The National Hockey League is in the midst of a brief sabbatical. Players from around the league are gathered in San Jose for tonight’s All-Star Game while those not partaking are enjoying some time off for rest and recuperation. Rewind to last Saturday night and the Philadelphia Flyers were playing the best hockey they’ve played all season. Now, without a game until Monday, the bye week has brought with it optimism and uncertainty.
All season, the Flyers have struggled to find their footing. However, things have been coming together as of late. They’ve won four out of their last five games, had two players score hat tricks in one week, and received stellar play from their boy-wonder goalie. After so much turmoil throughout the season, seeing a stretch of what the team is truly capable of has been a breath of fresh air.
One of the biggest aspects of the team’s recent success has been resiliency. In games against the Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins, Philadelphia was able to battle back after being down two goals early in each game. Unlike other times this season, the Flyers regrouped after tough starts and were able to take control of the play from then on. Most recently against the Montreal Canadiens, the team withstood a heavy first period being out-shot 12-1 but went on to win the game, 5-2.
Young Stars Shining Bright
Thankfully, none of the 12 shots from the Canadiens went in due to the excellence of Carter Hart. As one of seven goalies to suit up for the Flyers this season, Hart has truly shined. In 12 games between the pipes, the 20-year-old has a .918 save percentage, a 2.66 goals-against average and a 6-5-1 record. The young talent has stopped over 30 shots in each win during the recent streak.
Yesterday, the team announced that they had sent Hart down to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher stated, “With a full week off the ice due to the NHL bye week and All-Star breaks, we would like Carter to continue getting ice time and game action with the Phantoms.” So, it seems as if the team wants their young star to stay sharp in case he’s needed once again with the big club.
Nolan Patrick and Sean Couturier on a Roll
Another reason for optimism has been the offensive production from a pair of young forwards. Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick have been key players in the team’s successful stretch.
Against the Bruins on Jan. 16, Couturier tallied his first career regular season hat trick. However, “Coots” already has two three-goal performances, both coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2012 and 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 26-year-old is tied for second place in points on the team with 39 through 46 games.
Continuing with the offense, Patrick is on a roll as well. In his last five games, the former second-overall draft pick has six points including a pair of two-goal efforts against the Wild and Canadiens. The 20-year-old has had trouble finding his scoring touch so far in the NHL with just 17 points this season and 30 last season. However, when Patrick does find his scoring touch he’s something to behold as is evident in one of his goals scored against Montreal last weekend:
Trade Talks Heating Up
With some things to be happy about, there are also some uncertainties looming.
After the All-Star break, expect trade talks around the league to grow stronger. The Flyers are not strangers to the rumor mill and they have some players that they may move. Perhaps their biggest asset in the trade market is Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds and the team haven’t discussed a new contract. On the other hand, organizations like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Nashville Predators have come up as potential landing spots for the power forward.
Radko Gudas Enters the Rumor Mill
An additional player that could be on his way out is defenseman Radko Gudas. In the midst of his fourth season with the Flyers, Gudas could possibly alleviate some of the defensive problems for the Maple Leafs according to Broad Street Hockey. The 28-year-old isn’t a top-tier defenseman but could yield a solid return as well as toughen up the blue line for a potential trade partner.
Both Simmonds and Gudas could stay with their current team but don’t count Philadelphia out of the big trade market as the Feb. 25 trade deadline rapidly approaches.
As the season starts its latter stages, the Flyers are still plagued by the ever-spinning goalie carousel. However, the solution may be closer than previously thought. Ideally, the team would pursue a seasoned-yet-skilled goaltender to split time with the young Hart next season and beyond. Right now, one of the sole contenders for that spot is Cam Talbot. In the final season of his contract, the Edmonton Oilers’ net-minder could be on the way out sooner than July 1. If the price is right, Talbot could find himself donning the Flyers crest.
All in all, the Flyers’ season won’t yield much to write home about. Barring any miracles, they’ll miss the postseason and be sent packing come mid-April. As the back end of the season begins, there’s a small sense of optimism intertwined with much uncertainty. The coming weeks may see some familiar faces leave the team and new ones arrive. Now, there is hope among the young talent who continue to shine yet a clouded idea of what’s to come.