With a 7-6-2 record, the Flyers are off to their best start of the Dave Hakstol era, and their best since 2014-15 (when they also started 7-6-2). While their start isn’t going to blow anyone away, it’s good enough to keep them in the thick of things in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Somehow, between all of the referee controversies and missed opportunities against bad teams (looking at you, Arizona Coyotes), they sit just two points out of first place. Per usual, the Flyers have been a mixed bag of good and bad, and there are many questions from the Flyers’ up-and-down start. With that said, some things have become very clear through their first 15 games of the season.
The move to left wing has helped Giroux’s resurgence
Who knew that the top line left wing we’ve been searching for has been on the team this whole time?
It’s no secret that Giroux is off to a great start playing the left wing on the Flyers’ top line. Since Sean Couturier has taken the defensive load off Giroux’s shoulders, the Flyers’ captain has been able to focus on creating offense – and he’s done just that. Besides his lessened defensive responsibility, the move to left wing has given Giroux a new perspective; it allows him to see the ice in ways that he has never seen before. With eight goals on the season already (six short of his entire 2016-17 season total of 14), the 29-year-old has been noticeably quicker and is getting into those dirty areas that he simply couldn’t get into last year, when he was recovering from a hip injury.
Giroux’s move to the wing is similar to the Red Wings moving their captain Henrik Zetterberg to left wing last season. Despite Detroit’s poor 2016-17 season, the move paid off for Zetterberg, as he improved his point total from 50 (13G, 37A) in 2015-16 to 68 points (17G, 51A) in 2016-17.
The top line is among the NHL’s best
As Giroux is enjoying a great start to the 2017 season, the same can be said for the Flyers’ top line as a whole. With Giroux sliding over to the left wing, Sean Couturier has finally been given the chance to produce offensively. For the first time in years, Couturier hasn’t been used exclusively as a lockdown third center that starts most of his shifts in the defensive zone. As the number one center, Couturier has rewarded the Flyers with 18 points (9G, 9A) and a whopping +11 through 15 games. At 24 years old, Couturier (who is already a seven-year veteran) is on pace to obliterate his personal records in points (39 in 2015-16) and goals (15 in 2014-15).
With Giroux and Couturier lighting up the score sheet with a combined 17 goals, Jake Voracek’s red-hot start has fallen under the radar. He already has 15 assists which puts him second in the league, just behind the scorching-hot Steven Stamkos. After a goal-less streak to start the season, Voracek has added three goals over the past six games.
As a whole, the Flyers top line of Giroux (17 pts), Couturier (18 pts), and Voracek (18 pts) are all among the league’s top-ten in points. They are also second among lines in production with a combined 53 points, behind just Tampa Bay’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov (who have a combined 62 points).
Shayne Gostisbehere is more vital than we thought
The Flyers defense has fallen victim to the injury bug early on this season, with three starters in Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald, and Shayne Gostisbehere all missing time. Let’s talk about Gostisbehere’s absence first.
After taking a dirty hit from Toronto’s Leo Komarov and likely suffering a concussion, Gostisbehere missed three games before returning to the ice on Saturday against the Avalanche. In those three games, the absence of Gostisbehere was glaring. The way he is able to begin the Flyers’ breakout is something that cannot be replaced (especially not by Mark Alt and Will O’Neill) and can be taken for granted until it’s not there. Gostisbehere is essential to the Flyers’ success.
Ivan Provorov is a star
Constantly overlooked by national media, it seems like only Flyers’ fans really know how good Ivan Provorov is. He is, undoubtedly, the most important defenseman in the Flyers’ possession. At just 20 years old, Provorov has been the Flyers number-one defenseman for almost a year now. Despite being asked to play at least 25 minutes a night at the tender age of 20, he has turned in nearly flawless performances each game.
Lately, even more pressure has been on Provorov than usual, as the Flyers have dealt with a plethora of injuries on defense. Over the past five games, Provorov has topped 27 minutes in each of them, including a career-high 29:51 minutes against the Blackhawks. Perhaps his best game this season was in the Flyers’ gutsy 2-0 win in St. Louis last Thursday. Provorov was in the line of fire that whole night, where he finished with a career-high 10 blocks.
The goaltenders are what we thought they would be
Coming into the season with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers knew what they were getting in net: average goaltending. Through 15 games, the goaltenders have combined for a .907 save percentage and a 2.80 GAA, which is good enough for 11th-best in the league. This is exactly what should have expected out of the Flyers’ netminders; goaltending that’s good enough to win, but not necessarily great enough to carry a team. Not to say there haven’t been games where Elliott and Neuvirth haven’t been great (see: the 6-2 loss to Anaheim, the 6-5 loss to Nashville, and the shootout loss to Colorado), but they’ve been good enough to keep the Flyers in almost every game, and that’s all you can ask for out of these two. What you see is what you get.
Overall, the Flyers’ 7-6-2 record isn’t an accurate representation of how they’ve played through 15 games. Without a late-game challenge that cost them at least a point and without what seems like every bad bounce and questionable call going against them, this team could easily have nine or ten wins. The offense is in much better shape than a year ago, with the top line operating at a pace we have not seen in quite some time. The fourth line is light-years ahead of the one they iced last year, as this line can actually spend time in the offensive zone and use their speed to create chances. The middle-six has a good mix of speed and scoring, with catalysts like Jordan Weal and Travis Konecny, and solid veterans in Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds. This is a middle-six that has been without Nolan Patrick, who from his nine games played has shown he can hold his own in this league as a 19-year-old rookie, for the past few games.
On defense, Shayne Gostisbehere has rebounded from a tough 2016-17 season and is among the leaders in points by a defenseman. Ivan Provorov has continued to prove that he is on his way to becoming an elite defenseman in this league and Robert Hagg has been nothing short of solid in all phases of his game.
Although this team has suffered some tough losses over the past week, there shouldn’t be any reason to hit the panic button on this Flyers team. Dave Hakstol’s club has shown they can skate with every team they have played so far and have only registered one really poor game so far. This team should be in the thick of a playoff race in a tough Metropolitan Division come wintertime.