The Flyers Can’t Afford Another Slow Start

I know it seems that every year it takes the Flyers a while to get going and that they don’t start playing their best hockey until December. If you’re one of the many Flyers fans out there that feel like this has been the trend with your favorite hockey team year-in-and-year-out, then you might be right. The slow starts have been the trend for about the past seven years and that’s exactly why the Flyers can’t afford to start out slow again unless they want to dig themselves into another hole and to have to fight their way back into the playoffs.

Now let me preface this by stating that, yes, I understand that a lot has happened since December of last year. There is a new GM, head coach, and assistant coaches. I also understand that it takes some time for a new head coach to implement his new coaching system into a group of players, especially ones that have been playing under a different head coach with a different way of doing things. With that being said, the Flyers can’t use the excuse of a new head coach and long travel to get in the way of another slow start.

A lot of hockey writers and experts use the benchmark of the first quarter of the season, which happens to coincide with American Thanksgiving, as an indication of how well a team is doing and the percent chances that a particular team will make the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to an Associated Press report back in 2015, since the starts of the 2005-2006 season, teams in a playoff position entering Thanksgiving go on to reach the postseason 77.3 percent of the time. Now that obviously isn’t a guarantee as to how things will play out for the rest of the season. Look no further than last years Stanley Cup Champions St. Louis Blues who were last in the central division and tied for second to last in the western conference around Thanksgiving and then went on an incredible run to eventually win the cup back in June of this year. It’s not to say that being out of a playoff position around Thanksgiving means that it’s impossible for a team to reach the postseason…it just means it’s improbable. The point being that teams that start out slow generally have a hard time making the post season compared to teams that are ready to play right at the start of the season.

This brings me to the Philadelphia Flyers. Over the past few years, the Flyers have gotten off to what seems like slow start after slow start and are constantly having to scratch and claw their way into a playoff position. Some of these moments can be fun and exciting (look no further than the last game of the regular season in 2010), but for the most part they add a lot of stress and anxiety for fans who just want to see their team play for a little bit longer and have a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. As a Flyers fan, it has been hard watching this team fight for every point and to constantly hope that other teams the Flyers are competing with lose on a nightly basis. The constant checking of playoff odds and magic numbers on a daily basis can get to be too much sometimes and really adds a lot of undo stress into a Flyers fans life. I dream of a time when the Flyers have a playoff position locked up and we are stressing over if the Flyers are going to be a one seed or a two seed in the upcoming playoffs. Unfortunately over the past few years, it has been a lot more fretting over IF the Flyers make the playoffs as opposed to WHEN the Flyers make the playoffs. Now there have been whole lot of reasons as to why the Flyers make the fan base sweat it out each year, but one of their biggest issues over the past few years have been…you guessed it…their slow starts to the season.

The past few seasons have felt as if the Flyers aren’t prepared to come play hockey starting in the months of October and November and if it’s felt that way…it’s cause they really haven’t. Despite winning their last four opening games, the Flyers have generally had a bad record in the the months of October and November. Going back to the 2012-13 season (the year after they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs), the Flyers have only had one season (2016-17) where they were above .500 after the first 20 games of the season. The most recent two seasons have seen the Flyers go exactly .500, while the entire run from 2012-13 through 2015-16 all had the Flyers below .500 after 20 games. Compare that to the last two Stanley Cup champions to come from the Flyers division, the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, over that same time span and you find that they have only had one losing start to the season (Capitals in 2012-13) and only one season where they were .500 after the first 20 games (Penguins 2018-19). Things look even worse when you compare these three teams in terms of average number of points through the first 20 games of the season inthat same time span.

I totaled the average number of points from the past 7 years (the last time the Flyers won a playoff round) from the first 20 games of the season to see if there was any sort of difference between the Flyers and the two teams I mentioned above.

 Flyers                      Penguins                   Capitals
12/13=19                     12/13=26                   12/13=17 
13/14=18                     13/14=24                   13/14=23
14/15=19                     14/15=30                   14/15=20
15/16=17                     15/16=24                   15/16=29 
16/17=21                     16/17=27                   16/17=28
17/18=20                     17/18=23                   17/18=21
18/19=20                     18/19=18                   18/19=23
Average=19               Average=25                 Average=23 

As you can see, the difference between the Flyers and say the Penguins or Capitals is that the latter teams rarely struggle to start the season slow. The Penguins and Capitals are putting up seasons where they are sometimes 10 points ahead of the Flyers after 20 games. Yes these teams have generational talents in Crosby and Ovechkin, but I think one of the biggest reasons why these teams are always resting their players near the end of the season and priming themselves for long cup runs is because they set themselves up for success at the start of the season by playing well and not falling behind.

As of this writing on October 22nd, 2019, the Flyers are 3-3-1 with 7 points coming off a win against the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The Capitals are 6-2-2 with 14 point and are in first place in the Metropolitan division, while the Penguins are 6-3-0 with 12 points. Now if you look at their records, you can see that the Capitals and Penguins are already above .500 and are well on their way to looking like they will have points somewhere in the 20s by the time Thanksgivings rolls around, while the Flyers sit right around .500. The penguins and Capitals already have long wining streaks going, while the longest streak the Flyers have is 2 games. Yes I understand that the Flyers have played fewer games than these other teams and that it’s not even the end of October yet, but this can’t continue to be an excuse for the Flyers.

The Flyers already have a 4-game losing streak to start the season and are starting to fall behind quickly in a very tough Metropolitan division. Couple this with the fact that the Flyers are learning a new system from a head coach and getting less than stellar goal support from their top line players and you have a recipe for a dish that has been served to Flyers fans over and over for the past 7 years. It’s time for for the team to stop making excuses for poor starts every year because good teams like the Penguins and Capitals don’t. The Flyers have to start playing like the season starts in December when they typically come alive because this team can’t afford another slow start to the season. I don’t think the fan base can afford it either.

-Steven Appleman (@Snapp1eApp1e)

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