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Have your expectations for this year's Flyers team already shifted?

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The Flyers' first four games have left a lot of people really optimistic for what's to come with this team. Should we already be re-adjusting our expectations for this Flyers team?

"So, Michal, you're gonna do this every game, right?"
"So, Michal, you're gonna do this every game, right?"
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last Thursday evening I took some time to speak with friend of the blog Steve Jacot, of Pattison Avenue and Flyperbole (and former Flyers Faithful) fame, on his podcast known as the Flyperbolecast. We talked about the Flyers' respectable start to the season, among other things, and a good time was had by all.

As the show came near a close (around the 44-minute mark on the recording), Steve's last real question for me was the one that most of us have surely spent a lot of this five-day break pondering: "It's a great start for the Flyers, but how damn good is this team, really? And should we get excited? Should we think this is a playoff team?"

As an unprepared nincompoop like myself would, I rambled along for a couple of minutes before giving a fairly noncommittal answer along the lines of "I don't know, maybe it's a little bit better but probably not by much, even though the team is more fun". I thought about it after I hung up on that call, though, and still am kind of wondering.

To frame this in a bit of a different way, here's what I'm really asking: if you're to grant that most Flyers fans probably didn't go into this season with particularly high expectations, should our opinions of this team be changed much based on four mostly-good games of hockey?

I have some thoughts about this, and I'll frame them in the form of my own inner monologue between The Voice Of Relentless Optimism and The Voice Of Grumpy Skepticism.

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The Voice Of Relentless Optimism: It's tough not to be excited, isn't it? This team's played four games, and three of them -- including two against last season's Cup finalists -- are ones in which they've played pretty well throughout, picking up five of six points in the process. This is about as good of a start as anyone can hope for, isn't it? How can that not leave you excited for what's to come?

The Voice Of Grumpy Skepticism: First of all, let's not pretend that 7-1 loss didn't happen. We're talking about a team that has played in four games and won two of them, and is currently rocking a negative goal differential. Let's not get carried away here. And even if they'd won all four games to open the season ... it's four games. Four. Games. Remember when Peter Laviolette was fired after three losses and everyone agreed it was an overreaction and a panic move? How would shifting expectations after a 2-1-1 start be much different than that?

Optimism: I mean, the results of four games only go so far, sure. But look at this team. Look at how different they seem from last year's. They're active! They're fun! The defensive coverage hasn't been terrible! They played against good teams and didn't just rely on their goaltender playing out of his mind for them to get a point!

Skepticism: You saw the part where they had two shutouts, right? One of which was a 1-0 win? That (a) is obviously unsustainable, and (b) sure seems like the goaltender playing out of his mind being the main reason for wins to me. Like, the Flyers haven't won a game yet in which the other team has scored a goal. Easy, now.

Optimism: Yes, two shutouts have gone a long way. But at the same time, those two wins were also ones in which the Flyers were definitely the better team through at least the first two periods of the game. They easily could've scored two or three more in each of those games than they did.

Skepticism: Maybe. As is, though, they've only scored more than two goals in a game once so far, and they've averaged just one 5-on-5 goal per game. The goalies are going to give up goals eventually and we're going to need to see the goals come in order to make up for it.

Optimism: Sure, but they're going to come. Right now their team-level shooting percentage is actually lower than their team-level save percentage (graph via hockeyviz.com). Not to mention, they are where they are even though their best forwards aren't scoring like we know they can. Claude Giroux only has one goal and one assist, Wayne Simmonds has two assists, Jake Voracek has a single assist -- we agree those guys are all but ensured to pick it up soon, yes?

Skepticism: But at the same time, can't we probably expect this defense to start playing at the level we expected it to? Even without Andrew MacDonald or even Luke Schenn, there are a number of guys here who are probably going to regress a bit. Which is all to say nothing about how rough Nick Schultz and, to a lesser extent, Mark Streit have started out -- if those guys can't fight off the aging curve and maintain the levels they played at last year, it'll almost certainly get worse before it gets any better.

Optimism: Maybe. But with how good Evgeny Medvedev has looked, that group might be able to just stay afloat, and could that be enough in a Metropolitan Division hat looks a bit less formidable right now than it did at this time two weeks ago? Pittsburgh has been underwhelming. New Jersey and Carolina have pretty much been as expected (which is to say, bad). And Columbus -- everyone's favorite sleeper team! -- is an unrelenting garbage fire, sitting on an 0-6-0 record while cancelling team dinners and talking about how little confidence they have. How much better does this Flyers team need to be to put some distance between themselves and these other schmoes?

Skepticism: Again, we're talking about four games here. Fun as it is to joke about, Mayonnaise Boy is eventually going to start scoring points, and the wins will come as his scoring does. Columbus has been terrible (and, to be honest, I wasn't very high on them coming into the year), but eventually Sergei Bobrovsky is going to start stopping pucks for them, and even with their defense being what it is (it's bad), they will be more of a threat than they've looked to be so far. It just goes to show: it's way, way too early to be making serious judgments on any team, let alone an entire division.

Optimism: Maybe. But so far, a lot has broken right, and it's led far more of us to believe what the optimists of the fanbase had thought coming in to the year. This team, personnel-wise, is better this year than it was last year in all three areas -- Sam Gagner and an improved Scott Laughton and R.J. Umberger make the forwards better, Medvedev in for Nick Grossmann and MacDonald being out improves the defense, and even when Michal Neuvirth cools off, it's hard not to see the goaltending as better with how much of an improvement he'll be over Ray Emery.

Combine that with a power play that's still filthy, a penalty kill that appears to be back to pre-2014-15 levels, a coach in Dave Hakstol whose teachings and system already seem to be paying off, and a division that has -- so far -- not lived up to expectations. All in all there's a lot to be excited about for this season -- surely, more than most had anticipated.

Skepticism: Yep. A lot has gone right for the team so far. But isn't that kind of the point at hand here? This team's going to have ebbs and flows. It'll probably have multiple winning streaks and losing streaks of four-plus games this year alone -- we aren't going to be drastically shifting expectations after each of those, are we?

We're just not even close to the point at which we can start to believe that what we're seeing in the short-term should outweigh what we've been believing in the long-term. I had them at 85 to 86 points coming into this season, and I'm not ready to move off of that just yet. The team's undoubtedly been more fun than last year's version, and I've enjoyed what I've seen so far -- but I need to see a lot more of it before I really, truly buy in on them being significantly better.

***

After arguing with myself on this for a long time, I think I ultimately lean closer to the side of skepticism. We're five percent of the way through the season and there's still so much that we need to see in order to be more sure about. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be enjoying what we've seen so far, though -- and even with my skepticism noted, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if this team continues to be more fun to watch this year than it was last year.

What say you, though? Have your expectations for this team already changed for the better? Let us know in the poll below.