I’d like to preface this article by saying that these are my opinions. These opinions are open for argument and are meant to spark conversation and debate about the game we all love.
One of the most exciting things for a hockey fan to experience is for their team to go on an extended win streak. Each game has an extra spark of excitement as we watch our teams fight for the win. It also gives the fans hope. We assume a team good enough to put together a win streak of ten games or more is a team that will surely make the playoffs on their journey to the Stanley Cup. Of course, this isn’t true for every team or every win streak.
Earlier in the season, the Philadelphia Flyers strung a win streak together of ten games. Good Night, Good Hockey writer Dylan Coyle mentioned them as the “hottest team in hockey” during this time. They somehow did this with a team that is currently being rebuilt under the guidance of Ron Hextall. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and this saying stays true for the game of hockey. The Flyers lost what would have been their eleventh tally in a 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. Since that loss, the Flyers have found themselves with a record of four wins and eleven losses (not including the loss to Dallas that ended their streak). How does one of hockey’s hottest teams become so cold?
The Philadelphia Flyers have on their roster some of the finest offensive players in the league. With great players such as Jakub Voracek (42 pts), Claude Giroux (39 pts), Wayne Simmonds (36 pts), Brayden Schenn (32 pts) and rookie Travis Konecny (22 pts) leading the way in terms of offense, some may wonder what the issue is. The issue lies within inconsistent performances from the core guys listed above as well as a lack of secondary scoring from those on the bottom six. In terms of secondary scoring, with guys like Matt Read (11 pts), Michael Raffl (11 pts), Chris VandeVelde (11 pts) and Dale Weise (5 pts), the Flyers have to rely heavily on their top six forwards.
You can’t win games if you don’t score goals. The Philadelphia Flyers have scored only thirty goals in their last fifteen games and in three of those games they were shutout. At a rate of thirty goals in fifteen games, the Flyers are scoring an average of two goals per game. This may be enough for a win for those teams with solid defense and goaltending but for the Flyers, it’s simply not enough.
Defense for the Flyers is almost an oxymoron. Although fans may see flashes of talent within the defense, it’s an overall lackluster core. Surprisingly, rookie Ivan Provorov could arguably be named the current best defenseman on the team. His speed, skill and defensive prowess makes some question whether he’s a rookie or a veteran.
Unfortunately, Shayne Gostisbehere, who was seen as a top rookie defenseman last year, has not lived up to the hype so far this season. The offensive defenseman has made notable mistakes which include blind passing and an extreme lack of shots on net. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that teams now know how he plays, what to look out for and how to stop him. He’s not getting as open, nor is he getting the same chances he did during his rookie year in the 2015-2016 season. Even with these criticisms against him, he’s still considered one of the best defenseman for the Flyers.
Behind Gostisbehere and Provorov in relation to talent are Michael Del Zotto and Radko Gudas. Both players seemed to have found a home in Philadelphia after coming from their previous organizations (Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively). Although they can be relied on more heavily than the bottom group of defenseman, they still show various moments of inconsistency that make you question what they were thinking.
Finally, let’s talk about Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning, Nick Shultz and Mark Streit. These are the names you can often hear being cursed by Flyers fans. A plethora of turnovers, blind passes, slow movements, lost battles and shots allowed have led to Mason and Neuvirth earning their paycheck more nights than not. The truth behind all of this is that the defense can not be relied upon which often leads to the Flyers having to play catch up in games rather than playing ahead. Luckily, the Flyers have some above average goaltending to help things.
The goalies for the Philadelphia Flyers can be identified as the one gleam of hope the team and their fans have. They host a goalie tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. Some may argue with me that they’re not that great but I’d argue back with the logic that they’ve done a lot for this team considering the defense, or lack-thereof, that was provided them.
Steve Mason was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in April 2013 from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mason wanted to make a name for himself in Philadelphia after almost hanging up his pads in Columbus due to a lack of confidence and a loss of love for the game. He’s done just that. After the Flyers bought out Ilya Bryzgalov’s contract in the Summer of 2013, Mason was assumed to be the new starter. Since, Mason has proved himself time and time again as the starter of the Flyers with his stellar play often playing a large role in the team winning games. Although he’s had times of inconsistent play, he has arguably been the most consistent component to the team.
Michal Neuvirth, as a free agent, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Summer of 2015. He was brought on, under the assumption of many fans, as a back up to Mason. To the surprise of many, though, his impressive play has rivaled that of Steve Mason. The topic of debate in Philadelphia quickly shifted to, “who is the starting goalie?” Neuvirth’s outstanding play has earned him multiple shutouts with the team. He ended the 2015-2016 season with a .924 save percentage, along with 18 wins and 8 losses in 32 games played.
Dave Hakstol, the head coach for the team, is often the topic of debate amongst Flyers fans. Some say he’s the best coach the team has had since Peter Laviolette, who was fired from the team at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season after a poor 0-3 start from the team. Others are confused by the tactics of Hakstol, especially after the healthy scratch of star players such as Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny. Although the aforementioned players have made mistakes, none of them seemed worthy enough of a benching.
Many other fans have questioned his decisions to scratch Gostisbehere and Konecny but not players such as VandeVelde and Weise who have done little for the progression of the team. The argument has been made, though, that fans and media alike do not necessarily see what goes on behind the scenes and that there could be more to it. Fortunately both Gostisbehere and Konecny took the benching lightly and said it gave them time to sit down, watching plays develop from the press box and to work and improve on their game.
For those who don’t know, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol was previously employed as the head coach for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. During his time there, he coached talented players like TJ Oshie, Zach Parise and Jonathon Toews. This is an advantage for the Philadelphia Flyers who are now priding themselves on the young core of talent that they have waiting in the wings. Hakstol has had success coaching young talent and there is no reason to believe he’d do otherwise with the long list of Flyers prospects.
At the end of the day, though, this is a sport of chances and luck just as much as it is talent. Even the coldest teams can once again become hot. As the Flyers look at the playoff spots in the east from the outside looking in, fans can only hope they’ll become hot again before it’s too late. There’s always next year, right?
Sean Surer is the Director of Social Media Relations for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow the GNGHockey account on Twitter at @GNGHockey or on Facebook by searching “Good Night, Good Hockey.”