Coming into the season, external expectations were not high for the Philadelphia Flyers. Last year, the team finished 29th overall in the NHL and right at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. Coach Mike Yeo was let go, himself having replaced Alain Vigneault mid-season. Over the summer, GM Chuck Fletcher brought in a lot of new recruits and made a statement behind the bench by hiring Stanley Cup winner John Tortorella.
So when the Flyers won five of their first seven games this season, one couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. Tortorella has long been known as a coach who can establish a culture and when his teams are dialled in, they often overachieve.
But with three straight losses, the Flyers are coming down to Earth. The latest setback was a 5-2 loss to a previously-struggling Toronto team that peppered Philly goalie Felix Sandstrom with 45 shots on the night. Based on the coach’s post-game comments, some of the Flyers need to turn their games around before they find themselves in a different jersey.
“For the most part, I thought our guys had a lot of try,” Tortorella said. “Some guys, no. That’s where some of my frustration is. Not so much in the result, but the effort that is put in sometimes.
“I was really happy with how some guys handled certain situations and their effort. On the other side, there were situations that absolutely disgusted me. Those are things we have to work through. When you’re building a team, you’re not only looking to build and grow your players, you’re also looking for players you simply don’t think are going to be a part of it. And that separates itself as you go through this process.”
Interestingly enough, the coach said he wants players to not be afraid of making mistakes if they are trying to make a play – so it’s not a matter of the Flyers being more conservative. As left winger Joel Farabee pointed out, his team was too passive in the defensive zone against Toronto and that hurt them, especially given the high-end skill the Maple Leafs have. When the Flyers were winning earlier on, they were more cohesive.
“For us, it’s those little three-to-five-foot plays, little support plays coming out of the D-zone as a five-man unit,” Farabee said. “That transitions into the offensive zone and when you’re there, stay tight, stay connected.”
They will certainly need more of that because whether they have been winning or losing, the Flyers have not had the puck much this season. Philadelphia is currently dead-last in possession hockey right now with a Corsi percentage of 38.2.
“We’ve gotta play with the puck,” said center Scott Laughton. “We’ve gotta make plays throughout our D-zone and neutral zone. Guys are battling hard in the D-zone, but we’re spending too much time there. We’ve gotten great goaltending, we just need to spend more time in the O-zone and create – not be one-and-done and make it easy on teams.”
Goaltending has been one bright spot, even if backup Felix Sandstrom is still winless in his brief NHL career. Starter Carter Hart has been on fire with a .943 save percentage and after several hard years, that turnaround was a must for the Flyers. On the other hand, Hart’s early heroics might have masked a lot of the team’s underlying problems.
“It hasn’t come together, it’s still a ways away,” Tortorella said. “That’s part of our job as a coaching staff, to bring it together. It’s going to take some time. We found a way to win some games with some really good goaltending, but we still have a ton of work to do to be considered a team that has come together.”
At the least, we know Philly won’t be a country club. Prospects such as Cam York and Ronnie Attard have spent the first month of the season in the AHL with Lehigh Valley after getting in 30 and 15 NHL games respectively last year. It’s also worth noting that the Flyers are once again without center Sean Couturier, one of the best two-way players in the game when he’s healthy.
And finally, there is buy-in. Tortorella wouldn’t name the players he was either happy or disgusted with, but his messages are getting through to at least some of the guys.
“Torts has been great with us,” Laughton said. “He pushes us hard and probably the biggest difference from last year is our compete level and the way we battle – like guys blocking shots with a minute left in a 5-2 game and putting their bodies on the line. We work hard for each other, we pick each other up and that’s what you gotta ask for. If we continue to do that, clean up some stuff and play with the puck, it’s going to go the other way.”
- The Flyers Have a Long Way to Go: Tortorella
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