By DAN GELSTON
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Check out all those consecutive Ws of late on the Philadelphia schedule, and the Flyers should seem like a team headed to the playoffs.
But check out all those recent Ls.
With a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, the Flyers’ six-game winning streak came to an end. Not since the 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs has a team followed a 10-game winless skid with seven straight victories but the Flyers were close.
“You can’t win every single game right now,” Flyers forward Jake Voracek said.
Headed into Wednesday’s game against Detroit, Philadelphia is not in the postseason mix, just two points out of the final wild-card spot in the East. The Flyers like to say they aren’t as bad as the team that dropped 10 straight. But they haven’t shown many flashes of becoming a team that can reel off one or two more six-game winning streaks, either.
“If you’re losing, everything comes like a snowball,” said Voracek, who’s third in the NHL with 41 points. “You don’t feel comfortable to go to the third period with a two-goal lead. It’s really tough to do. And then you get scored on and you’re just like, ‘Here we go again.’”
Last season, the Flyers finished 11th in the Eastern Conference and became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs despite a 10-game winning streak.
“The results would say streaky, but we have played good hockey over the whole stretch,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Now it’s about getting results and we got to look at ourselves and put our finger on a couple things we have to do better and that we are capable of doing better.”
Good enough to sneak into the playoffs?
Hakstol, in his third season, was considered on the hot seat during the 10-game skid until general manager Ron Hextall came out with a vote of confidence. Hextall was the one who made the bold decision to hire Hakstol out of college, in part because of his reputation for molding young talent. Hakstol has tried to balance a youthful mix of Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick with a veteran core of Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux.
Progress has been incremental. Veteran center Valtteri Filppula said changes to Philadelphia’s neutral-zone system have helped. And the Flyers have been more careful with the puck.
“Make sure they have to come 200 feet to try to get in our zone, which in the long run, it’s a good way to play,” Filppula said.
Brian Elliott, the NHL’s No. 2 star of the week after posting a 1.31 goals-against average in three victories, has been solid in his first season with Philadelphia.
“That’s a real position of strength for our bench and for the guys that are out on the ice,” Hakstol said. “It’s not just the things that you see on a nightly basis on game nights. Brian does such a good job on a daily basis of approaching his day of work. I think that is something guys can feed off of.”
The Flyers are trying to make their way in the toughest division in the NHL, the Metropolitan. Only eight points separate the last-place Flyers, with 14 wins, from the first-place New Jersey Devils. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have 17 wins and 37 points, six points behind the Devils.
The Flyers hope the six-game streak was simply the start of better days ahead.
“I think it’s confidence, swagger, whatever you want to attach to it, is a big part of this game,” Hakstol said. “You can ask anybody, that’s a big part. You can be playing really well, but when you’re going good you just have that as a group you have that mentality that you’re not going to take less than finding a way to win a game.”
The return of goaltender Matt Murray from injury has not helped Pittsburgh, which has lost four of five and five of seven. General manager Jim Rutherford already acquired bottom-six center Riley Sheahan to fill a need but could soon be looking for bigger trades to shake things up.
GAME OF THE WEEK
The surprising Devils host the Blackhawks on Saturday in one of the final games before the Christmas break. Chicago took a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s game at Dallas.
LEADERS (through Monday)
Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 23; Assists: Voracek, 33; Points: Kucherov, 46; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 21; Goals-against average: Corey Crawford (Chicago), 2.11; Save percentage: Crawford, .935.