For the first time since 2014, when Craig Berube was still the Philadelphia Flyers’ coach and Kimmo Timonen was an alternate captain, the team is on a five-game winning streak.
After an inconsistent start to the first month-and-a-half of the season, the Flyers have turned a corner. Up to this current stretch, their only win streak was a three-game run over the transition from October to November.
Besides that, Philadelphia had no other back-to-back wins through 22 games. Unsurprisingly, the Flyers sported a sub-.500 record at 9-10-3 and sat sixth in the Metropolitan.
Today, they’re 14-10-3, in fifth place in the Metro and a couple points ahead of division-contender Washington Capitals. But it hasn’t been one thing that has the club playing better hockey. There have been a few improvements.
Most theories at the start of the Flyers’ season was that if the team started getting even average goaltending, fortunes would start to turn.
The goaltending, specifically Steve Mason’s play, began to improve before the current streak started and now it’s hit it’s season-high after Mason was named First Star of the Week by the NHL. However, it’s not the strength of the goaltending that’s helping the Flyers the most. It’s the timing.
There’s no more late period or momentum-killing goals given up by Mason, which almost seemed normal at the start of the year.
It was actually rookie Anthony Stolarz, not Mason, who got the ball rolling last Sunday against the Calgary Flames. Although the 22-year-old had an average game and gave up three goals, he only got behind the eight ball once when Calgary opened the scoring.
He then made some crucial saves before the Flyers scored and swayed the momentum. Philly went on to a 5-3 win and Stolarz made 29 saves in his debut.
It’s been the same for Mason, who won the following four games. He played his best game of the season against the Boston Bruins where the team was outshot 47-21. Mason made 45 saves and eight in the shootout.
The former Blue Jacket let up the first two goals versus the Ottawa Senators in the next game but closed the door afterwards in a comeback win. Saturday, he conceded the first against the Chicago Blackhawks, but that was it for the next 56 minutes. And on Sunday, the Nashville Predators never managed a lead over Mason.
It’s no secret that the Flyers have a bad penalty kill. They rank 22nd in the NHL with an 80.8% success rate. Special teams are crucial for any team hoping to make the playoffs.
One way to overcome this shortcoming is to avoid putting your team in the position of having to kill a penalty. Over their five-game tear, the Flyers have done just that.
During that stretch, Philadelphia has received just 10 penalties for an average of two per game. Opponents have scored twice, putting the Flyers right at their 80 percent average, so there’s little improvement, other than few chances of scoring.
It also benefits the team when players aren’t using their energy on the PK. It helps players like Wayne Simmonds, Michael Del Zotto and Radko Gudas who have to line up regularly on the penalty kill.
With less time spent in their own zone, the Flyers have been able to create more offense at even-strength, which has also improved over the past five games.
Of course, this isn’t bound to last for the next 55 games. Philly will need to improve their penalty kill before the number starts hitting three or four penalties a game.
Rise of Defense
If Andrew MacDonald is one of your best defenseman over a stretch of games, it probably means that your team is struggling. But it’s been the exact opposite for the Flyers. MacDonald’s improved play has helped the team immensely:
Of the 27 Dmen who've played =/> 8 games since Nov. 21 (last 2 weeks), AMac is one of the better contributors of the group. pic.twitter.com/nRWrSLAHzo
— Mikey D, O&BP 🤙🏼🏴☠️ (@MikeyD_OandBP) December 5, 2016
Instead of being railed on for poor play – the norm for MacDonald – fans have been impressed with his possession-driven play.
A lot of that has to do with stepping up more before hitting the defensive zone. MacDonald has been more active in the offensive and neutral zones in breaking up plays before they cross the defensive red line, something coach Dave Hakstol has tried to instill in his team and it also worked for Brandon Manning.
Also ranked high is Ivan Provorov, who is also playing his best of the season. He scored two goals against the Blackhawks, but it’s the quieter things he does that have helped his advanced stats.
Del Zotto and Mark Streit have also created a solid, but sometimes mistake-laden, duo as the team’s third-pairing and the Flyers hardly missed a beat when Manning replaced an ailing Radko Gudas on Saturday and Sunday. Right now, the defense is being run like a well-oiled machine.
That machine has helped the Flyers to a five-game win streak. At some time – and probably soon – it will come to an end. But the foundation has been laid for things to continue going upwards for the Flyers over the next several months.