The Philadelphia Flyers played two strong games to kick off their 2016-2017 campaign, giving the fans a number of reasons to get excited.
The Philadelphia Flyers enjoyed a strong start to their 2016-17 campaign over the weekend, taking three of a possible four points while playing road games on back-to-back nights. It was a welcome change from past seasons where the Flyers have struggled out of the gate and forced themselves to make up for it as the season went on.
Of course, it is impossible to make any real judgement about any team just two games into a season. Over the course of 82 games there will be ups and downs for everyone. Still, there was plenty from the weekend to feel good about from a Flyers perspective.
The Second Line
I’m all in on the Flyers’ second line right now. The trio of Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny were put together towards the end of preseason and put together an encouraging opening weekend. Couturier had two goals in the opening night win against the Kings and Konecny is tied for the team lead in points in the early going with three assists. Voracek and Konecny are elite level passers already-their assists on Couturier’s second goal from Friday show just how good they are.
There has been a lot made about the offensive production of Sean Couturier over the course of his career. He was an offensive monster in juniors before joining the Flyers and has never really been able to find that scoring touch in the NHL. A lot of that (at least in my opinion) comes from the way he has been used. Craig Berube buried him on the fourth line for long stretches and paired him with players like Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, and an injured Matt Read. We saw flashes of what Couturier could do last year with competent linemates but his season was cut short by injuries.
I’m high on Couturier this season. I think he’s better offensively than he gets credit for and I think he’s got the perfect linemates around him to help him show that. The second line looked great this past weekend and there’s no reason to think that stops going forward.
The Kids Look Great
If it wasn’t abundantly clear after the preaseaon, the opening weekend showed
just how much Konecny and Ivan Provorov belong in the NHL. Konecny picked up three assists in two games and Provorov picked up one of his own against the Kings. Points aside, the two looked comfortable playing big minutes in a number of different situations. Provorov played close to 20 minutes each night, including time on both the power play and the penalty kill. Konecny logged some time on the second powerplay unit as well. They both logged impressive possession numbers as well, finishing above the 50 percent line in both games.
Admittedly, there were some hiccups. Provorov specifically had a few moments where he showed that he’s only 19 years old and still not a finished product. And that has to be expected with the two of them. Ron Hextal and Dave Hakstol are making a commitment to their two young players, and that is going to mean there will be growing pains. Still, the good far outweighed the bad on opening weekend, and that has to excite the Flyers.
Brandon Manning was fighting for his roster spot just a few weeks ago. Had Radko Gudas not been suspended and Michael Del Zotto not been hurt, he may easily have started the season in AHL or the press box. And now, after two games, Manning is tied with Kocecny with three points. That’s the same Brandon Manning who had all of seven points in 56 games last year.
Manning has taken his opportunity and run with it to start the season. While it’s unlikely that he will be putting up points like this all season, his play in other areas has impressed just as much. Manning has been moving the puck well on his breakout passes and has been strong in the neutral zone. He has been physical when called upon but not to the point where he has hurt the team with bad penalties. When Gudas and Del Zotto do come back, Manning could be a very serviceable third pairing defenseman if his play keeps up. For my money, he has certainly jumped past Nick Shultz and Andrew MacDonald in that regard.
Reinforcements on the Way
Brayden Schenn will be back after one more game. Radko Gudas isn’t that far behind him. Michaeld Del Zotto is hopefully only a few more weeks away. The Flyers skated right with the Kings and the Coyotes while missing a top line winger and two of their top four defensemen. When Schenn comes back, I suspect he takes over Michael Raffl’s spot on the first line. Raffl may bump Nick Cousins or Dale Weise to the fourth line and Chris VandeVelde would go to the press box.
Meanwhile, consider this as the possible defensive pairings when Gudas and Del Zotto come back:
Shayne Gostisbehere-Radko Gudas
Mark Streit-Ivan Provorov
Michael Del Zotto-Brandon Manning
That’s not just a playoff team. That’s a team that can do some damage in the postseason. Injuries will doubtlessly happen over the course of the season and mess some things up and the Flyers will need to make adjustments when they do. But considering where they were on the blue line just a few seasons ago, the fact that they could ice a defense like that in this season is pretty amazing.
There is still work to do, of course, and two games is far too small a sample size to start calling this team a contender. The third line did not look good and Steve Mason would probably like another shot at at least one of the goals that he let in on Saturday. But it was a strong start to the season, and one that the Flyers desperately needed. A strong October can be the difference between desperately chasing down the 8th seed in the playoffs and battling for home ice. The Flyers got off on the right foot last weekend and that bodes well for the season to come.