Let’s get this out of the way, the Philadelphia Flyers don’t lack talent. They don’t lack leadership, coaching, goaltending, depth, or any other excuse most people will point to…this is all a product of poor execution. Too often we over react to a handful of performances, but a small sample of games is never a true representation of the whole story. As the Flyers struggle early, we’re watching what separates an average team from a great team. The Flyers lost most of these games based on a lack of consistency and poise, but they have the ability to beat any team in the league if they play the right way.
Key Injuries: James Van Riemsdyk, Michael Raffl, Michael Neuvirth, Samuel Morin
Early on, injuries have been of concern seeing the Flyers come out of camp with an already injured defensive core. losing talent and producing is the first sign of a good team, but the Flyers have had mixed results. If your success relies on one or two players, your team’s just not that good. Great teams are defined by their depth and as the season rolls on the Flyers showed their depth at work.
Players like Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Robert Hagg, Jordan Weal, Jori Lehtera, Dale Weise, and Radko Gudas have all had their moments of glory early on. Their strong performances allowed the elite line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jake Voracek to come together again and do what they do best, produce. There has been a good amount of scoring coming from the top end players and some of the young guys have chipped in early as well. However, the offensive player support to the defense has been painful to watch. The gaps between the forwards have been large and without the puck moving defenseman to support such stretch passes we’re seeing offensive break, after offensive break. This might give the impression that the defense is to blame, but defense is a team game and everyone is responsible. If only your defenseman are playing D, then you have large problems. I do not believe these issues come from lack of effort or ability, but simply not going off script and forcing a play that just isn’t available. I believe once the Flyers play a more steady game they will be able to show off their offensive depth without giving up opportunities the other way.
THE FORWARDS: C+
- Claude Giroux – Some strong performances, but overall hasn’t been consistent enough on the rush or on the powerplay. He is capable of taking over games, but when his team struggles it tends come harshest on him.
- Jake Voracek – When he gets his legs moving, he’s a man possessed and he has shown some heroics early on this season. He’s been playing better than most people suggest, but he has another gear.
- Sean Couturier – Too quite offensively for my liking, but I could say that about several talented guys. I don’t expect him to stay silent much longer. Look for a high production game soon.
- Nolan Patrick – Back from injuries and he has a rocket lit under his rear. He looks like he’s back to form and expect him to start taking over games after the 20 game mark. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Giroux – Patrick – Voracek by the end of the year.
- Wayne Simmonds – He’s scoring goals and that’s excellent. Simmonds has been streaky as usual, but his intensity and leadership on the ice drives the toughness of this team. I’d like to see him get more aggressive. 6 Goals early shows he’s right on pace with his usual production and that’s key to keeping both power plays effective.
- Oskar Lindblom – Has had some very good shifts and really has stayed away from any glaring mistakes. Overall, I expect Oskar to be a surprise hero on many nights. He’s under the radar, but he needs to shoot more often.
- Travis Konecny – Has played much better than his numbers suggest. I believe he could be a top point producer on this team come mid-season. He’s just too skilled to not produce against middle 6 forwards. However, he must learn to OWN the powerplay and get creative.
- James Van Riemsdyk – Injuries early, what a bummer and he was the only true addition that was going to make the Flyers a better team this year. Look for him to return mid-november and play with Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, or both.
- Michael Raffl – Very good start for Raffl all around. Finally getting some recognition for his penalty killing abilities. Raffl will be missed in the bottom 6 as he sits for the next 4-6 weeks.
- Dale Weise – Dale has had his best start with the Flyers so far. I love Dale’s personality and aggression and I believe, even in the press box he is valuable. Young players seem to admire him immediately and it’s evident that’s why the Flyers went after him. I do expect him to sit more as the kids improve.
- Misha Vorobyev – Quick start and now some struggles. Nothing new for a Rookie and I expect Vorobyev will now get playing time with Michael Raffl’s injury.
- Scott Laughton – So far Laughton has been the most consistent player on the team this season. He’s shown to be one of the most flexible players on the team that can play any role. Ultimately I believe he plays best against 3rd line players, but if he makes another jump (which he’s capable of doing) the Flyers might find themselves with an extra top 9 player.
- Jori Lehtera – Solid and consistent every game. Lethera doesn’t make too much noise and that’s why the coaches like him. I believe he’s doing a fine job at 4th line center, but I can’t help but wish he had more speed.
- Jordan Weal – Has had some moments that show the Flyers will want him as 3rd line center all season and let’s hope he can continue to produce that way. Weal is still relatively young and has shown a scoring touch and a level of aggression most small player try to mimic. He’ll need to produce on a consistent basis to keep his spot as the season rolls on.
- Corban Knight – Knight has had some early success and his number change indicates they plan on keeping him as the 14th forward all season long. A balanced player that is ready to jump in for Dale Weise or Jori Lehtera any game. Ultimately he’s a grit guy who will block shots and play an aggressive forecheck.
The X-Factor of the Offense: Nolan Patrick is ready to make the jump as the season goes on you will see his usage go up and his production come in bursts. With that comes opportunities to separate Couturier and Giroux and go with combinations that will force teams to match fire power on all 3 lines.
Possible Call Ups: Nicolas Aube Kubel, Taylor Leier, German Rubtsov, David Kase, and Carsen Twarynski
THE DEFENSE: C
The defense is deep, but lacks high-end talent. While it has a bevy of talented bottom pairing defenseman, outside of Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim; none of the defenseman can play a 200 foot game at a high level. Robert Hagg has raised questions on whether he can develop into a two-way guy, but it has yet to be seen if he can execute a breakout pass on a regular basis Overall, this group gets outmatched by very deep teams and relies heavily on forward support (which they are not getting). When the play well, they can shut down most top end teams, but when they make mistakes they very rarely survive them. However, with the average age of the D getting younger and younger look for them to play better as a cohesive unit after the 20 game mark.
- Ivan Provorov – A very slow start this year, which is unlike him. However, its noticeable that his responsibilities have gone up and teams are checking him tighter than ever. I expect him to not only rebound, but to exceed his performance midway through last season. Ghost also struggled early to see a spike in his effectiveness after the 20 game mark.
- Shayne Gostisbehere – In camp he was a man possessed and that seems to have hurt Ghost early on. In preseason his risks were paying off, but early on this season the team has paid for the risky plays he’s made. That won’t last long as he is a clear-cut top end offensive talent in the league. He’s due for a breakout game any day and his defensive game continues to show promise of a shutdown player. Ghost, like Provorov must rebound for the Flyers to succeed.
- Travis Sanheim – Has been getting noticeable better every game and has stopped hanging his head. This kid is all confidence and when he has it, he’s an elite talent. Keep his confidence high and you’ll see him separate from the bottom group.
- Radko Gudas – Quietly Gudas has had his best start as a Flyer. Overall no bad plays, no big mistakes. His role is safe for the year if he keeps this up. I do suspect he’s available for trade, but we’re in no rush to move him.
- Robert Hagg – Has made a jump in his development. He continues to do what he does so well, only now he’s become a man that seems to thrive from playing the aggressive game . Having Hagg makes it much easier to say goodbye to any veteran in the bottom pairing.
- Christian Folin – Had a very bad first game, but since then has settled in nicely. Not very noticeable but ultimately a nice physical defenseman who can step into a bottom pairing role for any NHL team. He won’t help much for a playoff hunt, but he’s an adequate gap filler on most nights and so far, he’s been just that.
- Andrew MacDonald – Clearly he’s not healthy and not up to speed. Amac is no wizard, but he also is no detriment to his team and coming off a career year, I expected better. His injury seems odd and could be something he might be dealing with all season long. Let’s hope that he recovers and the fan base doesn’t eat him alive by season’s end.
- Samuel Morin – Still injured, but I think he’s unfairly forgotten. This kid can skate, he’s big, he’s mean, and he loves the spotlight. Ultimately, I believe Morin’s energy can be a game changer against physical competition. There have been moments where the Flyers seem to get pushed around. Even when he comes back he’ll start off on a conditioning stint with the Phantoms. Look for him to be available come the playoff push.
X-Factor: Travis Sanheim might be the biggest factor for the Flyers this season overall. If he can make a jump in development, and judging from his recent play he has, the Flyers can finally pair up an offensive defenseman on each D unit. The Flyers are still short one more puck moving defenseman (to hit the recommended four offensive and two defensive d-men) that most elite teams attempt to ice. Look for Phil Myers or Mark Friedman to get worked into the lineup as the season rolls on. Flyers will want to make sure Myers and Friedman can handle NHL play if they lose Ghost, Provorov or Sanheim to injury.
Possible Call Ups: Mark Friedman, Phil Myers
THE GOALTENDING: C
Goaltending has been so-so for the Flyers in the early going. Moments of adequate goaltending are masked by inadequate TEAM defense. At times when Flyers desperately needed a momentum changing save, the goalies have come up short. It’s not their responsibility to steal the game, but for a team to be truly in-sync the goaltender must be a token of confidence that allows the men in front of him to play their game and not be scared to make mistakes.
- Brian Elliott – Elliot has actually been solid at time this season and has made a one or two momentum saves, but overall he could be better. He hasn’t been able to steal a game for the Flyers when they weren’t there for him. That is not necessarily a knock on him, but teams need to know that their goalie can also play the hero.
- Calvin Pickard – Has had some very mixed results and looked downright below average against the Blue Jackets. However, he’s a young-ish goalie on a new team, so it’s important to give him time to find his place. Flyers will look to hold on to him unless Stolarz or Lyon can’t be held back anymore.
- Michael Neuvirth – Neuvirth will probably regain his position as the backup for the Flyers after his conditioning stint in the AHL. While his health is a major question mark at this point, the Flyers could use a spark and Neuvirth has shown the ability to steal games.
X-Factor: Michael Neuvirth is capable of stealing games and while he doesn’t have the longevity to be a legitimate starter, if he can come in and make a difference. Flyers might be able to use the skills of Michael Neuvirth to be a dynamic goalie that can fill in the gaps where Elliot falls short.
Possible Call Ups: Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz, Carter Hart
THE COACHING: C+
Another slow start for the Flyers lands on the coaching staff. Whatever the reasons you can’t help but pinn the issues with the Flyers directly on the coaching staff. They are a relatively young group of very smart hockey minds and while we watch the players grow, it’s easy to forget that a lot of these guys have limited experience leading men at the NHL level. Does that mean they’re inadequate? No, but it does mean there will be times where they might not have the answers necessary to push the team to the next level. However, we have seen evidence in the past that Hakstol and his coaches are crafty and resilient and tend to make adjustments as the season progresses. They are a very patient group that will hold back on rattling the process unless they have no choice. With the Flyers recent start, it’s time for them to dig into their bag of tricks and rally the team to focus on consistency. This early season has been nothing new to Flyers fans who grow tired of bad starts, but scream in frustration because the potential is so clearly there.
- Dave Hakstol
- Ian Laperriere
- Chris Knoblauch
- Gord Murphy
X-Factor: Ian Laperriere – Several years of the Flyers not improving the PK is an issue. I’m a big fan of what Laperriere brings as a person and as a leader, but there MUST be an improvement in the Penalty kill. It’s not all on Ian, it’s a full coaching staff issue, but he is responsible for being the subject matter expert and when answers are needed he must be the one to provide them. His team plays scared to give up a goal on the PK and its obvious. The confidence isn’t there for the penalty killers and that is truly unacceptable over a this long of a stretch. This is a BIG, BIG issue for the team, maybe the biggest overall. Look for the Flyers to try and find a PK specialist or improve their veteran D to truly impact the PK. X’s and O’s are important for improvement, but they also need the tools to push the team over the edge.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Excellent puck movement and opportunities from the top unit. The opportunities are there, but the finish hasn’t been. As the 2nd unit improves and JVR recovers from injury you will see the effectiveness of the 1st unit increase. Overall a good power play, but has been rather snake bit.
Penalty Kill: D-
What is there really to say? I’m scared every time the Flyers take penalty. I believe they have improved considerably from the start of the season and are trending in the right direction. It’s hard to be enthusiastic when it seems like the Flyers took a step backwards at the start of the season only to work their way back to where they ended last season. The Flyers don’t need an elite penalty kill, but at this point anything close to 80% would be a big win. If the Flyers can improve their special teams, you will see them rise to the top to the division.
David Kase and German Rubtsov are making a name for themselves at the AHL level in a hurry as they have both seen some success in the early games. With both of them having a solid rookie season, look for the phantoms to potentially take another step forward as the season evolves. Nicolas Aube Kubel continues to make strides in the AHL and could potentially find himself with a permanent spot in the NHL by the end of the season if he continues his current trajectory. However, it seems like German Rubtsov will be the sexy pick as the season rolls on. It’s important to remember that young teams tend to improve as the season progresses. It takes time to adjust and form the proper habits that lead to success. As seen by the Flyers and the Phantoms both teams are capable of dominating for stretches, but have trouble sustaining that level of consistency over long stretches.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports