Three games isn’t the biggest of sample sizes, but that won’t stop us from making a few quick takes about the Philadelphia Flyers.
It certainly wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but the Philadelphia Flyers should feel fairly happy with the results of their season-opening West Coast trip. After games against three solid Western Conference teams, the Flyers emerged with a 2-1-0 record. Here are a few things we’ve learned about the team, and what they mean moving forward.
1 — The Flyers’ fourth line is legit
They haven’t made their presence known on the scoresheet yet, but the bottom line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, and Michael Raffl has been dominant in the early going. It already feels like every recap this year is going to contain at least one small shout-out to them.
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Their 5v5 Corsi numbers are off-the-charts great, but you don’t need to be a stat nerd to tell how good they’ve been. They sustain cycles exceptionally well, and have been by far the best forward line at limiting opposing shot opportunities. Remember when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde were fourth line mainstays? Me neither.
2 — The middle-six need some sorting out
With the aforementioned fourth line crushing other teams’ souls and the stacked first line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek holding their own (though with definite room for improvement), the Flyers’ middle two forward lines have been the most concerning.
No skater in the middle-six is immune to criticism. Dale Weise has been flat-out terrible, and Valtteri Filppula has displayed an impressive ability to ruin an odd-man rush before it can generate a quality scoring chance. Nolan Patrick and Jordan Weal have flashed, but their possession numbers are equally poor. Even Wayne Simmonds has struggled at 5v5, though his value to the Flyers’ powerplay is very clear.
It’s difficult to gauge where to assign blame when everyone is struggling. Part of the issue may be the difficult assignments they’re receiving- Nolan Patrick, for example, has started less than 30% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. There’s nothing wrong with using certain lines to handle challenging workloads, lightening the load for the scoring lines. But with results this bad, something has to give. Dave Hakstol needs to find the right combination of players and the best way to use them, whatever that may be.
3 — Goaltender situation looks much improved
The early returns on the Flyers’ approach in goal have been encouraging. Michal Neuvirth was never going to be as bad as he was last year, but he truly shined in his first appearance of the year. Neuvirth kept rebounds under control, showed strong positioning, and made a handful of highlight-reel stops.
Brian Elliott looked a bit shaky on opening night, but he righted the ship with a solid showing against the Los Angeles Kings. Combined, Neuvirth and Elliott seem capable of delivering good goaltending on a nightly basis, which is about as much that can be asked of them.
(Stats via Natural Stat Trick)