I don’t want to jinx this season. It’s still way too early to get super excited. The Philadelphia Flyers are only about 10 percent of the way into the season. As we saw last year, everything can change very quickly. For right now, the Flyers are playing well.
Considering they didn’t make a lot of earth shattering changes with the roster and failed to sign any big name free agent, they are playing a lot better than they did last season. So why is that true? Why are they playing so well? Let’s take a look at what’s going on. There seems to be five factors that are working in the Flyers’ favor right now.
Another Year of Torts
Some of it is just familiarity. John Tortorella came in last year not knowing the players all that well and the players didn’t know him well enough either. The coach was trying to implement a system that was different to what the team was used to. He had to figure out what line combinations and defensive pairings worked. That wasn’t always easy, especially when there were a ton of injuries the team had to deal with.
Still, at this point, the players know what their coach wants. Likewise, Tortorella knows what he can get out of his players. They’ve had a year to understand each other. More importantly, they’ve had a chance to grow. With the Flyers’ management also all on the same page, making consistent decisions from the AHL level on up, you can see why this team is improving.
Addition by Health
Last year, the Flyers, at one point, were down: Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton, Cam Atkinson, and Ryan Ellis. It shouldn’t shock you that this also coincided with the team’s 10 game losing streak. A major question point heading into this season was would everyone be healthy and how well could they contribute.
The Flyers struggled last year scoring. This year, that hasn’t been a problem. Konecny is leading the way with six goals and nine points. Atkinson has four goals with three assists. Couturier has a pair of goals and four assists. Even Travis Sanheim has found his swagger again so far leading all defenders with eight total points.
While a big part of the Flyers long-term forecast is predicated on how the younger players are doing, this team needs its veteran core to be healthy and productive. So far, that has been happening. If this continues, the Flyers could end up being more competitive than everyone predicted.
Addition by Subtraction
Sometimes, you gain more when you give up something. Last year, when Tortorella took over, there were some issues with some of the players. Kevin Hayes and Tony DeAngelo never fully bought into what the coach was trying to do. This caused a lot of tension and became a major clubhouse distraction.
Now, everyone is on board with what the coach is preaching. So far, we are seeing the results of his vision. Meanwhile, Hayes has just two assists to his name with the Blues and DeAngelo is already a -5 on a Hurricanes team that is dealing with a lot of injuries. The players the Flyers have in their place are playing at a much better level. Basically, they are winning in part because they got rid of them.
Special Teams Success
For as long as I can remember, the Flyers have struggled on the power play. Ok, so they are still just 23rd on the power play, but they rank ninth on the penalty kill. Not only that, but they are scary good when shorthanded. Philly is tied with the Hurricanes with four shorthanded goals scored, including two in the game against Dallas.
The goal scoring may come. However, if the Flyers can keep opposing teams from scoring, that will go a long way into the success of this team. Last season, the Flyers played a lot of games where they were constantly battling from behind. The poor penalty killing days are hopefully over.
Young Guys are Stepping Up
Bobby Brink has scored his first career NHL goal….check that, he scored his first two career goals against the Wild. Zamula has three points and is second, only to Nick Seeler, with a +6 rating. Tyson Foerster has chipped in with two assists.
The kids are getting their chances and showing that they belong. The more opportunities they have been getting, they better and more confident they are playing. In fact, you could argue that the line of Noah Cates, Joel Farabee, and Brink has been the most consistent overall line. This takes a lot of pressure of veterans like Konecny, Couturier, Atkinson, and Laughton. It also puts a lot more pressure on other teams as they have to figure out which line they want to focus on and defend against.
Right now, the Flyers are near the top of the Metropolitan Division. It is too early to get too excited. I wouldn’t make preparations to find a spot on Broad Street to watch the championship parade. However, veteran teams such as Pittsburgh and Washington are really struggling right now. Carolina is down several of their key players.
All three of those teams are too good to be down for long. However, if the Flyers can get off to a good start this season and keep some of that momentum going forward, it will be a lot different than what we’ve seen in the past seasons. You know…where the team has dug itself into a huge hole and can’t quite dig out of. It’s time to make the other teams play from behind for a change.
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I’m not sure how long this will last, but enjoy it while it is here. Who knows. Maybe the Flyers will end up being the surprise team of the NHL this season.