Flyers have to guard against this season turning into last season
The Philadelphia Flyers were 11-4-3 after 18 games last season and were feeling optimistic about where their team was headed.
But the optimism was misplaced.
Goalie Carter Hart and the defense started to sputter and by game 32 the team was 15-13-4. The Flyers remained at the treading water level the rest of the season, finishing at 25-23-8.
This season, the Flyers, excited by a revamped defense, started 6-2-2. But since then they have lost seven out of nine. They currently are in a five-game losing spin and fans are wondering if this is a repeat of last season.
"We’re obviously being challenged here as an organization, and we’re being stretched out as far as player personnel up here and with our farm team,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said after the Friday loss to Carolina. “It’s a challenging time but everyone has to be better and that starts with me. We have to do a better job making sure that guys perform to their level.”
The situation is different this season because Hart has been a much better goalie this season. He has come back from last season’s 3.67 goals-against average and .877 save percentage to play at a 2.67, .920 level.
“When we look at our group right now, there’s few guys in my estimation that could give us more, give us better and that’s what we gotta do,” Vigneault added. “We gotta stick together as a group. Everyone, starting with me, needs to find a way to be better, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
This season, the Flyers are struggling to score enough goals, exacerbated by a power play that is scoring at a 13.8% clip. That ranks 27th in the NHL. Their offensive production (2.84 goals per game) ranks 26th.
Those numbers make it hard to compete on a nightly basis, particularly in the Metropolitan Division.
“The power play is obviously not working, and that’s on me,” Vigneault said. “We’ve got good personnel. We’ve got guys that make the power plays perform at a high level in the past and it’s my job to do that.”
This is the longest losing streak in Vigneault’s tenure as coach. To be fair, the Flyers have been overrun by injuries. They are playing without centers Kevin Hayes and Derick Brassard. Ryan Ellis has only been healthy for four games this season. He was the new player who was supposed to do the most to change Philadelphia’s fortunes this season.
But in the NHL, you are expected to play through injuries. Isn’t that the mantra we hear from teams every season?
“The top two lines (are) not playing great,” Claude Girioux said. “ It's not line by line, I think as a team we’re flat. We’re not playing the best we can and there is a lot of frustration. We have to reset here and figure it out.
Hart doesn’t want to tie this season to last season.
"Last season is in the past,” Hart said. “We're still early in the season. We just gotta bear down and play for a full sixty. Right now pucks aren’t going in for us, but we just gotta keep working hard and stick to the process.”
The problem with that statement is that the fans’ perspective isn’t limited to the misery they feel this season. It wraps into last season’s misery and beyond.
It’s been 10 years since the Flyers won the Division. Fans want an organization that is aggressive when it comes to fixing problems. They liked the Chuck Fletcher who went out and added three defensemen last season. That doesn’t mean he needs to fire Vigneault or trade for Phil Kessel or Evander Kane today. It's still early enough to have some patience.
But my sense is fans want Fletcher and Vigneault to stay on top of things. Changing up the lines might be step one. Fans will want action if the Flyers can’t right the ship. The Flyers can’t let this season get away from them like they did last season.