Now that the Philadelphia Flyers are past the quarter pole of the 2016-17 regular season, the question fans and management alike are pondering is just what kind of team they are. In no way, shape, or form is the team a Stanley Cup contender. However, fans came into this season with the expectations that the Flyers would be more than the fringe playoff team they have been.
So, what’s preventing them from getting over the “playoff bubble” hump?
No shocker here. Anyone who has been following the Flyers closely knows that goaltending has been by far the main issue of their first 20 plus games. Ironically, what was the backbone of the team last year has now become their Achilles heel. After finishing last season tied for third in the league in overall team save percentage, they currently find themselves dead last in that category, and there are a few reasons as to why.
47 Goalies in NHL with 200+ mins Ranked by 5v5 sv%
42. Steve Mason
47. Michal Neuvirth
It's a miracle the Flyers are where they are rn..
— (Keenan) Hockey Card Giver (@KeenanJS) November 23, 2016
Plain and simple, the goalies haven’t played up to their usual caliber. Michal Neuvirth had his best statistical season in 2015-16 and that did not carry over to start this year. Whereas, Steve Mason, after a strong training camp and preseason, has taken a little while to find his game, which has been coming around over the last few weeks.
The law of averages states that everything evens out. In which case, the Flyers goalies aren’t likely to continue to struggle the way they have been. Eventually, things will fall back into place for Mason and Neuvirth (when healthy) and they will return to being quality goalies again.
The Flyers defense alone has been in trouble with costly turnovers that usually find the back of the net while leaving Mason and Neuvirth hung out to dry. However, in this case, the struggles have to do with more than just the Flyers’ six players that start on their back-end every night. The problem here is a team-wide commitment to defense which has caused their save percentage and goals against to be ranked last and second to last, respectively, in the league.
The forwards have been as culpable as the defensemen in costly turnovers that end in goals against. The Flyers forwards seem to lose focus and their attention to detail ultimately leads to mistakes, in which case Dave Hakstol is responsible for the correction of them. The overall team defense should improve as the season moves along, and it also helps that the Flyers have a few prospects in the minors, such as the hulking Sam Morin, who could be on his way to the big club soon.
Okay, but What Has Gone Right?
The offense, the offense, the offense. This so far is the only thing that has put a smile on Flyers fans and management’s faces this season. The addition of the offensively gifted rookie Travis Konecny to the teams top six has done wonders to their overall skill and depth as a forward group. Konecny’s presence has allowed other forwards to play bottom six minutes where they are better suited and more helpful to the team.
However, just as team defense isn’t solely on the defensemen’s shoulders, the same applies to offense. The Flyers defensemen have been big time contributors to the team’s offense, which is a staple of Hakstol’s system. The defense corps has been great, knowing when it’s a good time to pinch in the offense zone and when it’s a good time to get shots on goal from the point.
Cant say Flyers D is 'bad'. Defensively, avg, maybe less. But offensively, no team's D is better this season. Offense is the best defense.
— Mikey D, O&BP 🤙🏼🏴☠️ (@MikeyD_OandBP) November 30, 2016
The addition of rookie Ivan Provorov has also been a welcome enhancement to the blue line. So far early in his career, he’s shown an elite ability get deflectable shots on net from the point. Also, his speed allows him to create space which enables him to set up teammates for quality outlet passes in all three zones.
What to Expect From Here on Out?
As the calendar flips to December, the Flyers need to figure out just who they are as a team. Last year, they were a train wreck up until the New Year when they finished the 2016 part of their calendar season with a 26-13-7 record. Losing Sean Couturier to injury for the next month or so hurts, but the Flyers have enough offensive firepower to overcome that. The question will be, can the team-wide commitment to defense and goaltending tighten themselves up enough without sacrificing the potency of the offense?
It will be up to Hakstol to make the proper adjustments with the personnel Ron Hextall has given him. Also, as mentioned above, a few players on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are edging their way closer to being NHL ready, which could give Hakstol a few more horses in his stable.
Phantoms are everything we wish the Flyers were. A winning team with great goalies and some dynamic offensive players. I'll leave that here
— PuckSauce (@FlyersPuckSauce) November 26, 2016
Glen Stricker is a Temple University graduate with a degree in Media & Communication. He is the Lead Writer for the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers as well as the social media coordinator and contributor for @PHLFlyersNation