These are trying times for Philadelphia fans. The Phillies just had the worst record in baseball, the Sixers look like they have begun Tank 3.0 and the Eagles have played well below expectations. So would it be too much to ask for at least one Philadelphia team to not disappoint us? Hey, well, how about the Flyers?
It was only a short time ago that the Flyers were playing some pretty decent hockey. For the first time in a long time, there was actually some real optimism that the team could possibly compete at a decent level this season and maybe even make the playoffs. That was before a five-game tailspin that has left the team reeling and fans disgusted again. So what happened? Here are my top four reasons why the Flyers are struggling so badly right now.
1 – The Big Guns are Silent
The following numbers speak volumes about where the team is offensively after the first twelve games. Yet given all the problems they face, this may be the least of their concerns. These players are all proven scorers, and sooner or later it is most likely (barring injury) that they will produce again at their normal levels.
Player G A P +/-
Voracek 0 4 4 -6
Simmonds 1 5 6 -8
Del Zotto 0 1 1 -6
Raffle 0 1 1 -1
Giroux 4 2 6 -5
2 – They are Getting Outshot Big Time
Shots on goal is a stat that rarely tells the whole story- after all, hypothetically you could be outshot 50-1 and still win a game 1-0. However, the SOG stat usually does indicate the level of play that has taken place. And the level of play we are seeing from the Flyers right now is not very good.
In this case, the numbers really do tell the story. In this recent five game losing streak, the Flyers have been outshot by a whopping 192 to 139, and this does clearly indicate what is happening on the ice. Opponents have been spending most of the time skating in the Flyers defensive zone and firing away. If not for the excellent goaltending of Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason, the goal differential could be much worse than it has been.
In the current losing streak, this has particularly been a problem during the first period. Here the Flyers have actually been doubled-up in shots – 68 to 34. The most glaring example of this was when the Flyers were outshot 19-2 in the first period at Edmonton. And no less than 15 of those 19 shots were excellent scoring chances to boot.
3 – Injuries Reveal the Lack of Depth
Perhaps the main difference in the quality of play from the beginning of the season until now is due to three significant injuries. Key injuries to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Sean Couturier, and Evgeny Medvedev have forced Coach Dave Hakstol to play guys who are normally healthy scratches, and to juggle lines and defensive pairings. Young defenseman Brandon Manning has struggled badly, particularly in the defensive zone. Nick Schultz has not fared well either. And Vinny Lecavalier appears to have lost more than a step and often cannot keep up with the speed of play. Salary cap issues are probably the main culprit in the team’s lack of depth. But it seems pretty clear that if the Flyers continue to suffer injuries (as they most certainly will), that there is simply not enough depth on the bench to keep the team from struggling.
4 – Special Teams are Anything But Special
This has been a big problem, especially with the penalty kill. And the problem has been exacerbated by a number of needless penalties the team is taking. Take the Edmonton game for example. During their shorthanded time, the Flyers allowed no fewer than 21 shot attempts, 13 shots on goal, and 12 good or excellent scoring chances. Now clearly the return of Sean Couturier will help, but it looks like the problem is bigger than that. The Flyers PK appears to be very non-aggressive right now (perhaps due to the personnel that are being used), and opponents are easily getting set up in the zone, and then just wailing away.
What started out as a hopeful early October has now morphed into a very disappointing early November for Flyers fans. So the question is, can they turn this mess around? Getting key players back from injuries could help. And through it all, the goaltending has been superb. So if the Flyers can somehow avoid more serious injuries, if the goal scorers can begin to actually score goals, and if Ron Hextall can work his magic and clear some salary cap space to add a little depth, maybe, just maybe there is some hope after all. On the other hand, if not, we could be in for just one more long dreary frustration season. So what else is new, Philadelphia?