The Philadelphia Flyers’ first month of the regular season was a rollercoaster ride. It’s still hard to get a read on what this team really is. Are they still a fringe playoff team? Could they make a run for the second or third spot in the division? There is still much uncertainty and the month of October didn’t give us a concrete answer.
It’s not a big surprise that the team battled early on. With a new coach, new system, new lines, and pairs, there is an adjustment period. But that wasn’t the only thing going against them. The schedule was less than desirable.
After opening the season in Prague, the Flyers returned home for a game against the Devils which they won in decisive fashion. Things were looking good, but the team hit the road and traveled out West to face the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers. They played a solid game against Vancouver but were a victim of a brilliant performance by Jacob Markstrom and eventually fell in the shootout.
The Flyers played their first poor game of the year against the Flames, only managing 22 shots on goal and going 0/4 on the power play. They gave up an early goal to Michael Frolik and never came back from it, falling 3-1.
Seeking a bounce back, the Flyers came out strong against the Oilers, peppering Mikko Koskinen with a season-high 52 shots, but were at the mercy of Connor McDavid, who notched five points and handed the Flyers a 6-3 loss.
The Flyers had once again left everyone’s brain in a pretzel because they had legitimately played well with the exception of one game, but only had a 2-2-1 record to show for. Once again, a new coach and a new system can take a lot of time to adjust to, and the Flyers had traveled a lot since their opener in Prague, so they got the benefit of the doubt. For reference, the Blackhawks had a seven-game homestand when they returned from Europe.
The Flyers came home to host the Dallas Stars and played well once again, but the Stars capitalized on their chances and downed them 4-1. At this point, the Flyers’ record was not reflective of their play. They were generating scoring chances, controlling play, moving the puck well, but had lapses defensively and weren’t getting the goaltending at key moments in games.
The bright side? The Flyers won their next three games, beating the Golden Knights, Blackhawks and Blue Jackets, scoring 17 goals.
Unfortunately, the Orange & Black fell flat on their face against division rivals, losing 5-3 against the Islanders (although the score makes it seem closer than it really was) and getting smoked 7-1 by Pittsburgh.
At the end of October, the team was 5-5-1. Considering all the changes and the way they had played, it seemed like a fair record. Alain Vigneault said it took the Rangers until Christmas to figure out his system and start stringing wins together. He wasn’t lying, in Vigneault’s first year with New York, the team was 5-7-0 after October and 18-18-2 heading into Christmas. They finished the year 45-31-6, second in the division and eventually went to the Stanley Cup Final.
There has been a lot of roster and line shuffling under AV, and with good reason, he is trying to find balance within the lineup.
So far, the only line that appears to be consistent has been the trio of Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny. This isn’t much of a surprise, Couturier is one of the best two-way players in the NHL and makes everyone around him better. Konecny & Lindblom were among the young players predicted to have breakout years. Lindblom is more underrated, but the Flyers know they have a legitimate player in him, and he has been solid in all areas early on.
Konecny has been outstanding all year. He is constantly creating chances for his linemates and finished the month of October with 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in 11 games. He is taking a huge step forward for the team, relieving some of the pressure from the other top guys.
The goaltending has had its ups and downs. Elliott and Hart have been a solid tandem, with the exception of a few games here and there. On most nights, they’ve given the Flyers a chance to win and have come up with big saves in important moments (Hart’s save on the 5-on-3 PK against the Devils). Their numbers are still mediocre, but I would say it’s mostly due to the few terrible games they’ve had where they really got crushed.
The special teams have also been much better. A big issue with the 2018-19 team was the lackluster power play and penalty kill. In October, they were 23.8% on the power play, due in large part to having two competent units, even though the first unit has struggled at times. The penalty kill was at 85.3%, killing off 29 of 34 penalties. This is where the Kevin Kayes signing looks good. He leads all Flyers forwards in PK time on ice with 29 minutes and had a clutch shorthanded goal against Columbus. The forwards have been great at smothering the opponents on the man advantage and have been much more aggressive, something the team severely lacked in past seasons.
The offensive output hasn’t been as apparent. Guys like Giroux, Voracek, van Riemsdyk, Hayes and even Couturier have struggled to produce on a game to game basis, but they are getting quality chances and will eventually start cashing in more often.
As for the defensive corps, there is still a lot of work to be done. At times they appear to be in sync, moving the puck up the ice with pace, and other nights they look completely lost. They will eventually figure it out, they are young and are prone to have bad nights and make mistakes, but the talent is there and I think that they’ve done a good job, in general, at keeping chances to the outside, but the net-front area can still be improved.
The Flyers have been better as of late, starting November 4-0-1, but are facing a very tough part of their schedule.
After defeating the Leafs last night, they are right back at it against the Bruins tonight and face off against the first-place Capitals on Wednesday. They will then head to Ottawa on Friday night and come back home Saturday to play the surging Islanders. This stretch might give us a better idea about what the team is truly capable of, but again, it’s still early in the season.