Anthony DiGrazio (@AnthonyDiGrazio)
The Flyers are finally back after their four day rest!
With multiple injuries on the defensive end, this may be a good time for the younger defensemen to catch their breath and evaluate their early season play. Offensively, the Flyers have been dependent upon their first and fourth lines while the middle six is still trying to figure out their roles.
Through 15 games, the first line has combined for 20 goals, 33 assists, and 53 points. When it comes to the current offensive lineup, the first name that stands out is Sean Couturier. With 18 points in 15 games, he is currently tied with Jakub Voracek for the team lead. Couturier was playing third center last season and he seemed to be very comfortable there, but
he seems to have also found comfort on the top line as well.
Pressure was mounting in the off-season for the top core guys, especially with the loss of Brayden Schenn. Fans were hoping that the first line could find their rhythm, and to everyone’s surprise, the defensive specialist, Sean Couturier, is thriving as a first center.
Playing with highly skilled forwards such as Giroux and Voracek have helped Couturier’s emergence as an offensive leader on this team. Giroux is back to his playmaking abilities on the wing and is helping Couturier find his offensive game. A big difference in Couturier’s game is his ability to get the puck to the net. Couturier is currently second on the team in shots taken with 46.
Couturier also leads the team with his plus/minus currently at +10. Having a playmaking wing like Giroux allows Couturier to venture to the net and use his defensive abilities to help create space in the offensive zone.
When talking about the first line, it is important to bring up the success Claude Giroux is having as a winger. Fans were very skeptical about the thought of having Giroux play a position he hasn’t played in some time, especially since Giroux is top-tier when it comes to winning face-offs.
With 18 points in 15 games, Voracek is another reason why this first line is so successful. Voracek uses his speed and strength to create space and get the puck to where it needs to go. When it comes to playing the puck behind the net, Voracek is one of the best in the league. This helps Couturier find space in front because the other team has to worry abut Giroux on the other wing as a set-up man.
The middle six has seen its fair share of ups and downs through the early part of this season, and although they are still searching for their footing, players like Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula will be leaned upon to get thing goings, especially with Nolan Patrick’s absence.
Players like Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal will need to step up more within this offense to help the middle six start clicking and generating more results on the score sheet. Both of these players have great speed and are strong with the puck. Their skill and speed make up for their size, and they are still able to make plays and get to high quality scoring areas in the offensive zone.
Dale Weise, Jori Leherä, and Matt Read also need to increase their input despite the limited amount of chances they may get to see. With Patrick hopefully coming back soon, the line-up will begin to look a bit crowed, so it is important for these players to make the most of their ice time while they still have it.
So far this season, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, and Michael Raffl have been the energy line that creates momentum for the Flyers. In addition to the first line and their offensive prowess, the fourth line has allowed for mismatches against other teams that have benefitted the Flyers. The speed of the fourth line allows them to control the pace of their shift, with and without the puck. As the season has continued, their puck handling and cycling abilities in the offensive zone have increased drastically.
Laughton has been great on the penalty kill and Leier is a grinder that will win battles in the corners and also be able to use his strength to get to the net. This line may not get on the score sheet each night, but they do exactly what is asked of them.
Taylor Leier is a gritty fourth liner who uses his speed to move fast with the puck and fast without the puck. Leier is usually winning puck battles on dump-and-chase scenarios because he is able to get to the puck first. He may not be a big body type of player, but he does have solid strength when holding onto the puck around the net, which helps create scoring chances.
Although Raffl has been held pointless, he is still working hard, he is just not being rewarded for his efforts. With his work ethic and a few bounces going his way, it is only a matter of time before the 4th line starts putting up points.
Through the beginning of the season, the goaltending seems to be what most fans expected. We have already seen high and lows from the goalie pairing, and so far Neuvirth has been the better of the two. Brian Elliott may have more wins in his column than Michal Neuvirth, but he has been more shaky in net compared to Neuvirth. Flyers fans shouldn’t throw in the towel yet, though. There are still 64 games left to be played.
With a sub-par .892 Sv%, Elliott knows he has to play better in order for his team to win. Luckily, when Elliott is in net, the Flyers have found ways to win games despite him being the lesser of the two goalies as of now.
With all of the excitement for the youth-infused blue line, it has been tough seeing the defensive core riddled with injuries. Andrew MacDonald is out four to six weeks and Shayne Gostisbehere was recently injured as well. Gudas has also missed a couple of games. With these injuries, the Flyers have leaned on Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning, and recent call-up Will O’Neill who filled in for Ghost. O’Neill was recently sent back down to the Phantoms, which hopefully means that Gostisbehere is progressing and should be joining the team shortly.
Despite the injuries, there is a very bright spot in the Flyers’ defense that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Fans in the sports world always worry about the dreaded sophomore slump, but not a surprise to most fans, Ivan Provorov is having a sophomore surge. With the injuries to the defensive core,Provorov has been the go-to guy and has been logging career-high minutes the past few games. Remember that Provorov is 20 years old and able to handle loads of ice time with ease.
Another bright spot for the Flyers has been Gostisbehere’s reemergence as an offensive threat. Gostisbehere is on the verge of becoming the quickest Flyers defensemen to reach 100 points. With legendary players such as Mark Howe in the Flyers’ history books, this achievement is nothing short of prestigious for such a respected franchise. With 14 points in 12 games, it is obvious how important Ghost is to this team.
Another young player that is exceeding expectations is Robert Hagg. To no surprise, he is a safe play each and every game. Hagg may not be a flashy player or light-up the score sheet, but he does his job game after game. Travis Sanheim is also doing a solid job. Of course he’s made a few costly mistakes, but fans should be encouraging the way he has bounced back from them.
If rookies are making mistakes early and learning from them, this will help set them up for a more successful season down the stretch. An example of this is the beginning of Provorov’s rookie season. Mistakes were made in the game against Chicago his rookie year, and that was also the turning point of his young career. Ivan used that game as a learning curve and made sure that he would not make those same mistakes again, and since that game, Provorov has proved why he is a number one defenseman.
With the infusion of the youth, this team is on the trajectory that most of us at Philly is Flyer predicted. This is a learning year. It’s a year of mistakes, lessons, and growing as a team. The team has the talent to sneak in the playoffs, but the in order for that to happen, goaltending will need to be more stable, along with middle-six scoring. Simply relying on the first line to haul the Flyers to playoffs will not work. While it is still early, a lot a change, and a lot can happen. The Flyers still have a chance to be a playoff team if they find their rhythm.
Stat charts: Nhl.com and PhiladelphiaFlyers.com
Featured Image: Philly.com