ penalty kill had been a thing of beauty to watch as they smothered the opposition, stood up at the blue line to stop the rush up the ice, and worked in such tandem that teams barely had any room to breath, let alone get a puck through a lane.

“I think the biggest thing is just trust in what we’re doing,” Shaw said March 14. “Getting back to pressuring, getting back to work in groups of four guys. Getting pucks 200 feet and trying to help build a little bit of frustration on the power-play side.”

» READ MORE: Flyers announce partnership with Delaware to develop its women’s hockey program