As Halloween closes in the first month of the hockey season for the Philadelphia Flyers is coming to a close. It has come time to take a look at the ups and downs of the first portion of the season. So far this season the team has a record of 7-6-1.
Philadelphia Flyers Winners and Losers of October 2017
Captain Rights the Ship
Claude Giroux had suffered through a couple sub-par seasons. With a weighty contract and the “C” stitched to his chest, murmurs began about if the veteran center’s best days were behind him. After getting surgeries in several consecutive offseason’s it appears that Giroux’s injury woes were the thing that was keeping him from playing up to his potential. Playing with Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, he is on the wing now, but still taking the important face-offs. With less defensive responsibility and healthy Giroux has seven goals and nine assists, leaving him with 16 points and gets him back to the point per game pace he had been on for a good stretch of his career.
Giroux is sitting at second on the team in points. With other familiar mainstays Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere at the top, the Flyers stars are scoring. Also moving up the scoring list Couturier (currently 1st), Valtteri Filppula, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton. One of the criticisms of the Flyers teams over the past few years has been the lack of scoring up and down the lineup. With young talent like Konecny and Laughton breaking through and beginning to become more reliable; Filppula enjoying a resurgence; Couturier stepping up to the challenge of being a top line player this is an issue they are solving.
Gotsisbehere is leading the defense in providing offense from the points but isn’t alone. Ivan Provorov is starting to explore his offensive game. Young blueliners Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim are also not afraid to shoot. Radko Gudas is also a frequent shooter, who will quite literally shoot from anywhere.
Wait, Who’s in Net?
It just wouldn’t be a Flyers season without questions about goaltending. Brian Elliott signed on the first day of free agency, and Steve Mason was let go. Elliot joined the returning Michal Neuvirth in the net, though neither has had a firm grasp on a starting position in the last few seasons. Coming out of camp head coach Hakstol seems to be more comfortable with Elliottt as his starter for now. Elliott’s stats are unimpressive (3.11 GAA and .892 SV%) but he’s 5-3-1. Neuvirth is only 2-3 but with stat line (1.83 GAA and .941 SV%) more in line with that of a starter. If Elliott’s play does not improve, look for Neuvirth to get more starts and even more of a controversy to brew.
The bug bit before the season. Next goalie up Anthony Stolarz is on IR and figures to stay there for a long time following knee surgery. Nolan Patrick is on the IR and missed the last week of play. Andrew MacDonald joins him on IR and will stay there for four to six weeks. Shayne Gostisbehere is currently battling injury and didn’t make the team’s road trip. Gudas is out with the dreaded upper-body injury as well. Forced lineup changes aren’t helpful in an effort to get off to a good start. Dipping into the AHL isn’t a recipe for success.
The Orange – Things To Watch
The Young are Coming
NBC Sports had a preview of the young guns, focusing on the Flyers defense this season. After Shayne Gostisbehere produced as a rookie, he opened the doors to the Flyers employing young talent. The next year Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny showed the growing pains of playing rookies, but mostly impressed. Both now are regular contributors. Taylor Leier is showing well in his first extended look in the NHL. Jordan Weal, one of the AHL’s leading scorers last season, has a permanent place after a late season call-up.
This year the youth movement continued. Nolan Patrick was the 2nd overall pick in the draft, and before his injury was the subject of much excitement. Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg made their NHL debuts and look to be fixtures on the blue line. Two young AHL guys in Mark Alt and Will O’Neill were called up due to injuries. Last night the Flyers skated four defensemen with less than 15 games of service (Hagg, Alt, Sanheim, O’Neill) There is no going back now for Ron Hextall and the Flyers.
Hakstol’s Defining Year?
Dave Hakstol is the coach who will help develop the Flyers young talent and will implement a new system. This will help further separate the Flyers from their past and bring them into the modern age of hockey. That was the billing given to the coach after Ron Hextall lured him from North Dakota in the NCAA. They squeaked into the playoffs during his opening season despite finishing fifth in the Metropolitan division. The next year the Flyers fell to sixth and missed the playoffs.
Hakstol isn’t coming up on an expiring contract. To improve is expected from the third year coach. The criticism from Shayne Gostisbehere, Michal Neuvirth, and Steve Mason from exit interviews, ended thoughts of him as a players coach. Travis Konecny found himself a healthy scratch despite productivity. That flies in the face of the label of a talent developer. Ask a fan about Hakstol’s use of Chris VandeVelde in 81 games last season.
Coaching criticism is a staple of Philly sports. Hakstol has subjected himself to a large portion of it. Bleacher Report even included him on their list of coaches on the hot seat prior to the start of the season. His ice-cold demeanor has drawn the ire of fans. His lineup decisions are confusing at best. Goalie management is a juggling act. He has been unwilling to name a true starter. If the Flyers falter, more blame is going to fall on Hak, who should begin to feel the heat.
Watch out for The Good and Bad of the Philadelphia Flyers every 10-15 games for updates on these stories and other developments as the season progresses here at Last Word On Hockey.