When the 2021 NHL season was announced, Philadelphia Flyers fans were incredibly eager for another season to begin. After being one of the better teams in the entire NHL during the 2019-20 season, the Flyers had finally won a playoff round for the first time in 8 years, and were one win away from heading to the Eastern Conference Final. The future of the team was incredibly bright, and fans anticipating this being the start to a long period of contending for the Stanley Cup.
Yet to start this season, the Flyers have looked like anything but a Stanley Cup contender. Let’s recap the first 8 games of the 2021 NHL season:
- 6-3 W vs. Pittsburgh
- 5-2 W vs. Pittsburgh
- 6-1 L vs. Buffalo
- 3-0 W vs. Buffalo
- 5-4 SO L @ Boston
- 6-1 L @ Boston
- 5-3 W @ New Jersey
- 3-1 W @ New Jersey
Overall, the Flyers hold a 5-2-1 record, but don’t be fooled. They have not played as well as their record would suggest. They have done a 180 on their play from last season, looking like the mediocre bubble team they were through the Hextall/Hakstol era. They started off strong with two statement wins against their most bitter rival, the Penguins, but have since fallen off a cliff. The first game against Buffalo was dreadful, as the Flyers looked lifeless on the ice; their second matchup with the Sabres was a slightly better effort, but the Flyers nabbed the win largely on the back of Brian Elliott’s 40-save shutout. In both games against Boston, they got shellacked. While they were able to sweep the Devils, neither game was one to remember – in the 3-1 win against the Devils, the Flyers managed just 8 shots on goal through 2 periods. The entire team, from top to bottom, has been unimpressive to start this season.
The advanced stats back up what we’ve been seeing on the ice as well. Philadelphia is the worst team in the league at creating offense, sporting an ugly 43.03% CorsiFor. They are 29th in scoring chance percentage with 43.99%, and the only teams they rank above are Anaheim and Los Angeles – teams that are nowhere near as talented as this Flyers roster is. The Flyers’ are scoring a ghastly 44.4% of the expected goals, 4th worst in the league, while their actual goals percentage is a middling 51.43%, indicating that the Flyers are getting a decent amount of lucky bounces. Through 8 games, the Flyers have been absolutely atrocious and there is no reason a team as talented as the Flyers should be this bad.
What caused the Flyers’ fall from grace? Partially to blame is the dreaded injury bug. Over this period of time, the boys in Orange and Black suffered injuries to key players. In just his second shift of the second game against the Penguins, Sean Couturier left the game and did not return. After an MRI, the team announced he had a costochondral separation, and would be out for a minimum of two weeks. With an open slot at center, Philadelphia activated Morgan Frost, and just two games later in the 3-0 win against Buffalo, Frost would go down as well. In the same game, defenseman Phil Myers would also fall victim to injury. It was announced in the following days that Frost separated his shoulder and would be out indefinitely, while Myers fractured his rib and would be out week-to-week.
With the loss of their top line center, promising depth center, and second-pair defenseman all out for an extended period of time, the fact that the Flyers are still 3rd in their division is impressive. It’s even more impressive when the entire defense outside of Provorov has not looked good, and the top six has been largely invisible. Once the Flyers are back to full strength, one can only hope that they can look more like the juggernaut they were last season. Unfortunately, they can’t wait around, and good teams find ways to win even when their big contributors go down. Philadelphia definitely needs something to light a fire under them, because if they hope to make it to the playoffs, they will need to turn things around quickly, especially in a shortened season.
Some More Observations:
- Travis Konecny scored his first career hat trick in the 5-2 win against the Penguins. Since then, he’s looked more like the unnoticeable Konecny from the NHL bubble – he’s managed just 2 shots on goal in his last 3 games.
- Mark Friedman had an injury scare in the first game against the Bruins. After tangling up with Brad Marchand, Friedman fell awkwardly to the ice and landed on his face. He was bleeding a lot and went right down the tunnel, but thankfully he is okay.
- In his first extended stint of NHL action in almost two years, Nolan Patrick has looked good! He hasn’t missed a beat, and has bounced up as a result of Couturier’s injury. He has frequently played with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny. He scored a nice goal on the power play in the season opener, and it was his first goal since April 2019.
- Brian Elliott has looked good in limited time. In 3 appearances so far, Moose has a 1.98 GAA and a .938 save percentage. Not bad for the 35-year-old netminder.
- The fourth line of Michael Raffl, Connor Bunnaman, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel has been the most effective forward line thus far, and has earned the public praise of coach Alain Vigneault.
Up next for the Flyers: In their next 8 games, Philadelphia will take on the New York Islanders in a back-to-back at home, the Bruins at home, travel to the D.C. to take on the Washington Capitals, then return to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Devils.
Image credit to Getty Images via NHL.com