The Philadelphia Flyers find themselves sitting at 7-2-1 with 15 points, a good start standings wise after 10 games. The team finds itself facing questions and doubts despite their early fortune in the standings.
Can The Offense Continue?
The offense produces but has sustainability issues. The good news is that the Flyers’ best players, and highest paid, have been producing quickly out of the gate. The top four scores of Jame van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes, and Jake Voracek are the highest-paid players on the team.
The bad news? Not much else is happening from anyone. Both Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee have had hat tricks (Farabee’s key to dispatching the Islanders in their last contest) which have provided a boost. Sean Couturier’s injury is a blow to the offensive depth, and Morgan Frost’s injury further exasperated that hole in the lineup. Konecny is still trying to exorcise the demons of last year’s goalless playoff run, and Lindblom and Patrick are still finding their playing legs. Farabee is scoring in bunches but hasn’t found his consistency yet. Ivan Provorov has again provided a boost from the back end, but after that, the players who have expectations of being scoring threats fall off. Perhaps Couturier being back in the lineup in 7 to 10 days (according to Chuck Fletcher) will make a difference. Hopefully, it will make a difference.
The Flyers currently rank 30th in the league at shots per game, at 23.6. They are giving up 33.7 a game, which is the 2nd highest total in the lead. This is far from a recipe for success but is in fact a credit to how well Carter Hart and Brian Elliot have played. The Flyers offense is not a volume attack but based on converting the few opportunities they seem to create. They are 4th in goals for (35) amazingly, and 8th in goals for per game (averaging 3.5) despite their lack of offense.
Something will eventually have to break for the Flyers. It might be offense from the younger players, or finding ways to create a sustainable attack, but their current bamboo bend but not break will not hold for long, despite playing out in their favor thus far.
Can The Defense Hold Out?
The defense lacks leadership and depth. Chuck Fletcher has to take the brunt of that blame. The issues the Flyers are facing are greater than their collection of injuries. Now losing Sean Couturier, last season’s Selke winner, clearly will destabilize defense, and losing a guy who has accounted for 211 points over the last three seasons impacts the offense greatly as well. Add in Phil Myers missing games and the retirement of Matt Niskanen and you’re starting off at a massive disadvantage.
Ivan Provorov is a #1 defenseman. After him, trying to rank who would be considered the #2 on the team is a challenge. It is probably Phil Myers from a talent and potential standpoint. So with the defense shorthanded, some players available tending to be more offensively inclined than defensively sound (Ghost and Gus), others being best suited for 3rd pairing duties (Hagg, Braun, Friedman), and Travis Sanheim. Sanheim is a 2nd pairing guy who desperately needs a mentor and guidance.
While the wounded defensive core is struggling to keep up, the forwards and the scheme are not helping. The 4th line is most defensively responsible, but the Flyers don’t many forwards who have a natural intuition towards defense. This leads to head coach Alain Vigneault’s first big stand of the season. He sat Travis Konecny down for a game and gave a chance to Sam Morin to come in and get some on the job training as a winger. When asked about the reasons as to why Konecny would be getting some press box time, Vigneault specifically cited their discussions about playing a 200-foot game, which he stated were frequent.
If there was ever a sign that things were bad, it had to be Carter Hart’s stick slamming incident. Playing behind this unit clearly left him frustrated. There have been changes and player swaps since then. Will the message stick? Will Shayne Gostisbehere find consistency as the partner for Ivan Provorov, or will his mistakes begin to take their toll on the #1? Can Sanheim and Myers become an effective pair despite both still essentially learning how to be an NHL defender? Is there any way to stabilize the 3rd pair or will the rotation of Braun, Hagg, Gustafsson, and Friedman continue? Does Nate Prosser occasionally get a game and continue his point at game pace?
Who Will Set The Example?
The Flyers don’t have a leadership problem per se. What they do have is gaps.
The next generation of forwards, players like Nolan Patrick and Morgan Frost, are unique. Patrick plays unlike any other center on the roster. A year behind in learning AV’s system thanks to his migraine issue, limited practice time, and his own way of playing puts Patrick on a bit of a developmental island. Frost too, who now sits on IR, and hopefully can learn a lot from watching games and tape. Oskar Lindblom is in a similar situation, without a comparable player really on the roster and facing a totally unique “injury” experience as he continues his comeback from cancer.
We’ve already seen a situation where Konecny has taken a seat due to his on-ice play not reflecting the wishes of the coaching staff. A popular and productive player, if Konecny is running afoul of the staff mere weeks into year 2 what message does that send to younger players? Does that have any reflection on the attitude in the locker room? In his 5th season and signed until 2025, he’s an established vet and part of the future of the team. He’s a bit beyond having to be pulled out of the lineup in order to “get it”. In the game where he was sat and his return in the 2nd game against the Islanders, the Flyers looked to have a slightly better effort than they had previously. What remains is if the player and team properly received the message.
This also expands onto the defensive end. Justin Braun is the veteran of the group, but what knowledge or tips would he be able to impart to a Myers or Sanheim? Both Gostisbehere and Provorov are approaching the 350 game mark. Provorov seems to be a robotic defensive Cybertron, and unless his programming encounters a massive error code there shouldn’t be too much to worry about there. Gostisbehere has had philosophical clashes with most of the Flyers coaching staff he’s come into contact with and his position in the lineup is an ongoing question. How can he lead when he’s under the gun himself?
Maybe the answer comes from Nate Prosser. Currently the Ralph Cox of the Flyers, he’s been complimented highly for his role as a locker room guy and practice presence. Still, is he a long term answer? With highly touted Cam York on the way, and Yegor Zamula not far behind, who will be the tutors for them?
The Flyers are in a choice spot with 46 games left in the season. Through 17% of the season, they’ve managed to look bad but skate away with 15 out of 20 available points. Will lady luck continue her affair with the orange and black, or will the Flyers be forced to reset their game in order to rediscover fortune?
Feature Image Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports