An 8-2 blowout of one of the NHL’s best teams would have been an anomaly in the past few seasons for the Flyers. But this is not your father’s team, the Broad Street Bullies are long gone.
You would be hard pressed to find an enforcer or energy guy on this team. This is a team who runs four full lines of offense who could all score and one where their speed is a strength of the team and not a weakness.
Saturday night in Philadelphia was a culmination of all the hard work and speed that had been showcased on the successful, opening four-game road trip.
Let’s take a look at what has changed about this team and what still needs work going forward.
The talk surrounding the captain over the past two seasons has not been good, and maybe deservingly so. Giroux had looked slow, scared to battle for a puck and had all but become a powerplay specialist. Injuries, age, poor line mates and matching up against top lines were just some of the excuses that people, including myself, gave for Giroux’s freefall from elite status.
The captain’s start to the season will help to quiet his critics, he is off to a hot start with three goals and four assists in the first five games. The chemistry of the top line with Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier is off the charts, combining for twenty-two points in the first five games. Give credit to Coach Dave Hakstol for taking a chance by putting the team’s best player in a position to succeed with his skill set at an unnatural position.
If Giroux and his line mates can continue this pace of production, the Flyers will be a hard team to keep out of the playoffs come April. But more importantly it looks like the captain is back to his old self and that alone is worth the price of admission. Few players in Flyers history have been as exciting as Claude Giroux when at the top of their game.
Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg
Robert Hagg won the top spot in the defensive competition with fellow rookies Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin, and a big part of that was his skill set being such a compliment to Ghost. These two have been together for the entire season at 5on5 so far and have been the Flyers best defensive pair through five games. Hagg’s defensive prowess and confidence in his own end, has given Ghost the opportunity to jump into the play and move the puck into his scoring areas.
While Ghost has yet to score a goal on the year, he is second on the team in points, assists and ice time. After a rough, possible unlucky, sophomore season, Ghost looks a lot like the rookie of the year candidate from two seasons ago. His shot is hitting the net again and he is still the most dangerous shot on the top power play unit.
Hagg on the other hand has been the perfect partner to Ghost and has been a real presence on a penalty kill unit that is much improved over last season. The rookie doesn’t look out of place, in fact he has probably been the Flyers best in-zone defenseman in the early part of this season. This pairing will be a driving force all season long.
The 4th line
Probably the biggest upgrade to this team has been the play of its fourth line. After years of garbage playing on the line, the Flyers now have three legitimate NHL forwards playing some very important minutes. It all starts with former first round pick, Scott Laughton. After a year playing in Lehigh Valley, in a strictly defensive role, Laughton has come back with a vengeance. Playing as the top penalty killer, Laughton has played extremely well and was finally rewarded on Saturday with two incredible goals, one that will remind most Flyers fans of the Mike Richard goal against Montreal in 2010 playoffs. No one ever hopes their first-round pick will be a 4th liner but two years ago he seemed like a lost soul, now he has earned a place on this team for a long time to come.
Taylor Leier is perhaps the biggest surprise of this group, a guy who kept bouncing up and down the turnpike over the last few years, has finally stuck with the orange and black. Leier adds a ton of speed, a quick shot and a fearlessness on the forecheck. He has also played alongside Laughton since the Phantoms and it shows when the two of them are killing penalties. They always seem to know where the other will be on the ice, making the PK and 4th line more effective.
The last of the trio is Michael Raffl, the former first liner has seen a massive fall from the days when he played on Claude Giroux’s wing but with his goal scoring ability and speed, he helps to make the Flyers fourth line downright scary. Does Raffl deserve to be on the fourth line? Probably not, but im not sure splitting up this line is a good idea.
Now for the negative end of the spectrum, it is never good for your best player to be on this list but that is the unfortunate part of this team. Coach Dave Hakstol seems hellbent on keeping Provorov chained to Andrew MacDonald. To be fair to Mac, he has not been bad this season. Worst of the defense, outside of Manning, yes. But he has played solid, but when you play just solid against team’s top lines at twenty minutes a night, the team suffers. And so does your defensive partner. Ivan Provorov has not played well, by his standards, so far this season. Plenty of reasons why, but having to cover for Mac seems to be the fan’s consensus. I tend to believe it’s a combination of things but I’m sure he will figure it out, though a new defensive partner might go a long way to let Provy be the number one defenseman that he is.
While Brian Elliott is 3-1, and Michael Neuvirth has a loss in his only appearance, it's Neuvirth who has played the only true complete game all season. Elliott has been shaky at the absolute best. Every time it seems that he has figured it out, another goal seems to get by him.
Penalties at inopportune moments have added to this but there has been at least one goal per game where he has had one slip by. The Flyers need more consistent play from that position. Whether it is ultimately Elliott or Neuvirth, it doesn’t matter, the position must be better.
Brandon Manning and Dale Weise
This will be quick and easy. Manning is playing instead of Sanheim and that is just mind boggling. It brings the whole team down and slows an otherwise fast squad. Get him out of the lineup, permanently if possible.
If you reread the previous sentence and replace Manning with Weise, and Sanheim with Lindblom it works the same. I would much rather see a young, quick line of Lindblom, Patrick and Konecny than watch the kids stop on a dime waiting for Weise to catch up with them.
The positives have outweighed the negatives early on and the Flyers will look to continue that trend tonight as they take on the Panthers at home. Michael Neuvirth is expected to get the nod in net and the lines should stay the same from Saturday’s demolition of the Capitals.