USATSI_8440395_154158418_lowresThe Philadelphia Flyers still want to make the playoffs, if you take general manager Ron Hextall’s word for it. There is an extent to which a GM has to say that, just like there’s an extent to which a coach has to not say his team sucks. But there’s also reality, which is something the Flyers certainly need to face – and soon.

What has happened in Philly?

“Our goal is still to make the playoffs,” Hextall said on Thursday when he was asked if the Flyers were at the point to which they’d start playing some of their younger guys. “Until we’re officially out, that will continue to be our goal.”

Again, this is what you have to say. Unless and until you’re “officially out” of the post-season, you have to try. You can try and tank, like the Buffalo Sabres are certainly not doing. Right?

Or you can try and make a run at it even though the likelihood of making the playoffs is slim to none. Even if the Flyers win all of their remaining games, they’ve only got a 50-50 chance of making it because the numbers aren’t helpful. The standings tell the story.

What’s more, the newswire also tells the story. Philly’s goaltending coach flew the coop last week, while they traded away Brayden Coburn for what essentially amounted to a bag of Gudas and some picks. That’s certainly not a Buffalo Fire Sale, but it’s also not the move of a team full in the belief that they’ll make the playoffs.

Hextall’s not a stupid man. He knows the reality his team faces and he knows the things hockey people have to say. Just like players know all the phrases, like “that was a hockey play” or “the guys worked out hard there” or “we’ve just got to put pucks on net,” Ron Hextall knows that he can’t say that his team is just going to hang out until it’s time to hit the links.

Ron Hextall also knows that the mighty have fallen in Philly. He knows they’re 21st overall in goals-per-game and he knows the penalty kill stinks. He knows that the opposition has scored first 40 times out of 68 games. He knows the Flyers are slow starters and poor finishers.

Philly brought back six 20-goal scorers from last season. Just two of them have hit the mark this year. The much-maligned Claude Giroux sits with 18 goals, to be fair, and will likely reach 20. That lack of gumption, if you ask Hextall, comes down to hunger or a lack thereof.

“If they’re hungry to score, that puck’s in the net,” Hextall said. “That makes a big difference. That little difference is the difference between winning a game and being 10 points ahead. The difference right now is a lot. You’ve got to find a few little things and things will increase.”

Things could increase at this point and time and little would change with regard to the Flyers’ fortunes. They still won’t make the playoffs. Write that down. But the question now is if they can pull themselves back to respectability. Can they be honest with themselves behind closed doors while still telling the fanbase what it needs to hear?

It appears so. And that’s a step in the right direction for a franchise that so desperately needs to break down what went wrong this year so they don’t repeat the same madness next season.

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