Look, negativity has been at the forefront of the past year given the state of the country. It is more important than ever to look on the bright side to find enjoyment. The sports world has been altered to an extreme degree, and the NHL season returning has been such a joy to fans around the world. Covid-19 complications have occurred throughout the league already early in this season, including to the Flyers. When the team announced that Travis Sanheim, Justin Braun, and Claude Giroux would be placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 List, it came as a disappointment to countless fans who have been ecstatic at the team’s early-season record. With games up until Sunday and possibly beyond postponed, the Flyers will be in the same position as teams like Dallas and New Jersey, who have seen extended stretches of games in jeopardy due to team outbreaks. Despite dropping all four contests to the Bruins so far, the Flyers still hold a respectable 2nd place in the East Division. If the struggles and mishaps are not addressed, however, this type of success is not sustainable. Simply put, there are plenty of holes in the Flyers play that leaves them incredibly vulnerable in such a competitive division. As a Flyers fan, success on a grand scale has not been achieved often in my lifetime, so it is hard to be picky with an impressive record. With this said, the following areas must be addressed during the shutdown so the team avoids struggles out of the gates and continues to work their way towards the Playoffs.
Yes, we have all seen the tweets from portions of the fanbase. No, we do not need to worry about Carter Hart. He is still our franchise goaltender. He is still 22 years old. The 3.49 GAA and .897 save percentage does not look pretty on paper. Hart has had his struggles this year, and has aired his frustrations. He has every right to be upset about the early season struggles. While I commend Brian Elliott for filling in and playing at an exceptional level during his starts, I mentioned in a previous article that the team cannot rely on Elliott as a #1 starter. He certainly has appeared to be more than capable of performing when called upon, Carter Hart needs to be better down the stretch. If this means splitting games with Elliott when needed, that is more than acceptable especially in such a sprint of a season. But when the time comes, Hart will need to step up to the plate to solidify his #1 role. We’ve seen what inconsistent goaltending has done to different teams around the league, with an excellent example being theNew York Rangers. They have a young but talented lineup with the capability of being a very fringe playoff team this season, but have found that a 2-3 goalie committee is simply unsustainable. In the Flyers’ case, they need more consistent, efficient goaltending play to complement an already high-powered offense. That could be the true separating point between a first-round exit and a deep playoff run.
The Flyers have had success when the entire unit works together and feeds off one another. The team has also failed in the past, like in the bubble series against the Islanders, when holes appear. I’ve mentioned it plenty of times before, and I’ll mention it again- Matt Niskanen’s retirement is much more of a factor in the team’s performance this year than originally believed. Erik Gustafsson’s play has been very on-and-off, and some of his mishaps have resulted in key turnovers and goals-against. Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg, and Shayne Gostisbehere have had large jumps in performance this year, which has been an excellent sight. Again, however, three players cannot log 40 minutes per night. Specifically in the blowout losses to Buffalo and Boston, the defensive core was exposed plenty of times and showed its weaknesses. A successful defense directly leads to a successful Carter Hart, which further states the importance of on-ice improvements. Provorov has seen consistent year-to-year development, and will need to use his leadership to bring all the pairings to the next level. It is uncertain if Travis Sanheim and Justin Braun will be able to return for the next Flyers game given their statuses, and if not, look for Mark Friedman and even another taxi squad player to take their spots on an interim basis. The defense needs to be better, period. Could a move be made closer to the trade deadline for a team like Philadelphia which so desperately needs help at the blue line? This may be Chuck Fletcher’s hardest task yet, given the team’s clear need and their status as a top contender in the league.
The Flyers have appeared to have a respectable offensive presence most nights, including the big 7-4 win against the Capitals most recently. There is absolutely work to be done with bottom-6 forwards like Nic Aube-Kubel and Michael Raffl, however with the performance of Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee recently, the offense is not nearly as much of a concern as the blue liners. The Flyers have a very unconventional road ahead of them given the temporary pause, but absolutely cannot afford to fall into a slump. If they truly want a chance at contending for a top spot in the East, the team must adapt accordingly and take the opportunities presented to them.
Featured Image: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer