The Flyers, plain and simple, were demolished and dismantled by the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning last night. After giving up an early goal, the Flyers managed to control most of the play for the rest of the first period. However, after that, Tampa were able to break the Flyers’ will, resulting in a 74.19% CF advantage, and two more goals in the second period. It was not a very competitive game, and an uninteresting watch if you’re a Flyers fan (which we assume, somehow, you are).
It is games like this which put our collective hope into the proverbial furnace. It serves as a mirror to reflect just how prepared a team is to content, when playing the likes of back-to-back champions. Sure, hockey can be an unpredictable sport, with any club capable of beating any other on a nightly basis. However, as shown by records, the better teams tend to win against worse teams (shocking!). In their next seven games, the Flyers will have two division leading clubs in the Panthers and Hurricanes to contend with, along with the Lightning yet again, the Avalanche, and the New York Rangers, who quite frankly are playing like a playoff bound team. Sure, as Flyers fans we like to mock the Rangers and criticize them for their dumb moves, but they’ve played solid hockey and have had a lot of contributors and very good goaltending from Ilya Shesterkin.
This sounds similar to the Flyers’ story this season, on paper. Carter Hart has undeniably bounced back from his poor form last season, and has been very impressive (he currently holds a 0.928% save percentage as of writing), and Martin Jones has not been a poor backup either. Additionally, the likes of Cam Atkinson and Claude Giroux have helped supply the offense (when they actually decide to score), and best of all, depth moves like signing Derrick Brassard have actually worked for the Flyers!
However...what wasn’t noted was that the Rangers have been fairly healthy this season.
The Flyers’ starting depth is fairly good, though beyond that, when they have to dip into their deeper player pool, it can get ugly...
I've watched the #Flyers religiously for close to 20 years and I can say with certainty that, especially with the way Couturier playing, this is the worst the centre ice position has looked at any other point in that time.#bringittobroad— Anthony Di Marco (@ADiMarco25) November 24, 2021
Both Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes, two of this team’s key players, are out with injuries and with Brassard possibly missing time as well, the pressure is on the team’s leaders to survive while the team is not at 100%. Therefore, when your best center on the team fails to drive play and posts a 45.24 CF% at 5-on-5, there’s a problem!
If good, quality players in this organization struggle, then we can’t expect the likes of Nate Proesser and Zack MacEwen to replace the play-driving, goal-scoring, and defending of the level we are used to seeing. Other than hoping AHL call-ups work out (there are a number of players having decent seasons, with Morgan Frost doing very well), the depth the Flyers have at the NHL level simply isn’t going to cut it. Guys like Tyson Foerster aren’t having the best starts to their seasons (3 points in 9 games, after 17 in 24 last season at 18 years old).
Especially given the difficulty of their upcoming schedule, the Flyers will need to figure something out in order to survive enough to stay relevant. Alain Vigneault isn’t looking to be inspiring anyone, and perhaps the only reason why the Flyers have even done as well as they have so far would be newcomers like Cam Atkinson and the return of Carter Hart, legit #1 NHL goaltender.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick