The second month of the season was an odd one for the Philadelphia Flyers, to say the least. They entered February riding high on a four-game win streak and were positioned near the top of the league’s standings. Although they hadn’t played especially well in January, they seemed like they may have started to find their groove. But whatever momentum they’d managed to build up was gone as quickly as it came, when the Boston Bruins handed the Flyers ugly back-to-back losses to start the month. The team followed up by filling the Washington Capitals’ net with goals in a 7-4 win on the road, but they wouldn’t get the chance to build on their big win.
After their goal-scoring bonanza against the Capitals, the Flyers had 10 consecutive days off, due to a number of players being placed on the team’s COVID protocol list. The sidelined players included key contributors such as captain Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, and Jakub Voracek, among others.
In their return to play against the New York Rangers, the Flyers’ key contributors were still not fit to participate, forcing the team to ice bizarre, Frankenstein-esque lineups in their first two games back. These lineups featured three players making their season debuts in one game, and two career defenders playing the right and left wings on the same line in the next. Given the circumstances, it’s hard to blame the Flyers for losing these two matches, though their 7-3 loss to the Bruins at Lake Tahoe was especially hard to watch.
With the return of Giroux and company, the Flyers were able to close out the month with three straight wins, with both Brian Elliott and Carter Hart earning 3-0 shutouts in back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres. A brilliant performance by Hart in the second of these two games served to ease the minds of fans who may have been worried about his tumultuous start to the season.
Overall, it was a bizarre month for the Flyers who somehow managed to go 4-2-2 throughout February, despite the challenges they faced. With fewer games than usual and external circumstances, it’s tough to judge the team’s second month of the season. But even within this strange stretch of games, there were a few players that stood out above the rest… And spoiler, they all play on the same line.
3. Joel Farabee
Through 52 games last season, Joel Farabee looked all but comfortable in his rookie campaign with the Flyers. While his potential was undeniable, he was regularly outmuscled in one-on-one battles and often looked shaky with the puck on his stick. Now with a year of experience under his belt, the confidence that comes with that experience, and eight pounds of muscle added to his 6-foot-1 frame, Farabee has begun to blossom into a very special player.
Building on an impressive first month of the season, Farabee only improved in February. He has been on fire offensively, picking up three goals and nine points in eight games. One aspect of his game that has been underappreciated is his ability to create rebounds, making plays off the opposing goaltenders’ pads, and creating dangerous scoring opportunities for his linemates. He led the Flyers in rebounds created through February, playing to the strengths of his linemates who both have a nose for the net. Be it through manufacturing opportunities for others, or creating scoring chances for himself, Farabee has been a threat to score almost every time he steps out onto the ice.
Last season, Farabee scored eight goals and 21 points in 52 games. Through only 19 games in 2020-21, he has already eclipsed last season’s goal totals and is only two off of his points total from last season. To provide a further perspective as to how impressive his numbers are, one needs only to look at his prorated stats. In an 82-game season, he would be on pace to score 43 goals and 82 points. It seems that the Flyers may have finally found the goal scorer they’ve been longing for.
2. James van Riemsdyk
Last month’s first-star, James van Riemsdyk’s excellent form has carried on through February. While some were reasonably concerned that his early performance was nothing more than a hot-start from a notoriously streaky player, he is proving his doubters wrong while continuing to fill the net.
In eight games in February, he potted five goals and seven assists, tallying at least one point in all but one of last month’s games. He was the sole highlight of the outdoor game at Lake Tahoe, picking up two assists and a power-play goal, as the Flyers fell to the Bruins. This power-play marker was one of only four goals scored by the Flyers with the man advantage in February. Three of those four goals were scored by van Riemsdyk who has been the biggest threat on a struggling Flyers’ power play.
At 31 years old, coming off of a postseason where he was a healthy scratch on multiple occasions, nobody expected him to have the type of season he’s had thus far. He’s vastly improved as a playmaker, has tightened up his defensive game, and looks more dangerous offensively than he ever has. On track to set a new high in points, in spite of the shortened season, this is looking like a career year for van Riemsdyk. And with the expansion draft looming ahead, he’ll force general manager Chuck Fletcher to make a tough decision when it comes time to decide which forwards he’ll make off-limits to the Seattle Kraken this summer.
1. Sean Couturier
Sean Couturier played all of one game plus one shift to start the season, before suffering a rib injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the month. In the absence of their number-one centre, the Flyers struggled to stay afloat, managing to scrape together a winning record through good puck-luck and resiliency, while sorely missing the reigning Selke Trophy winner.
His return part-way into February breathed new life into the Flyers who had just suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Bruins. There was no sign of rust in Couturier’s game as he re-joined the Flyers against the Capitals, not missing a beat, picking up three points including two goals, one of which served as the game-winner. He’d continue to chip-in offensively as the month went on, picking up a point in every February game he played in. He finished the month with five goals and 10 points in only six games.
Couturier is the lifeblood of the Flyers and brings so much more to the team than just offence. He won the Selke Trophy last year for a reason, and with his impressive defensive play in 2020-21 so far, you’d have to think that he’ll be in the conversation yet again, despite the missed time. The impact he has on the Flyers is immense and can be demonstrated by the shift in expected goals (xGF%) at 5v5 for the team when Couturier is on the ice.
Without their defensive juggernaut, the Flyers have an xGF% of 45.59%. When Couturier is playing, this number skyrockets up to 59.85%. For reference, the Los Angeles Kings currently have the lowest xGF% in the league, currently sitting at 44.86%, while the Montreal Canadiens have the highest total, at 57.09%. Couturier’s impact is all the more impressive considering that, according to Woodmoney’s model, he has played nearly 45% of his minutes against elite competition, the highest of any Flyers’ forward.
Players to Watch in March
In this jam-packed shortened season, the pause in play that the Flyers had in February will likely be the only extended break that the team will see until the playoffs roll around. With 16 games stuffed into an eventful March, and with a healthy lineup at long last, there will be plenty of opportunity for Flyers players to make their impact as the team attempts to climb the standings. Two players to keep an eye on moving forward are Konecny and Hart.
A dynamic forward, Konecny is fully recovered from COVID-19 and will be hungry to prove himself and rebound after bouts of poor play at 5v5, resulting in a healthy scratch, earlier this season. Another player who hit a rough patch, Hart hasn’t had the start to the season that he was hoping for, but he’s extremely talented and will no doubt bounce back and remind those around him why he’s so highly touted.
Hey everyone, I’m Chris! I’m a Ryerson University alum and a huge sports fan. I love to spend my time combing through hockey history and it’s current events, looking for interesting and unique stories to tell.
I cover the Philadelphia Flyers for THW and strive to tell compelling stories and provide unique perspectives on the team!