As the Flyers shut down their facilities until February 15th for COVID protocol, the team will likely have almost two weeks off before returning to the ice next Thursday for their first meeting with the New York Rangers.
Before the team shut down after Sunday’s win over the Capitals, the Flyers were somehow off to an 8-3-2 start which very well could have been much worse as the team struggled in areas but just kept finding ways to win.
Let’s take a look back at… well, let’s call it an interesting start to the Flyers’ season.
James van Riemsdyk
I can fairly say that no one saw James van Riemsdyk leading the team in points through the first quarter of the season. After being scratched during last season’s playoffs and seemingly in Alain Vigneault’s dog house, JVR has come out on fire through 13 games.
The league leaders in points right now: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisatl, Mitch Marner… and James van Riemsdyk. There seems to be something out of place, but JVR has played extremely well this year in all aspects of his game.
He’s tied for the league lead in powerplay goals with 5, which isn’t such a surprise as JVR makes his money camping out in front of the net on the powerplay. But 5v5, he looks much improved, and his line with Joel Farabee and Scott Laughton has arguably been the team’s most consistent through this young season.
Don’t let the stats fool you. Though it looks like the Flyers’ goaltenders, mainly Carter Hart, have been subpar so far this season, it’s key to remember just how many shots they’ve faced. In nine games with Hart in the net, they’ve allowed 292 shots (32.4 per game). They’re not much better with Elliott, with 140 (28 per game) in 5 appearances.
Compared to last year’s team, who were fifth-best in shots allowed with 29.4, they’ve been third-worst this year, allowing 33.4 shots per goal per game.
It’s hard to pin Hart’s below-average .897 save percentage on him with all the circumstances (we’ll talk about two more later) facing him. He’s kept the Flyers in a lot of games despite being heavily outshot and out-chanced.
On the other hand, Brian Elliott has been great, and his numbers back it up with the Flyers going 3-1 in his starts. The team seems to play stronger defensively with Elliott in goal, but Elliott has also managed to keep the Flyers afloat despite the lop-sided shot counter.
Say what you want about the shot differential (despite it being true), but the Flyers are still scoring goals and winning games.
Somehow, despite being heavily outshot in almost all of their games, the Flyers are fifth in scoring with 46 goals in 13 games. Though they don’t force many chances when they do, they’re high-quality, and they usually finish them.
It’s definitely not a sustainable strategy for the Flyers to continue to be outshot. Still, considering they were without their best player, they managed to get through it, even if it was pretty hard to watch.
Despite JVR’s success on the powerplay, the rest of their units have been pretty underwhelming. Whether it’s breaking into the zone, getting shots on the net, making good passes, they’ve struggled in all areas at one point or another.
Though their 21.4% on the powerplay put them in the middle of the pack, there have been too many times when a failed Flyers’ power play has given the other team momentum.
We’ve seen the Flyers try and mix up their lines and move players up and down between units, but they just haven’t created quality chances with the man advantage.
Injuries and Matt Niskanen’s retirement have certainly played a role in the Flyers’ shaky start to the season defensively, but it’s still an area for concern moving forward.
While you can chalk up some of the Flyers’ shortcomings on losing Sean Couturier and Phil Myers for an extended period of time but there were too many times where the Flyers have looked out-of-sync, slow, and sloppy in their own end.
There are no certain players to point out; it’s been team defense that has let them down. Based on my observations, they get outworked along the boards, can’t get to loose pucks first, and have just turned the puck over too much in their own zone.
Maybe a lack of preseason may have something to do with it as they went from having 6 or 7 to none this year because of COVID-19. Add in the loss of a veteran like Matt Niskanen, who played so well with Ivan Provorov last year, and the on-ice result has been poor so far.
70.3% on the powerplay absolutely classifies as ugly.
What was a strength of last year’s Flyers as they finished ninth-best with a kill rate of 81.9%. Again, Sean Couturier and Matt Niskanen’s loss certainly played a role in their early-season struggles, but it’s really hurt them when they needed it the most.
Look at the four games with Boston and especially when they had a 3-1 lead in the final period and allowed three powerplay goals in a span of just over 8 minutes. Yes, the Bruins have a great powerplay, and the Flyers are missing some pieces, but it just can’t erupt like that when you need it most.
Closing Out Games
Going along with the powerplay struggles, the Flyers have also struggled to hold leads, especially two-goal leads. We saw it against the Islanders and against Boston; they just haven’t been the team they were last year holding leads and putting teams away late.
Consider it a sum of all the previously-mentioned problems like getting heavily outshot and out-chanced, a poor penalty kill, inability to put teams away on the powerplay, and they’ve all played a role in their inability to put teams away late.
With Couturier back, whose so important to everything the Flyers do, I’d be surprised if the Flyers don’t find a way to right the ship and become the dominant team they were late in games last year.
Featured Image: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images