The Philadelphia Flyers have caught fire with six victories in seven games. While the beginning of the streak included wins over bottom-feeders like the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Arizona Coyotes, their past two wins came against more competitive opponents in the Buffalo Sabres and the Washington Capitals. The Flyers have also beaten the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 31 and lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 8 during the seven-game stretch.
Despite the hot streak, general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher still faces an uphill battle given the current position of the organization. Major decisions loom with less than two months until the NHL trade deadline, and the first attention-grabbing rumor has now come out with Ivan Provorov reportedly on the trade block.
Konecny Leads Offensive Surge
The Flyers looked starved for offense throughout the early part of the season, but they’re finally breaking through. They’ve scored 34 goals in the past eight games for a 4.25 average, which is higher than any NHL team’s average over the whole season. They don’t boast the firepower of a playoff contender, but a good stretch for about 10% of an 82-game schedule should breed confidence.
Travis Konecny has led the way with an astounding 20 points in his last 10 games. He put the exclamation mark on the streak with a hat trick in front of the home crowd in the final seconds of a 5-3 win over Washington on Jan. 11. He scored an even-strength goal, a shorthanded goal, and a power-play goal. He moved into sole possession of second place in the NHL in shorthanded points. Only his teammate Scott Laughton has more.
The feisty 5-foot-10 winger now has 46 points in 36 games, a scoring pace that would shatter his career-high if he keeps it up. Konecny focused heavily on analytics during the offseason, especially with the hopes of identifying high-danger shooting areas. John Tortorella complimented his ability to move to the inside of the ice to generate scoring chances, which was a key topic in offseason conversations between Konecny and former Flyers great Danny Briere.
Provorov on the Trade Block
Provorov dominated the headlines in the world of the Flyers this week after Elliotte Friedman spoke on 32 Thoughts about the possibility of a trade involving the 26-year-old defenseman. His $6.75 million annual cap hit wouldn’t necessarily handcuff a contending team that traded for him, and the Flyers could potentially move valuable veterans ahead of the March 3 deadline if the right trade opportunities come along.
After an excellent 2019-20 season, many Flyers fans thought they saw a future Norris Trophy winner developing on the blue line. However, Provorov has been a disappointment over the past two and a half seasons. The Flyers haven’t put him in the best situations to succeed in terms of the talent surrounding him or usage in a lineup desperate for top-pair defensemen to match up against top scorers.
“I don’t think this is anything imminent. I think this is something that might develop over a little while, but I think you’re going to hear his name, and I think he has frustration with what’s going on there. And I think there’s some frustration directed towards him too,” Friedman said.
The Flyers might finally look to take a step backward as an organization in favor of a longer-term rebuild. Provorov won’t fix the lack of top-end talent on the roster, and he might be the most useful and logical trade chip to use as a vehicle to acquire that talent in the bigger picture. Expect Fletcher and the organization to shop him aggressively.
Friedman and Jeff Marek mentioned the Winnipeg Jets as a potential destination because of the track record of their head coach Rick Bowness with high-caliber defensemen like Victor Hedman, Miro Heiskanen, and Josh Morrissey. Kelly McCrimmon, GM of the Vegas Golden Knights, also coached Provorov during his junior career with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Vegas has already resorted to extreme measures to manage a difficult cap situation for the 2022-23 season.
Tortorella Sits DeAngelo
Tortorella continues to make contentious lineup decisions during his first season in Philadelphia. He benched Tony DeAngelo, a seven-year veteran and the team’s top-scoring defenseman, early in the second period of Sunday night’s home loss against Toronto. While the puck-moving defenseman led the team in ice time early in the season, he’s slowly drifted downward in the lineup. He committed a sloppy turnover that led to a Toronto goal in the first period.
“Everybody gets sat at some point I guess. You don’t want to get sat, but it is what it is. We’re not the boss of the team. We’re the players,” DeAngelo said after the game.
Tortorella took ownership of the decision, but he didn’t offer any further explanation. On Dec. 31, the first-year Flyers head coach spoke on Dec. 30 about DeAngelo’s season in 2021-22 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes and how some of his deficiencies weren’t exposed. His statements suggested that weaknesses in DeAngelo’s defensive game have caught up to him in some ways.
“I think he had people that protected him because it was a deeper team (in Carolina last season) than we have right now,” Tortorella said.
DeAngelo fired four shots on goal in 22:18 of ice time the following night against Buffalo. He had one assist and two shots on goal in 22:02 of ice time in the victory against Washington. His quick puck movement in the neutral zone against Washington contributed to Philadelphia’s transition game and a strong overall offensive effort.
Ersson Making His Case
Rookie goaltender Sam Ersson recorded his first career shutout on Monday night against the Sabres, the team with highest goals per game average in the NHL in 2022-23. He became the fifth-fastest goaltender to record his first shutout with the Flyers behind Robbie Moore, Anthony Stolarz, Bob Froese, and Doug Favell. He joined Froese, Antero Niittymäki, and Ron Hextall as the only Flyers goalies to win each of their first four decisions.
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Tortorella spoke on Wednesday about his plan to rotate Carter Hart and Ersson in upcoming games after the unexpected hot streak by the 23-year-old rookie.
“It’s not changing my thinking. It was in my thinking that Ers(son) was going to play some games, but Carter (Hart) is the number one guy,” Tortorella said.
The Flyers assigned Felix Sandström to a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League (AHL) for two weeks beginning on Jan. 5. When the short-term solution ends, the team will need to make a longer-term decision and choose one of their two young Swedish netminders as the backup for Hart. If they choose Ersson, Sandström will have to clear waivers before accepting a regular role in the AHL.
Colin Newby is a freelance writer from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten journeymen like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.
Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.