Right now, the whole sports world is buzzing about Philadelphia. The Eagles have been playing well, despite a plethora of injuries. The Phillies are making another deep October run and are looking as if they can be World Series favorites. Everyone is watching to see what will happen between the 76ers and James Harden. Lurking in the background right now, however, are the Philadelphia Flyers.
In their first five games, the Flyers are 3-1-0 and are currently sitting atop the Metropolitan Division. So far, with the exception of a brutal third period against Ottawa Senators, they’ve been playing really well.
Now let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. In their first 12 games last year, the Flyers were near the top of the division with a record of 7-3-2. Then they lost 10 straight. It’s WAY too early in the season to overreact and jump to conclusions. However, the few things we’ve seen so far have been positive. Let’s take a look at what’s helped the Flyers out so far.
Healthy Vets = Flyers Wins
After a year of sitting out, Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier are on top of the Flyers leaderboards. Atkinson is tied with Travis Konecny for the team lead in goals with three. Coots is tied with Scott Laughton and Travis Sanheim with three assists, and has a team-best +7 plus-minus rating. Couturier also showed his skills by scoring on the most exciting play in hockey: the penalty shot! Such a slick move to put that biscuit in the basket!
Not only are Atkinson and Couturier healthy, so is Travis Konecny. He’s started off really hot; picking up from where he left off last year. If these three vets can continue to produce while being healthy, the Flyers will be in almost every game this season.
A rejuvenated Flyers defense
At the beginning of the season, there was a lot of conversations and speculation about how the Flyers’ defense would be. Which young stars would make the team? How will they balance playing time for their young players with their old veterans?
So far, that hasn’t been a problem. Rasmus Ristolainen hasn’t played yet due to an undisclosed injury. Supposedly, he should be returning soon. Marc Staal just suffered a medium-term injury and will probably be out past Thanksgiving. That means that Philly’s most improved defender from last season, and the “big” free agent signing, are out.
You know what? So far it hasn’t been much of an issue. Sanheim has gotten his swagger back and is logging over 25 minutes of ice time. This is the sort of player that we all hoped he’d become, and the player that this team needs.
Nick Seeler is second to Couturier with a +4 rating. Sean Walker, who was kind of a wildcard coming into this year, has scored a goal and has been playing fairly solid defense. Cam York, Egor Zamula, and Emil Andrae have been showing that they have a bright future in this league.
And as the defense goes, so goes the goaltending. Carter Hart has been pretty solid in net, already picking up one shutout. He has a 0.929 save percentage and is sporting a 2.01 GAA. He’s facing an average of 28 shots a night right now, which is a lot better than 30.27 from last year. If the defense can hold up, Hart and whomever else ends up between the pipes should have solid nights. Any defense that can limit Leon Draisaitl to two shots on goal with zero points and Connor McDavid to zero shots on goal with only an assist in a 4-1 victory is doing well.
The Flyers’ fourth line
The line of Nicolas Deslauriers, Garnet Hathaway, and Ryan Poehling are not going to set the world on fire. However, they have been doing their job. Their role is not to light the lamp, but rather to prevent the other team from doing that. Poehling and Deslauriers are both just a -1 while Hathaway is only at -2. Combined, they have committed only eight minutes in penalties; six of that by Hathaway. That’s impressive for a fourth line.
Deslauriers has been leading the way with 12 hits. Hathaway is tied for the team lead with seven blocks. This is starting to prove to be a solid defensive and intimidating line without putting the team down a man while they are playing in the sin bin.
It’s still early in the season, and a lot can change. We saw this last year when the Flyers, but mid November, had what was, effectively, two full lines with a defensive unit out with injuries.
As of yet, we are waiting for some players to break out. Noah Cates has yet to put up any points. Tyson Foerster and Bobby Brink only have one assist each, while Owen Tippett has two of his own. All of the guys have had their chances in front of goal, and it is only a matter of time before pucks find the back of the net.
At the pace they are going, the Flyers will win 61 games and lose 21. We all know that isn’t sustainable; being as that would put them just four wins away from the Boston Bruins’ record-setting team from last season. Even if the Flyers win only 40 games, that’s a nine-game improvement over last year.
It is still unclear if Philly is playoff bound yet, but they are taking the right steps forward. Once the dust from the MLB playoffs settle down and the Eagles season wanes on, perhaps the Flyers can take their rightful place in the spotlight. Then we the fans can make the Wells Fargo Center rock like we are Citizen’s Bank Park.