The first week of the 2020-21 NHL season is in the books. The Philadelphia Flyers have only played four games, but there is already a lot to dissect. The offense has been productive for the most part, notching 15 goals. The team’s depth was visible, as those 15 goals were spread between 10 different players.
There are many games to play, and the mechanics and strategy executions will get better in time (considering there was no preseason to shake off the rust). That being said, here’s a look at a few important areas to see how the Flyers are doing so far.
The Power Play & Penalty Kill
Last season, the Flyers’ power play finished in the middle of the pack (ranked 14th) in the league (and 7th in the Eastern Conference). They had a 20.8% success rate going 47 for 226. However, they also allowed six shorthanded goals in the 69-game regular-season schedule and ranked 18th in the NHL (or 10th in the Eastern Conference).
This season, the team is 3 for 12 on the power play, good for a 25% success rate, with goals from James van Riemsdyk, Nolan Patrick, and Travis Konecny. However, they’ve hit a dry spell; all three goals were scored during their two-game stint against the Penguins to start the campaign. They have not scored since. Head coach Alain Vigneault will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to spark the power play because they have the talent to make it work.
As for the penalty kill, Philadelphia finished 11th in the NHL last year (6th in the East) with a success rate of 81.8%. This season, through four games, their penalty kill percentage is 73.3%, ranked 21st in the NHL. They will need to boost that number if they expect to have a successful season.
Early Results with Defense and Goaltending
In the first two contests against Pittsburgh, the Flyers’ defense and goaltending were solid. The Penguins fired 34 shots at goalie Carter Hart in the first matchup, and the 22-year-old stopped 31 in a 6-3 win. The second game saw Pittsburgh rack up 33 shots versus Hart, who again turned away 31 of them as Philly won 5-2.
Defenders who stood out in the first game were Philippe Myers, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg. Myers delivered five hits, had two shots on goal, and was a plus-1 through 21 minutes of ice time. Sanheim added a shot, a blocked shot, and posted a plus-1 as well in a little over 20 minutes. Hagg was a plus-2 and had two shots on goal, four hits, and two blocked shots.
Myers and Hagg continued to shine in the second matchup with the Penguins. Hagg maintained his physical presence, dishing out five hits. The 25-year-old, 6-foot-2 defenseman also was a plus-1 and totaled over 15 minutes of ice time. Myers delivered two hits, took a shot, and was a plus-1. He also took a penalty.
Also on defense, Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun had a solid second contest against the Penguins. Provorov scored a goal, provided three hits, had one blocked shot, and was a plus-1 on the night. Braun was a plus-2 with a shot on goal and 2 hits. Provorov finished the game with over 23 minutes of ice time, while Braun played a little over 16 minutes. Overall, the defense and goaltending played a critical role in the team’s first two victories of the season.
The third game against the Buffalo Sabres was a tough watch. The Flyers were outplayed, to the point that NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire compared the Sabres to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Buffalo scored six goals, four of them past Hart who was then replaced by backup Brian Elliott who allowed two. Both goaltenders made a collective 31 saves (Hart made 18, while Elliott made 13). Of note, forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel was the lone scorer for the Orange and Black, but he was also fined by the league for roughing defender Rasmus Dahlin.
Myers, Hagg, and newcomer Erik Gustafsson had a rough night against the Sabres. All three defenders were a minus-2. Sabres captain Jack Eichel and new winger Taylor Hall put their stamp on the offense with three assists each, while forwards Sam Reinhart and Curtis Lazar tallied two goals each. The Flyers lost 6-1.
The fourth game, a rematch with Buffalo, was a complete 180 from the previous night. Elliott was in charge of the net and stopped 40 shots. Unlike the previous match, Eichel and Hall were unable to find the scoresheet; in fact, none of the Sabres did. Elliott claimed the first shutout of the young season.
Top Flyers defenders in the rematch were Gustafsson with an assist, two blocks, and a hit; Provorov with three shots on goal, three hits, and five blocked shots; and Sanheim with four hits and a block.
Philadelphia’s defense and goaltending have stood out and made a big difference in the team’s first four games. Other than the Sabres loss, both positions have been stellar, and they should get even better as the season progresses.
The Flyers are on the right path overall. Not everything is perfect (the power play and penalty kill need some adjusting). However, they have a 3-1 record through the first week of the 2020-21 season, which means they should make some serious noise in what will be a highly competitive East Division.