In their two games to start the 2019-20 season, the Flyers have done a lot of things right on the ice, both small and large. For staters, the new line combinations are looking awfully good together. I certainly wouldn’t have expected the dominance we have seen so far while Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier have been separated. Both against the Blackhawks and the Devils, the Kevin Hayes ‘first line’ and Couturier’s ‘second line’ completely outplayed their competition (even if the Hayes line was not matched up against Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat line).
Especially in last night’s matchup with the Devils, the trio of Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny dominated all three periods in a manner that we have not seen in a while from a Flyers team. They posted a 89.47% Corsi-for, 39.47% relative to teammates. The Hayes line, while mainly matched up against the Hischier line, registered a Corsi-for of 58.82%. Even the fourth line is managing to break even — in 5:10 total minutes of ice time, their Corsi-for stayed at 50.00%.
The possession numbers highlight a key difference in this year’s team. These numbers, of course, are a product of the players on the ice and are a measurement of their skill. However, as we saw before under Dave Hakstol’s system, great play can be marred somewhat by poor coaching. What is different this year is that Alain Vigneault is putting his players in the best position to succeed. The Flyers have seemingly overnight became forechecking demons, consistently frustrating the Devils by causing turnover after turnover. The Flyers have finally been able to break free and play fast while also ramping up their aggression, something Hakstol was the antithesis of. Vigneault has put them in the best position to succeed.
Yet, this goes beyond simple systems and hockey tactics. I’m confident that any coach with a vague sense of how this team can function at its best would make the same changes as Vigneault. However, something feels unquantifiable about these past two victories, especially over the Devils. I could feel it by simply listening to the crowd after the second period. You could hear it through the broadcast. This team doesn’t just want to win, but they care about winning.
What I mean by this is that the Flyers didn’t simply approach last night as if it were any regular game. They know that in order to truly attract people to this team, and to get them back on board, they needed to have a good start. They couldn’t just lose the home opener and then win in western Canada. They needed to put on a show, and put on a show they did.
As much as Vigneault has changed how this hockey team plays, he’s certainly seemed to do a 180 on the culture of this franchise. While I don’t think this is 100% all of Vigneault, I believe he certainly has had a lot to do with it. I know that it is a tried and tested hockey cliché, but the Flyers left it all out on the ice last night and showed some heart. They weren’t just dominating by possession metrics and playing fun, fast, attacking hockey, but they are doing it with a passion.
This may be projecting a bit, but I think that all of the players as well as the front office staff and coaches know how frustrated the fanbase has been for the past few years. I mean, it’s painfully obvious given all of the “fire Hakstol” chants that were heard at the Wells Fargo Center. So, with that in mind, I think the team went out there with the emphasis on winning for the fans. That’s the kind of attitude that Philadelphia has been waiting for. It’s winning hard, and winning smart: that’s a bias for action.