Over the past few seasons, the Philadelphia Flyers have had some very subpar starts.
Last season, the Flyers struggled mightily to score goals out of the gate, had a somewhat decent October, then brought in November in the midst of a six-game losing streak.
And I’m sure I don’t need to remind everyone about the start of the 2013-14 season, which saw the Flyers post a 3-8-0 record heading into November.
Right now, the Flyers sit in nearly the same spot they were in the past two seasons. A .500 record, with a myriad of questions looming on the horizon. So as we move into November and hockey season settles in, let’s take a look at what has been good, bad, and downright ugly for the Flyers thus far.
What’s going well for the Flyers so far, is actually going great, and I’m sure anyone can guess what it is.
It’s actually tough to even know where to start with the offense because they have been stellar from line one through line four.
Claude Giroux is fresh off a 10-game point streak, is tied for the league lead in assists (11), and is among the top 10 in the league in points. That is absolutely huge for the Flyers and is one of the main reasons why their offense has been on fire lately. Giroux may not necessarily be the flashy goal scorer that everyone looks for, but his ability to be an effective playmaker has been front and center over his point streak and it has sparked the team.
Speaking of goal scoring, the Flyers have had no shortage of success in that department. Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, and Jakub Voracek each have six goals which place them among the league leaders in that department. While that stat is pretty much expected of Simmonds, the fact that Voracek is scoring again is priceless for the Flyers.
Voracek struggled big time last season, managing just nine goals on the year, which came as a shock after he scored over 20 the season before and was among the league leaders in points. Last season, Voracek netted his sixth goal on January 21. That was game number 45 for the season. His game winner against Detroit last week came in game number 11 and all of his goals this season have come at even-strength.
At this point, it’s almost hard to forget about Brayden Schenn who has also been finding the score sheet night in and night out. Since returning from his three-game suspension, he has eight points, which is pretty substantial considering he’s been playing with the third line.
One last bright spot has been the addition of Travis Konecny. He has solidified his spot on the roster and has been a recognizable presence on the ice night in and night out. Despite averaging just over 15 minutes a night, he is still fourth among all Flyers players in points.
The Flyers have one of the most potent offenses in the league right now. That is something that they have been searching for over the past few seasons and it has certainly been winning them games as of late.
Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned and that’s what’s happening to the Flyer defense at the moment. It’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but they do seem to be in the midst of a small identity crisis.
There are some obvious issues, the most glaring of them being Andrew MacDonald and that enormous contract, but for the most part, it seems like this group of guys just needs to get comfortable.
Ivan Provorov hasn’t scored any flashy goals yet, but he’s been very effective offensively. He already has six assists on the season, which shows that he is making plays.
He is, however, a minus-nine on the year. With the way the Flyer goaltending has been this season (more on that below), that really doesn’t tell the whole story. Provorov’s Corsi Percentage is at 53.4%, which means when he is on the ice, the team is generating more offense than defense. That’s good to see.
He had a few rough games to start the season but has really been falling into his own alongside Streit.
It’s really a tale of two tapes with this defensive core. As a group, their offensive production is actually at the top of the league. No group of defenders has more points than the group the Flyers have. That includes Shayne Gositsbehere and Mark Streit who sit at nine points apiece, putting them right up there as some of the highest scoring defensemen in the NHL.
On the flip-side of things, there’re times when they really don’t look good at all in the defensive zone. That may be a product of new player combinations and new faces, but regardless, it needs to be addressed.
The one area of the Flyers game last year that was completely stable, has now completely imploded in the worst way possible.
That is their goaltending.
In case you forgot, the Flyers boasted a goaltending tandem, rather than a set backup and starter during last season.
Michal Neuvirth was among the league leaders in save percentage, and Steve Mason kept the Flyers in several close games, even when the team wasn’t playing well. Neuvirth capped off last season with an amazing run in the playoffs, almost get the Flyers to a Game 7 after being down 0-3 in the series.
Now, here we are, 13 games into the season, and in 8 games played, Neuvirth has an .859 save percentage and a 3.57 goals against average. Mason has an .858 save percentage and a 3.46 GAA.
That puts Mason and Neuvirth dead last in save percentage (among goalies with at least 5 GP) and 35th and 36th (among 38 goalies) in GAA.
Canadians goal scored by #30 Michael Neuvirth pic.twitter.com/2ClsTyXDs8
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 6, 2016
This goal came at a crucial time in the game and had it not been let in, the Flyers would have tied it just minutes later.
So instead they got themselves to within one goal, and then this happened:
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 6, 2016
It’s simply unacceptable. It’s a puck that needs to be stopped, and as you will see it is costing the Flyers wins left and right.
The Flyers are near the bottom of the league in shots allowed per game. They’ve allowed fifth fewest in the NHL at 27.1 per game. The goalies are not facing a lot of rubber. In fact, Montreal has allowed the second-most shots in the league, at nearly 34 per game.
To prove just how costly these goals are, all that anyone has to do is look at the score of the games. Five of the seven Flyer losses this season have been by one goal. One of the two goal losses was capped off by an empty netter, so essentially the Flyers have lost six of their seven games by one goal. Bad goaltending has been a factor in nearly every single one.
All of this couldn’t come at a worse time for the Flyers. As I mentioned above, their offense is absolutely on fire. They are third in the NHL in goals per game (3.46), second in the NHL in shots per game (33.2), and fourth in the NHL in power play percentage (27.4%).
Here’s where the team should be with the clip they’re scoring at, courtesy of Broad Street Hockey:
The Flyers — the other team in the top five of goals per game — have scored four goals in nine games [this season]. Their record in those five games is 5-4. That means four of their six regulation losses have come while scoring four or more goals. For comparison’s sake, the Flyers were 23-1 when scoring four or more goals last season.
Overall, they’re 6-6-1. The aforementioned four other teams have an average of 8.5 wins to their name. The Flyers could and should be 8-4-1, which would place them right behind the Rangers for the top spot in the Metropolitan.
For reference, the four other teams in the top five in league scoring are a combined 25-0-0 when scoring more than four goals in a game.
That’s not to place all the blame on the goalies because the defense has struggled at times, but they have to be better.
If Mason and Neuvirth can find themselves, or even one of them can find a groove, the Flyers will quickly become one of the toughest teams to beat in the Metropolitan Division. Until that day comes, the Flyers will continue to lose games with one of the best offenses in the league.
That can’t happen.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.