I let it happen again. I allowed myself to be fooled by the Flyers fast start. I allowed myself to believe that this year’s version of the Flyers was somehow different then the teams of the past three years. I allowed myself to believe that maybe I undervalued the talent on this team. Maybe all the people who were crying that former coach Craig Berube was the main reason why the Flyers were under performing were right. Maybe I was wrong when I would argue with people that Berube wasn’t the problem, it was the team’s lack of talent. Under new coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers seemed to be a different team with a different feel to it. They seemed to play with more of a purpose and with more passion. They seemed to respond to adversity better. After getting thumped by the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida 7-1, the Flyers responded well in their rematch with the Panthers, defeating them 1-o in Philadelphia. They came back from a two goal third period defecit against the Boston Bruins and skated with and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers. The Flyers were sitting at 4-2-1 and held the first wildcard position in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It made one wonder if maybe this team would exceed expectations and give the city of Philadelphia a much needed lift after the poor performances by the Eagles and the Philles.
All of that has gone by the wayside after the team’s recent abysmal performance against the Edmonton Oilers. The Flyers were out shot by a pathetic 20-2 margin in the first period and 48/22 for the game against an Edmonton team that isn’t exactly setting the rest of the league on fire with a 5-8-0 record. After their 4-2-1 start, the Flyers now sit at 4-6-2 and in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division and in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with only Columbus and Toronto behind them in the standings. What once seemed like a season with some promise is quickly deteriorating into, at least for me personally, “hmmm, who’s coming out in the 2016 draft?” It’s definitely too early for such talk, but when you look at how the Flyers have performed over the course of the past five games, the thought starts to creep in to the back of one’s mind.
The flaws that were a big part of the Flyers game last year are all starting to creep back in to their game, and on top of that, some new one’s are starting to surface. The Flyers penalty killing was at the bottom of the league last year and is again, ranked 21st in the league. The Flyers finished 23rd in the league in goals scored last year, they now sit at 29th in the league, only averaging two goals a game. The league average is 2.75 goals a game. The Flyers power play finished third in the league last year, this year they are ranked 28th. They are ranked 25th in team defense giving up 3.08 goals a game. All the stats are trending downward for the Flyers. This can not be laid at the feet of Hakstol though. He is only 12 games in to his first professional season and needs to be given time to implement his system.
Part of the reason for the Flyers offensive woes is the lack of scoring from their top line. Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek have yet to score this year and Claude Giroux has only three goals. This is not to say that the Flyers top line isn’t playing well though. Both Voracek and Raffl are at the top of the team leader board in shots on goal and scoring chances. The law of averages says that both will start to score at some point this year. The Flyers will probably continue to struggle defensively because their defensive corps is one of the worst in the league and is sorely lacking in the way of speed and puck moving ability. The lone bright spot on the team has been the area of the team that had been it’s achillies heal for years which is it’s goaltending. Other than the second game of the season against Florida, the Flyers goaltending has been outstanding this year. Michal Neuvirth turned in another superb performance against the Oilers turning aside 46 of 48 Oiler shots.
The thing that really sticks in my crawl about the Flyers of the last few years though, and the thing that I think is the biggest problem with this team is it’s tendency to play to the level of their competition. So far this year the Flyers are 3-2-1 against teams that made the playoffs last year. Against non-playoff teams from last year they are 2-6. It’s a maddening trend that borders on infuriating. What’s more infuriating is that Flyer fans try and talk themselves in to thinking this means the Flyers are a good team that is capable of playing with the big boys of the NHL. It doesn’t and they are not. Plain and Simple. I’ve said this before and it annoys people but, I’ll say it again. The Flyers, as they are constituted right now, are not a good team. Last year people tried to blame this on coaching. Saying that Craig Berube wasn’t doing a good enough job of motivating the team against lesser competition. Well, here we sit one year later with a different coach yet the results are still the same. The Flyers play well against the good teams and bad against the bad teams. As I’ve illustrated previously in this article, coaching is not the problem. So what is it then?
It’s plain and simple: the Flyers lack talent. To all the people who try and argue that the Flyers’ record against good NHL teams means the Flyers are a good team have you given this any thought? Have you ever considered the fact that maybe the better teams in the league don’t exactly circle the Flyers on their calendar? That they don’t exactly save their A game for the Flyers? Even the absolute worst teams in the league can get up for certain games and beat the better teams in the league on any given night. They can even play well for a stretch of games. But, in today’s NHL with so many good teams and with so much parity, you need to be consistent for an 82 game season. You can’t afford to go hot and cold like the Flyers have had a tendency to do the last couple of years. You need to find ways to win games when you don’t have your A game. You need to find ways to beat the Carolinas and Torontos of the league along with the Chicagos and Rangers.
And a lot of that comes down to talent. If you have talent you can play an average or even a below average game but, because you have talent and game breakers, you can hang in a game even though you aren’t playing well and then as soon as your opponent makes a mistake, one of your game breakers can pounce on it and change the course of the game. When you watch the Flyers play, they have to work so hard for every shot on goal, every scoring chance, every goal. If they let down even a little bit, more times than not they get beat. Other than a few players, the Flyers don’t have game breakers who can instantly change the course of a game. Monday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks was a perfect example of this. After a rough start, the Flyers settled down and carried the play for most of the rest of the game. But a breakdown here, a turnover there and next thing you know you are looking at a 4-1 defeat.
Being that the Flyers are basically the same team as they were last year, none of this is going to change. When the Flyers get up for certain games and they are on their game, they will look like a good team that can challenge for a playoff spot. But, when for whatever reason their game is off or they are playing a team like the Buffalo Sabers who are tough to get motivated for because they finished with the worst record in hockey last year, the Flyers will look very ordinary. As painful as it may be for us to accept, that’s the reality of the Flyers situation. And it’s not going to change until the process of purging the bad contracts this team has combined with bringing up the young talent in the system to the NHL club. Since Vincent Lecavalier, R.J. Umberger, Mark Streit and Nick Schultz are all still on this team and Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are still in the minors or still with their Junior teams, that process hasn’t started yet. Until it does, the Flyers will remain a mediocore NHL team at best.
I won’t get fooled again.