In the last five weeks, the Flyers have just six wins in 16 games. All of those victories were against teams currently out of a playoff spot.
The Flyers, who have seven games left, have not beaten a team currently in a playoff position since Feb. 20, when they defeated the New York Rangers, 4-2. Since then, they are 0 for 6, losing to Phoenix, Buffalo, the Rangers, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Boston.
On Tuesday night, they face a Pittsburgh team that has stayed within striking distance of first place despite playing a good portion of the season without its two best players, injured forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins scored a 2-1 shootout win over the host Flyers on Thursday.
Led by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh has won four straight - and set an NHL record by winning all four in shootouts.
The Flyers, who have been atop the East since Jan. 8, were given their seventh day away from the ice Monday in the last 22 days. They have had 10 nongame days in that span, and have not been on the ice for seven of them, though they have been in the weight room.
After the Flyers' latest loss, winger Kris Versteeg said, "I don't think we had the 60-minute effort we needed."
That's been the team's common refrain over the last five weeks as they have talked about their opponents playing with more urgency and desperation.
If the Flyers don't find it soon, they could tumble to fourth in the Eastern Conference. The first three teams are the division winners, regardless of their point totals. In other words, if the Flyers finished second in the Atlantic, they would tumble to fourth even if they had more points than the other two division winners.
The fourth-place team will likely meet Tampa Bay, which is currently fifth, in the conference quarterfinals.
As it stands now, the Flyers are first and would face eighth-place Buffalo if the season ended Monday.
The Flyers have a 24-9-4 road record this season, including a pair of 3-2 wins in Pittsburgh in which Sergei Bobrovsky, who is expected to start Tuesday, was the goalie. They can set a single-season franchise record for roads wins with a victory Tuesday.
Oddly, the Flyers have played better on the road than at home (21-11-6).
Breakaways. The Flyers are raising tickets prices, on the average of 8-10 percent, for the 2011-12 season. Among the changes: the seats behind the net where the Flyers shoot twice will cost more than the ones behind the other net. The Flyers have sold out 33 of their 38 home games this season. . . . The Flyers and Pens have both struggled mightily on the power play. The Flyers are in a 1-for-16 funk, while the Penguins are three for their last 55. . . . The Flyers can finish no lower than fifth in the East. . . . Pittsburgh received a boost Sunday when defenseman Brooks Orpik returned to the lineup after missing 13 games because of a fractured right index finger. . . . Crosby, sidelined since Jan. 6 with a concussion, continues to skate and coach Dan Bylsma told Pittsburgh reporters he was "encouraged" by his progress. There are rumblings Crosby will play in the playoffs. . . . Fleury has held opponents to two or fewer goals in 17 of his 28 starts since Crosby last played. He has allowed just two goals in the last 195 minutes and 53 seconds.
The race in the Eastern Conference
Heading down the stretch, just two points separate the first-place Flyers from Pittsburgh and Washington in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers are also two points ahead of the Penguins in the Atlantic Division, with the division winner guaranteed of taking one of the East's top three seeds.
The Flyers have a game in hand on both teams.
Washington has the easiest schedule of the three contenders. Here are the remaining schedules of the teams:
Flyers (seven games): at Pittsburgh Tuesday; Atlanta Thursday; at New Jersey Friday; New York Rangers Sunday; at Ottawa next Tuesday; at Buffalo April 8; New York Islanders April 9.
The Flyers play three teams - Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the Rangers - that are in playoff spots.
Pittsburgh (six games): Flyers Tuesday; at Tampa Bay Thursday; at Florida Saturday; New Jersey next Tuesday; at Islanders April 8; at Atlanta April 10.
The Flyers and Tampa are the Penguins' only opponents currently in playoff spots.
Washington (six games): Carolina Tuesday; Columbus Thursday; Buffalo Saturday; at Toronto next Tuesday; Florida April 6; at Florida April 9.
The Capitals play just one game (against Buffalo) against a team sitting in a playoff position.
If the Flyers and Penguins finish tied for first in the division or conference, the Flyers would win the tiebreaker: most wins in regulation or overtime. The Flyers currently have 42, while Pittsburgh has 36.
Should the Flyers and Capitals finish deadlocked atop the East, the tiebreaker would be close. Washington currently has 40 wins in regulation or overtime. The next tiebreaker is the greater number of points earned in games between the tied teams. Both teams have earned six points in those four meetings.
The next tiebreaker is the greater differential in goals-for and goals-against in the entire regular season. The Flyers currently are plus-38, while Washington is plus-23.
- Sam Carchidi
Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.