The Philadelphia Flyers wrapped up a five-game homestand with a 2-3-0 record after a 4-1 loss against the Washington Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night. They suffered regulation losses to the Capitals, the New Jersey Devils, and Tampa Bay Lightning while earning wins against the New York Islanders and the Colorado Avalanche. They sit in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division 20 points out of the top spot and eight out of the final wild-card spot.
The John Tortorella Show
Head coach John Tortorella continues to draw the bulk of the attention surrounding the franchise. As a fiery, competitive bench boss with a Stanley Cup on his resume, he sometimes needs to search hard to find the right temperament to tolerate so much losing with a roster lacking the top-end talent to compete for a playoff spot.
“I’m not a big moral victory guy. It’s about winning, but I also have to keep an eye on the ball as far as where we are,” he said last week.
Tortorella has consistently lauded the effort shown by his team even after losses with minimal exceptions after 27 games this season. He intends to protect his players from criticism as part of a growth process without the immediate expectation of winning. Although the franchise won’t openly commit to the arbitrary label of a rebuild, he acknowledges the reality that the positive development of good long-term habits outweighs the negative aspects of short-term losing.
Victory Over Avalanche
The Flyers defeated the Avalanche at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night. They outshot the defending Stanley Cup champions narrowly and led for the entirety of the second and third periods. However, the victory over a big-name opponent only told part of the story.
The Avalanche finished the night without six of the best seven forwards from their Stanley Cup run available. Gabriel Landeskog hasn’t played yet this season, and Valeri Nichushkin has missed extended time. Artturi Lehkonen missed the contest with a lower-body injury. Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky have moved on with pricey free-agent deals. Nathan MacKinnon left the game with an upper-body injury after just 4:58 of ice time. Only Mikko Rantanen was available.
Tony DeAngelo chuckled when asked if beating a powerhouse franchise like the Avalanche could create some confidence in the room. “A little bit of a depleted Stanley Cup champion team, but always good to get a win either way,” he said.
Flyers Offense Struggling
The Flyers scored 12 goals in five games in front of the South Philadelphia crowd. The 2.40 goals per game average is nearly identical to their 2.41 mark through 27 games of the 2022-23 season, which ranks them dead last in the NHL. They leave themselves with no margin for error defensively and in the crease with the lack of offensive firepower to win high-scoring hockey games.
They outplayed the Devils for long stretches of the game on Saturday night. A turnover by Ivan Provorov and a misplayed puck by Carter Hart to defenseman Nick Seeler both ended up in the back of the Philadelphia net, sending the strong overall effort to waste.
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“We just struggle generating offense. It’s a problem here. Some is confidence. Some is, we just struggle offensively,” Tortorella said after his team scored just once on Wednesday. He did offer praise for the team’s growth in defensive structure and their ability to limit the number of quality scoring chances by their opponents in recent weeks.
Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes, arguably the two most established NHL scorers currently in the lineup, have taken advantage of the opportunity to play in key offensive situations. Konecny has 23 points in 21 games while Hayes has 28 in 27 games. Neither player has ever averaged over a point per game for a single season over a combined 14 NHL seasons. The heavy reliance on players best suited for second-line minutes leaves very little scoring depth behind them.
Veterans Returning from Injury
The early barrage of injuries up front backed the Flyers into a corner, and they responded unsurprisingly with a 10-game losing streak. Konecny, Scott Laughton, and James van Riemsdyk have now returned from injuries allowing Tortorella to field a team with at least a few capable NHL veterans and some semblance of appropriate lineup positioning.
Konecny scored one goal in each of his first three games back in the lineup, and he added an assist on Hayes’ power-play goal against Washington on Wednesday night. Cam Atkinson remains sidelined with an upper-body injury, and the timetable for his return is unknown. After fully participating in practices, he then wore a yellow jersey to eliminate contact earlier this week. Sean Couturier remains out with a long-term back injury, and Tanner Laczynski also hit injured reserve this week with a lower-body injury.
Weaknesses in Analytics
Sometimes NHL teams that go through losing streaks hope to gain some puck luck to reward them for a strong five-on-five process. Public analytical models, which Tortorella spoke bluntly about in November, don’t point to a likelihood for that type of fortune for the Flyers. They rank 29h in the NHL with a 44.1% expected goal share (xGF%).
Their lack of top-end talent forces their high-usage players to play against strong competition that frequently outmatches them. Provorov owns a 40.24 xGF% while his most common partner Tony DeAngelo sits at 39.62%. Hayes and Konecny barely edge the Flyers’ top two defensemen, and recent waiver wire pickup Lukas Sedlak is the only player on the team with a positive share of xGF in 2022-23.
During the five-game homestand, young wingers Joel Farabee and Owen Tippett both posted positive shares despite their underwhelming offensive output early in the season. Laughton, the only player on the team wearing a letter on his jersey this season, returned from an upper-body injury on Nov. 29 to begin the homestand. He struggled to get his legs under him quickly with a cringe-worthy 36.30 xGF%. Hart has cooled off from his outstanding start. He now sits fourth in the NHL in goals saved above expected (GSAx).
The Flyers will begin a four-game road trip on Friday night against the Vegas Golden Knights, the current top seed in the Western Conference. The trip also includes a visit to New Jersey to face the Devils, the top team in the Metropolitan Division so far this year, and a rematch against the potentially rejuvenated Avalanche in Denver. The Arizona Coyotes are the only opponent they’ll face that isn’t an overwhelming threat.
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.