51 games into the season ad we have a pretty good idea at who these Philadelphia Flyers are. They are a scrappy bunch that finds unlikely ways to win when all seems lost. And that has a lot to do with John Tortorella. He’s given this team a much needed identity.
Are they where he wants them to be? Certainly not, but time and time again Tortorella has praised this team despite some of there limitations. Let’s face it, he knows this isn’t a team that can contend with some of the bigger teams in the league.
But he is doing exactly what he was brought in to do. And we’ve seen some of the positives, and negatives, to his style of coaching. Players have taken steps forward and shown they should be a part of the future. Others haven’t exactly shined, but have shown improvement with the right coaching.
So at the All-Star break, where does this team stand amongst itself?
This one is an easy one. The player that has taken the biggest jump under Tortorella has been Travis Konecny. Despite having the most shots in his career, Konecny scored at a career-low 7.3% last season. His 16 goals were still the second highest in his career, but something was off.
Having posted 24-goals in three consecutive seasons, it seemed like it was a matter of time before Konecny broke out for real. But then he stagnated big time. He posted 11 goals in the pandemic-shortened season and 16 a season ago.
Now, he’s already hit 24 goals in 45 games and is on pace to set career highs in all categories. He’s the player that sets the tempo for the Flyers. And Tortorella wouldn’t have him any other way. Well, it’s more that he knows he can’t change things about him.
"“I’m not gonna stop him from doing that,” Tortorella said about Konecny’s post-whistle play. “And he’s not gonna listen to me anyway. That’s just the way he plays. If I try to take that away from him and discipline him on that stuff, he’ll be an average hockey player. That’s why he is who he is, is the energy and effort that he brings.”"
There have been numerous players who have stepped up during this season. But one of the biggest surprises has come in net. And that’s the play of Samuel Ersson.
The Swedish goaltender showed a lot during the preseason and was even rewarded by making the Flyers opening night roster. It came due to the team having to find a way to be cap compliment, but it was still a reward for how Ersson played.
And when Felix Sandstrom couldn’t travel with the team to Canada before the holiday break, that’s when Ersson got to show what he could do. He struggled in his debut, giving up five goals against the Hurricanes. He was pulled, but was forced to come in after Carter Hart was injured. He showed poise after what was a tough way to be welcomed to the NHL.
So what did he do after that? He won five straight games and earned his first career shutout. He gave up just 8 goals on 141 shots in games that he started. He did come on in relief against the Bruins after Hart was pulled. He still played fairly well, allowing two goals on 13 shots.
Due to Sandstrom needing waivers in order to be sent to the AHL, it was Ersson who has found himself back in Lehigh Valley. He’ll get playing time down there, but he’s proven that he’s ready to be an NHL goaltender with the Flyers.
"“The thing I’ve always said about him is, in the short time I’ve known him, I think he carries himself the right way, too. I think he has the right type of swagger. And when he’s on the ice, I think he brings a calm presence to our team, too.” Tortorella said about Ersson after he was sent down."
Best of the Youth
The Flyers have numerous players 25 and younger on their roster. And more than a few of them have taken steps forwards this season. So this could go to a handful of players. There are two who have made the most impact.
Noah Cates has taken this opportunity and run with it. Being converted to center in his first season in the NHL, Cates has more than earned his playing time. There are still a few things to improve on, namely face-offs, but that will come with more experience in the league.
The offense has come in spurts, eight goals and 22 points in 51 games. But that’ll come as he learns what it takes to be a top center in the league. He has the confidence of his head coach that he’ll get there, though.
"“I haven’t run across too many players that have been taken off the wing, put at center, in a team that’s been floundering, that couldn’t defend, that’s trying to defend, and get the minutes that he’s gotten so far in the first 50 games. I just don’t have anybody on the top of my head right now that I think could accomplish what he’s done.” Tortorella said on Cates and his move to center."
Morgan Frost was one of the team’s young players that needed to show they were a part of the future. It’s hard to say if he has truly done that yet, but he’s a long way past Tortorella comparing him to a toilet seat.
Confidence has always been key with him and it’s easy to see when he is feeling most confident. He has career highs in goals (10), assists (15), and points (25). He’s coming up on the most games that he’s played in an NHL season. He will be a free agent this off-season.
He’s been given a chance to succeed on the top lines with James van Riemsdyk and Owen Tippett. Has he done enough to show he belongs?
"“It is growing for him. The line has been good and I think they are playing off one another very well. He has got to keep going.” Tortorella said at the beginning of January on Frost’s confidence. “Two or three weeks doesn’t make it. He just seems more confident with the puck. From a coach’s point of view, I just think he is fighting harder for pucks. That is part of the game he needs to continue to work at.”"