The NHL’s East Division is arguably the toughest division this season, with four of the top 10 teams by points percentage hailing from that group.
While the divisions have been slightly altered this year due to the pandemic, a majority of the East Division competed in the Metropolitan Division last season, where the Philadelphia Flyers held down first place when play was paused last March. But this season, with higher expectations, those same Flyers have face-planted; they’ve lost 10 of 14 games this month, leaving themselves with a difficult road back into the playoff picture.
The latest loss, an 8-3 rout at the hands of the New York Rangers on Thursday, led veteran defenceman Shane Gostisbehere to call out his team’s effort in his post-game press conference.
“It’s just unacceptable. It’s just straight not good enough right now,” Gostisbehere said. “We’ve got to be better as a team.”
Entering the month of March, the Flyers had an 11-4-3 record but were fifth in the competitive East, one point behind the Islanders. And they did it despite having COVID-19 issues impact the roster for most of February. But since March 1, the team has seemingly done a 180 and, after Thursday’s results, the team sits sixth in the East with 34 points. The Boston Bruins sit fourth with 37 points, but also hold three games in hand.
The biggest difference from the beginning of the season to now has been the team’s defence. Through Thursday’s games, no team — not even the Buffalo Sabres, who are in the midst of a 16-game winless streak — has given up more goals this month than the Flyers’ 65, which averages out to 4.65 goals per game. That’s significantly higher than the 2.89 goals against per game the team allowed in the first month-and-a-half of the season (52 goals in 18 games).
Third-year goalie Carter Hart has been at the centre of the rise in goals against, allowing at least three in all but one of his 10 starts this month and at least five in three of them. Still, Gostisbehere didn’t pin the recent struggles on just the goaltender, saying the entire team needs to be more accountable on defence.
“…Right now this team has really lost its identity. From where we were at the beginning of the year to where we are now, it sucks right now. We’ve got to find something because we’re too good of a team to let it squander away,” Gostisbehere said. “We owe it to our goaltenders, we owe it to the older guys on our team.”
The Flyers will get a chance to get out of their defensive funk against the Rangers on Saturday afternoon before closing the month with a pair of games against the Sabres next week.