If you had told me a few weeks ago that my position on the Flyers would be that they’ve played just OK I would not have believed you. Through the start of the season they were dominating teams from both a shot quantity and shot quality standpoint, and while their record might not have popped off of the page, they looked like a much improved team from a year ago.
But then they played a poor game versus the Islanders, followed it up with a disastrous game against the Penguins in which they were scored on seven times, and things began to snowball a bit. Suddenly those then-league best underlying numbers can start to look more like an unusually hot start from a perpetual slow-starter.
Yet, their first nine-or-so games can’t just be all smoke and mirrors, right? Sure, their competition wasn’t exactly the toughest, but there’s no such thing as an easy game in this league — something that we were reminded of last Friday.
So, about a quarter of the way through the regular season, just who the Flyers are isn’t exactly clear. That disaster game versus Pittsburgh? The Flyers followed it up with a 5-0-1 run that saw them beat some really good teams, and also the New Jersey Devils. But then immediately after that they’d go on to drop three straight. It’s frustrating. There have been stretches of play where they look like world-beaters, but when they’re off, their play craters. Really craters.
Their lowest point was a six-game stretch from October 26th through November 5th that saw them deliver five performances with an expected goals for sub-45%, two of which being in the low thirties. They managed to win three of the five contests, and just as quickly as their play had dropped off, they were rebounding. Well, at least for three games.
Despite blowing third period leads in each game, they swept their extended weekend versus the Atlantic Division with wins over Montreal, Toronto, and Boston. And while their inability to lock games down in the third was and still is concerning, they were the better team for the majority of those contests and deserved to pick up the second standings point up for grabs.
That’s another thing, this team has played in a lot of close games. So many that they’ve needed extra time to decide a game eight times already this season, and have participated in a league-high seven shootouts. That’s pretty ridiculous, and given their history with the shootout their record could easily be worse right now.
But it’s not worse than it is, and while a .500 winning percentage isn’t where this team wants to be or should be, it’s not as if they’ve dug themselves an insurmountable hole like they have in seasons past. They currently sit fifth in the Metropolitan Division, and 12th in the NHL with a record of 10-6-4.
One thing they can look back on positively through the first 20 games is their special teams play. At one time both units were seeing success that placed them within the top-10, but since then the power play has dipped a bit. If their special teams success can be sustained it’ll go a long way in getting this team back into the postseason.
Low points within a season are expected, and they had recovered, but are now trending down once more. It feels like this has been said too many times this early in the season, but this will be a really important week for the Flyers. Have three strong showings and the crater looks like just a bad stretch of play. Fall short and the conversation may shift towards the start of the season just being a good stretch of play.
All data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.