The Philadelphia Flyers (19-15-8) are on a high after a weekend sweep of the St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres respectively. Even though, the Flyers are on a three game winning streak. The Flyers now have yet another five day break, and of course they have surpassed the halfway point of the season. What a roller coaster season it’s been thus far through the first half of the season. A ten game losing streak, to a seven game winning streak.
How about what the Selke candidate Sean “la,la,la,la,la” Couturier is cooking? Does the NHL think he’s worthy of the Selke Trophy (given to the best defensive forward)? You know what like the WWE legendary wrestler “The Rock” says, “It doesn’t matter what you think.” Flyers fans know, and they know Couturier is worthy. Without further delay, here’s a breakdown of the first half of the Flyers season.
Claude Giroux- (14g, 38a) 52 points, +9
Jakub Voracek- (8g, 41a) 51 points, +6
Sean Couturier- (23g, 19a) 42 points, +14
Defensive Scoring Leaders
Shayne Gostisbehere-(9g, 23a) 32 points, +1
Ivan Provorov- (8g,12a) 20 points, +5
What more can be said about the redemption season’s of the top three forwards, and Gostisbehere for that matter. “I think a couple of us especially Couts and Jake had a little chip on our shoulder last year,” Gostisbehere said. “Obviously all of us didn’t have the best seasons but I think G really looks determined out there right now and he really looks like a captain for us.”
Giroux is a beast and he’s amongst the elite again, as he’s tied for second in scoring for the NHL. Moreover, Voracek is the league leader in assists with 43, but what’s more striking is that he was a -24 last season. At the halfway point this season he’s a +6. Both of these players are just one main reason, that the Flyers currently sit one point behind for the last Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Couts,” really is a first line center. He has broken his previous career highs in goals (15), and points (39), with a whopping 23 goals and 42 points. I want to reiterate this is the halfway point of the season, not season ending numbers. “I probably wouldn’t have thought I would have that many early on,” Couturier stated in reference to 23 goals scored. “But I’m just doing whatever I can to help the team and obviously playing with G, he’s a great passer and I just try to find the open areas.”
“Ghost,” is really coming into his own. Of course, being paired with a human shield in Provorov helps too. However, Gostisbehere’s season last year didn’t end that well for the second year defenseman at the time. Gostisbehere just seems more confident in his third season.
The young defenseman in Gostisbehere holds the puck in at the blue line on the power play very well. He is one main reason the Flyers have a successful power play unit. Thanks in large part to Gostisbehere their power play percentage currently sits at 20.8%, which is well above the league average of 19.20%.
The human shield in Provorov has been nothing short of phenomenal. Of course, he’s human and has had a few bad games. However, Provorov currently sits 8th in the NHL with 95 blocked shots, and is 16th in total ice time as he’s averaging 24:45 per game. This is a heck of an increase from the prior year, when Provorov averaged 21:59 of total ice time. Moreover, he has registered 8 goals, 12 assists, and is a +5 in 42 games played. Provorov has been lights out.
Robert Hagg has been really solid. What once was seen as a long shot to be an NHL mainstay. Hagg has proved his doubters wrong through the first half of the season. He is second in the league among NHL defenseman in hits with 138, and has registered 1 goal, 5 assists. Moreover, Hagg is a whopping +12. What more can be said about this solid rookie defenseman. By far he is the rookie of the year for the Flyers.
The Flyers have to become a more consistent hockey team. They cannot make the playoffs by winning one game and losing the next. The Metropolitan Division is just too darn good. One way to become a more consistent hockey team is by having regular secondary scoring (in particular the middle six lines).
Through the first half of the season the Flyers received a ton of scoring from the “Ginger Line,” that consisted of Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek. The trio was eventually broken up to help balance out the middle six lines. At times all four lines look like a cohesive unit, and at other times the top line becomes the engine that runs the Flyers.
What made it worse is the middle six scoring would disappear for a few games at a time. Simply put, the middle six have to have second half success, or the orange and black could be doomed for failure once again for the second straight season. This means that the centers of the middle six lines have to reappear, that being Nolan Patrick and Valtteri Filppula. The good news is there are positive trends that Patrick will put forth a solid second half.
Brian Elliott- 16-10-7, 2.74 GAA, .910 Save Percentage
Michal Neuvirth- 3-5-1, 2.48 GAA, .921 Save Percentage
Elliott has been just as advertised when the Flyers signed him to a two-year deal in the off-season. A reliable, tandem, stop gap goaltender until the young guns are ready to take the reigns. Well, Elliott has been great. He seems to have lead himself back to his St. Louis Blues days, where Elliott was a nasty insane puck saving machine.
This machine in Elliott finally had a day off on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres. Elliott previously started the past 16 games, before being given the day off. Simply put he has been really good with a young defense. Elliott makes the players confident knowing there is a human wall standing between the pipes.
Neuvirth, Neuvirth, Neuvirth. His record doesn’t indicate some of the things that have happened to him. Neuvirth got hurt on December 6, 2017 in practice, as he apparently injured his leg. The Flyers inadvertently called up Alex Lyon to serve as Elliott’s back-up, until Neuvirth was able to come back from injury.
Finally, Neuvirth started his first game since coming off injured reserve on Sunday against the lowly Buffalo Sabres. He was lights out, while backstopping 30 shots to preserve the Flyers 4-1 victory. “I think it’s a great way for him to go into the break and come back into our lineup,” Head Coach Dave Hakstol said following the game. “It has been a long time since he has had the opportunity to start a game. For him to come in and think back to that save he made in the first period, that was a great way for him to say, I’m ready to step in and help this team. I thought he was real good throughout the day.”
For once none. The goaltending has been really consistently good. The only improvement would be for Neuvirth to stay healthy.
Lastly, for the Flyers to have a successful run at the playoffs. The penalty killing must improve. They are bottom feeders in this category once again. It’s just not good enough to be a contender. The league average in this category has a penalty killing rate of 80.80%. There are simply no excuses to continuously be at the bottom in the NHL year after year in this category.
Fortunately, the power play was pretty solid as it’s ranked 11th in the NHL. Their power play rate is well above the league average of 19.20%. Yes, it was stagnant at times, but that’s going to happen throughout the course of an 82 game season. “Ghost,” is so good at keeping pucks in at the blue line, that he is the unsung hero of the successful power play unit.
The Flyers can realistically make the playoffs. They currently sit one point out of the last Wild Card spot, that is currently being held by the Pittsburgh Penguins. One thing is certain Flyers fans, the future is bright in Flyer land.