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I’ve got several questions about where these Flyers are going. Fortunately, I’ve got an expert in the field. Drew from our sister website Broad Street Hockey is here to answer every one of my five questions.
Thanks to Drew for his time.
Copper and Blue: It’s early in the season, but special teams seem to be humming right along in Philadelphia. As of this question, the Flyers have a 40% success rate with the extra skater. What’s been contributing to that success?
Broad Street Hockey: The Flyers have always had at least a decent PP1 with Claude Giroux as its main quarterback. With their top end talent, this has been the case for a number of years now. However, what’s changed this year is that we’ve seen the emergence of the second unit. Previously, the Flyers’ power play was solely reliant on the first unit, and the second unit was simply thrown out whenever the core players were tired. They are actually producing goals now! This can be attributed to a number of things. The most obvious change is that the Flyers have brought in a defenceman with power play experience in Matt Niskanen, and he’ll have certainly helped the group congeal together with his leadership. They have also shifted Sean Couturier on to the second unit for the time being with Kevin Hayes taking his place. Travis Konecny, who has been red hot to start the season, has already tallied three points on the man advantage. All of these players contributing on the second unit, plus the change in power play coaching from Kris Knoblauch to Michel Therrien, has resulted in a great start for the Flyers’ special teams.
Copper and Blue: Let’s talk about the goaltending situation in Philadelphia. The Oilers will probably trot out Mikko Koskinen tonight, while the Flyers will likely counter with Carter Hart. Hart had a pretty stellar rookie campaign, posting a .917 SV% in 2018-19. Is Hart the answer to Philadelphia’s goaltending carousel of years past?
Broad Street Hockey: 100%. He absolutely is.
Hart has gotten off to a great start this year, and he’s shown us exactly why he took the team by storm last year. His tracking of the puck is simply put: outstanding. It’s near impossible to score on him when his eyes aren’t taken away. Even when he hasn’t been at his absolute best, Hart has still been a very good NHL goaltender. He makes difficult saves look easy, and on occasion he’ll just do something that’ll take your breath away. You’re going to be seeing replays of his save on Taylor Hall in the Flyers’ season opener over and over again.
Copper and Blue: On defence, Shayne Gostisbehere is currently fifth in average time on ice among Flyers D. He’s pulling more than a minute less than his closest teammate in Justin Braun. Is there a reason he’s being played at third pair minutes, or is this just a freak early season anomaly?
Broad Street Hockey: Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun have played very well together, as well as to a lesser degree, Travis Sanheim and Matt Niskanen. Provorov and Braun together have averaged out a 64.41% Corsi-for percentage (CF%) at five on five play over the Flyers’ first three games. Sanheim and Niskanen measure in at 56.94 CF% 5v5. This shows that both pairs are positively affecting play, and it is backed up by the eye test. This brings me to Gostisbehere, who has been paired with Robert Hagg (whom many Flyers fans are shocked is even in the lineup in the first place). Hagg has looked bad by both the eye test and by the numbers. Hagg comes in at a 46.43 CF% 5v5, which indicates he is negatively impacting play. He is driving down the pairing’s statistical profile (49.69 CF% 5v5) and is likely driving down Gostisbehere’s individual statistical performance. Ghost’s individual possession metrics have him at 52.94 CF% 5v5, but I think he’s played better than that. In short, I’d say Gostisbehere’s usage has been affected by the stellar play of the other pairs, as well as the fact he has been dragged down by Hagg.
Copper and Blue: We must ask: What are the Flyers thinking by signing Chris Stewart to a one year deal on Tuesday?
Broad Street Hockey: Well, you’ve stumped me on this one. This wouldn’t have made me mad were it a two-way contract, however, it’s not! Stewart is here to stay, and he only serves as another plug in the way of Joel Farabee being on this roster. It appears that Stewart has taken the place of Connor Bunnaman, so that only moves Farabee down the line further. That’s the thing that is most frustrating. Sure, the 12th or 13th forward probably doesn’t have much impact on any particular game as a whole, but this lineup could be far better optimized without Stewart, and a prospect could be playing there instead! Trust me, I know Chris Stewart is not a good hockey player. Before covering the Flyers with Broad Street Hockey, I covered the United Kingdom’s EIHL since I live in the U.K. I had the (dis)pleasure of watching Stewart play for the Nottingham Panthers, and he didn’t play at all well. The only other player to make the jump from the EIHL to at least an NHL training camp is Coyotes prospect Liam Kirk, and I can guarantee you Kirk has a better chance at contributing something tangible to an NHL roster than Stewart.
Copper and Blue: Finally, are the Flyers a playoff club this year? Why or why not?
Broad Street Hockey: I believe they will be.
Going into the season, we had four main questions/problem areas:
- Goaltending - will Carter Hart continue to be Carter Hart
- Will the 2C role be adequately filled?
- Will special teams finally step up?
- Will some of the Flyers’ young players finally take steps forward?
As of right now, the answer to all four of these questions is yes.
- As I mentioned before, Carter Hart has been spectacular so far.
- Kevin Hayes, who was brought in to play the 2C role, has been spectacular as well. Hayes has essentially played the 1C role with the way Alain Vigneault has set up the forward lines, and is playing like a legitimate top center certainly from a possession and play driving perspective.
- As I also mentioned before, the power play setup being ran by Michel Therrien has worked very well so far. However, what is more notable is the penalty kill. The Flyers have killed off eight of nine penalties that they have faced (88.89%), including a spectacular five on three opportunity against the Devils that brought the Wells Fargo Center to its feet.
- Travis Konecny has six points in three games, Oskar Lindblom is driving play at a ridiculous rate (68.49 CF% 5v5), and Travis Sanheim is looking like a legitimate top four defenseman.
All of these concerns have been met positively so far, and given this, I think the Flyers should certainly make the playoffs given these remain consistent.
Thanks to Drew for his time.
Follow Drew on Broad Street Hockey,
or on Twitter @DrewMeyerHockey