Saturday night against the Washington Capitals was the first win of the preseason for the Philadelphia Flyers, who have now completed 3 games so far. The 3-1 win was important because their NHL roster was on full display. The players of importance have all played at least 2 games so far and it has actually been a pretty good showing, regardless of their 1-2-0 record. Inferior opponents and preseason atmosphere are things that should temper expectations for now but there have been a lot of positives to hold onto with 3 more games remaining.
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
After injuries to Kevin Hayes and Wade Allison, the mystery of who would be on the Flyers top line was no more. Alain Vigneault went back to a trio that has played a lot of hockey together and have great chemistry. Giroux, Couturier, and Konecny have played together in parts of seasons since 2017-18, where all 3 players hit career highs in points.
With so many changes and new names on the roster, going back to some familiarity makes things a lot easier, especially for your top guns. In the two games they have played in (New York Islanders and Washington Capitals), it looks like they haven’t missed a beat. They’re breaking out with ease, making crisp and concise passes, creating scoring chances, running the top powerplay unit, and dominating the offensive zone whenever on the ice.
They have yet to score 5 on 5 (Giroux scored a power play goal against the Capitals) but it is a welcoming sign to see the buzz they’re creating, the offensive pressure, and the numerous chances. Everyone has some kinks in their game after a long layoff and it’s good to see Vigneault starting his NHL roster and lines right away; an effort to thwart the early season jitters.
The off-season was filled with moves that revolved around accountability and Chuck Fletcher purged his roster in an attempt to change the culture in Philadelphia. In came Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Cam Atkinson, Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle, Martin Jones, and Nate Thompson and out came Nolan Patrick, Jakub Voracek, Phil Myers, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Brian Elliott.
All the players brought in had several things in common but the one thing that stood out was their veteran leadership (all of them had worn a letter the previous season/for several years). Something that was lacking in Philadelphia for years, looks to be brewing this season.
Ryan Ellis and Ivan Provorov pairing has looked great. Ellis’ calm demeanour has allowed Provorov to play a more relaxed and aggressive offensive game. Their perimeter game in the offensive zone looks stout as well with their passes, board to board play, and getting the puck on the net/shooting the puck even if there isn’t a play to be made. This is a top tier pairing that the Flyers haven’t had in years and it should be something to keep an eye on all season long.
Cam Atkinson has provided a spark to the Flyers offensive game, has played well on the second unit of the power play, and has formed a surprisingly good trio with Oskar Lindblom, and Derick Brassard. Keith Yandle has been everything he was advertised to be, specifically his power play prowess. He has found his way on the top unit and his offensive IQ and savvy has been on full display so far.
Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim had a bit of a rough game against the Boston Bruins but it should be noted that the Bruins played an NHL ready roster and they were tasked to play 22+ minutes against the Bruins top line; something they don’t need to worry about once the season starts.
In their game against the Capitals, Ristolainen played a very noticeable game, especially with his body. He set the tone early with one of 5 hits and a small detail that could go unnoticed is that the Capitals were seen dumping the puck a lot more when Ristolainen was on the ice, maybe in an attempt to avoid his heavy body checking.
Carter Hart has only played 2 periods so far but in those 40 minutes he was lights out. He faced 18 shots and allowed one goal, however when the Flyers defense collapsed in the defensive zone, he made some timely saves, reminiscent of his 2019-20 campaign. Hopefully this trend continues and the usually calm, cool, and collected Hart reappears this year after a disastrous 2020-21 campaign.
With a newly revamped blue line it shouldn’t be out of the question that the goaltending will be better than last year. It can’t possibly be worse than finishing last place, as they did last year. Gone are Erik Gustafsson, Robert Hagg, Nate Prosser, and Shayne Gostisbehere and in comes Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle. The veteran leadership alone should do wonders for the backend but for the goaltending as well.
There should be far less collapses in the defensive zone and in the blue paint, there should be a lot less odd man rushes for the goaltenders to face, and most importantly the goaltenders and defensemen should start trusting each other again.
Martin Jones didn’t have a great game against the Boston Bruins, allowing 3 goals on 11 shots but with a plethora of NHL players playing for Boston and an AHL defense in front of him, it shouldn’t be entirely his fault. He played a lot better against the Washington Capitals with his NHL defensemen in front of him, allowing one goal on 22 shots.
The Philadelphia Flyers power play has struggled quite a bit over the last 4 seasons, since Joe Mullen departed. They’ve finished 15th, 23rd, 14th, and 18th in the last 4 years respectively, which leaves a lot to be desired. A struggling power play rarely leads to success in the standings; it has happened but a rare occurrence nonetheless.
So far the Flyers power play looks a lot better and they have found their two units. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny, and Keith Yandle make up the first unit. Meanwhile, Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis, and Ivan Provorov comprise the second unit.
They are 3 for 12 in the pre-season so far but 3 for their last 9 attempts. There are definitely a few kinks to clear up with newcomers all over the lineup but the pressure they’ve created and the amount of scoring chances to boot; it’s looking like the Flyers might actually have a potential top 10 power play again.
Veterans like Yandle and Ellis quarterbacking the two units is going to go a long way and we have already seen some of what Yandle can do. Being able to keep the puck in the zone, keep the pressure going, fake defenders with a pass or a shot, and find the right lanes for Giroux or Couturier is exactly what was missing on the man advantage,
The penalty kill is by far the most important aspect of the Flyers game that needs to be cleaned up. So far it hasn’t look great but their one blip was the Bruins game which featured the Bruins top guns against a more inferior Flyers roster. They have collapsed several times in front of the goalie, have caused miscues leading to open chances, and failed clearances leading to chances or goals; but emphasis needs to be put on the NHL-ready roster and players.
The penalty kill took a big hit when Kevin Hayes went down but they still have several options to take care of business in his absence. Couturier, Lindblom, Atkinson, Scott Laughton, and Nate Thompson are all very capable of handling the heavy workload. The next three games should be interesting to see how the Flyers lineup, make up their special teams units, and get ready for the season opener. There is very little room for error for the 2021-22 Flyers and it starts with the special teams.
Second and Third Line
Due to the flurry of moves and how balanced the roster was, there was a lot of debate as to how the lines would be made up. The beauty of the Flyers roster is that their lines can’t necessarily be numbered because of how balanced everything looks. Anything with Couturier is most likely going to be the first line and when you add Giroux and Konecny to his wings, its a no brainer.
Morgan Frost went from possibly starting in the AHL to manning the second line after Kevin Hayes’ injury and he has looked pretty good so far with Joel Farabee and James van Riemsdyk on his wings. He’s still getting used to the NHL game as he has missed so much time over the last 2 years but with a locked in role this season and very little distractions around him, he should easily find his groove playing alongside two very good wingers.
Derick Brassard, Oskar Lindblom, and Cam Atkinson finish out the top 9 and they have looked very good so far. Lindblom and Atkinson are both very active wingers, driving the play and getting in the dirty areas. As long as Brassard can catch up and win face-offs, it should be a very tough line to match up against. The first goal of the pre-season came off a Brassard face-off and Atkinson’s goal against the Capitals was all about getting the puck to the net and digging in the dirty areas.
It will be interesting to see how Vigneault and the coaching staff treat the final 3 games. After seeing the NHL roster playing together for the first time, Vigneault and Co. should definitely keep roll with them 2 of the next 3 games to familiarize everyone with each other and build chemistry. Early season slumps have been an issue for the Flyers and this would go a long way in reversing that trend