Following back-to-back shutout victories over the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers possess the fifth-best points percentage in the league and the best in the East division. Yet, through the early stages of the season, few have been content with the team’s overall play. From the coaching staff, to the players, to the fanbase, the general takeaway has been that, while they were winning, they weren’t playing all that well.
Though, without one of the best players in the league in the lineup, the lull in their game wasn’t all that surprising. With Sean Couturier back, and a roster no longer ravaged by Covid-19, it’s time for the Flyers to show us who they really are; for better or for worse.
It was just the second game of the season when the Flyers lost their star center, and reigning Selke Trophy winner, to injury. An innocent-looking hit knocked Couturier out of the team’s next ten contests, a stretch that saw the Flyers go 5-3-2. While the record wasn’t stellar, the Flyers banked points when they could have dug themselves a deep hole. The team had some of the worst shot metrics in the league, rivaling some historically bad teams in the league’s recent history. The goaltenders saw more shots than ever before under Alain Vigneault, and the team failed to generate more than 25 shots on goal in half of their contests without Couturier.
Recently, the numbers have begun to head in the right direction. A wise man once said that’s it’s good to have good players — that was Kurt, yesterday. With both Couturier and Giroux in the lineup, the Flyers are 5-0-0 and thoroughly out-scoring and out-chancing their opponents. It turns out missing your best player for an extended period of time and multiple key players due to COVID-19 is more than just a silly excuse.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Five games are quite a small sample, and they are coming off of two games against a Sabres team that looked flat-out uninterested for large stretches of play. It’s certainly not the time for a coronation. However, it’s also true that the largest sample we currently have can’t be seen as an accurate estimation of this team’s true talent level at full strength. We simply do not know how good of a team the Flyers are this year, at least not yet.
We do know that going back to March of last year, the Flyers were the hottest team in the league ahead of the league’s shutdown. After a strong showing in the three-game round-robin tournament earned them the first seed, they’ve been unable to capture the magic of the pre-shutdown Flyers since. Barring any unforeseen circumstances (which, given the nature of, well, everything, is far from a guarantee), just how good this team is should become clear over the next month.
The month of March is packed, with 17 games in 30 days, and as long as there is not another surprise healthy scratch, the Flyers should be icing their most complete lineup of the season tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It will kick off a three-game series against the Penguins — all in Pittsburgh — before the Flyers return home for the next week of contests.
This team is expected to play well, recently has played well, and should continue to play well. But until they do, it’s all just projection. Starting with tonight, the fog should begin clearing up.