There have been many things to like about the 2021-22 Philadelphia Flyers season. The goaltending has been phenomenal, the two-way ability of the team has been strong, and on an individual level, there’s very little to complain about. But there’s been one consistent story that has been bubbling up as the season go along- nobody can score a goal. Both the powerplay and even strength scoring has dried up, a problem most of us weren’t expecting to face, certainly not after the hot start the team had.
The Flyers scored 23 goals in the first five games of the season, then only scored 13 over the following eight.
The Flyers were hot out of the gate and it went away all at once. The goal scoring has been a problem for the last few weeks despite racking up some wins. They beat the Canucks 2-1, got shutout by the dominant Flames, beat the Coyotes 3-0, lost to the Penguins 3-2, beat the Caps 2-1, lost to the Leafs 0-3, beat the Canes 2-1, then lost to Dallas 5-2, one of those goals being an own-goal by the Stars.
Chuck Fletcher made quite a few additions to the roster during the offseason, but the forward group was more or less untouched with the exception of swapping Jake Voracek for Cam Atkinson and building the fourth line through the waiver wire with the additions of Patrick Brown and Zack MacEwen. Atkinson may be the better goal scorer, but they did sacrifice possibly their best offense creator Jake Voracek in the process.
The goal scoring issue is nothing new. Last season, the Flyers finished 15th in goals for last season with 163. For context, the Avalanche led with 197 and the Ducks were the worst with 126. Only one player broke the 20-goal plateau in Joel Farabee and there was a three-way tie for the team lead in points with just 43 in 56 games.
The lack of depth scoring is something that has plagued the Flyers hard over the last few seasons. They have improved the overall quality of the players since the Ron Hextall days, but still don’t have a sneaky player who can score on a semi-regular basis. Nicolas Aube-Kubel seemed to tease a scoring touch in 2019-20, but couldn’t rekindle that spark last season or this season, ultimately ending up on waivers and claimed by the Colorado Avalanche.
Oskar Lindblom, with the exception of his 30-game sample size before his cancer diagnosis in 2019 when he scored 11 goals, has never been a big goal scorer. Ditto for Scott Laughton.
But it’s not just their depth scoring. Their top guys, the one supposed to be doing the heavy lifting when it comes to producing goals, just aren’t capable of being spark plugs on a nightly basis.
Travis Konecny and James Van Riemsdyk can both fill up the score sheet, but aren’t players that can score easily by themselves. JVR’s main success comes in a net-front role on the powerplay, regularly going through long droughts of inactivity as the team’s streakiest player, and Konecny had three goals in the first three games, but has only scored once in the last 10, similar to his 2020 production when he scored five goals in the first five games but only registered six goals in the following 45 games.
Joel Farabee, who was expected to continue to build off his his breakout campaign, seems to finally be going through the sophomore slump that he avoided last season. Much like Konecny, three of his four goals came in the first three games.
Couturier is known for his Selke-winning two-way play, and despite a pair of 30-goal seasons, has never been a play driver by himself. Claude Giroux once upon a time was, but as his 34th birthday inches closer, he can’t carry the team like he used to, but rather has dominating spurts like we saw early this season.
All of the problems are compacted by the fact the powerplay is firing at a measly 17.1%, currently ranked 21st in the league. They’ve scored just three times on 28 opportunities in the last eight games dating back to the Canucks tilt. The units have been given a major shakeup over the last few games as a way to try and find some chemistry, and the return of Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis can help stabilize the floundering unit, but it’s tinkering more out of desperation than it is accommodating the returning players.
There are three possible fixes to the current struggles-
-You put all your offensive talent together and hope one hot line can carry the load. They’ve more or less tried this technique most of the season with most all the scoring coming from the top six and the bottom six was focused on the defensive side.
-You split up all your top producers and hope sharing the wealth lights a fire under your secondary scorers. Splitting up what little offense they get to try and get someone, anyone going was an approach they tried in the Dallas game, finally breaking up the lines that have been together most of the season. With Kevin Hayes back in the mix it does give them a bit of a chance to even everything out, but
-The third option is simple, Fletcher needs to go out and find a top guy to address the lack of scoring. We looked at potential top six centers the Flyers could try and pursue at the trade deadline a few weeks back, but they may need a little more help than that. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy fix. Even if it does boil down to just adding one very good top-six forward, those kind of guys don’t become available every day and certainly won’t be cheap.
Interior options are slim. Wade Allison is still on the shelf and, despite starting to skate again, probably won’t be back for the foreseeable future. Tyson Foerster, their top prospect whom they hope will one day be a legitimate goalscoring threat isn’t quite NHL ready yet, and even if he were, is currently on the shelf with a shoulder injury. The only other option that could be a threat offensively is Morgan Frost. Now, we’ve talked at length about Frost lately, but he didn’t have the best start to the season.
He was projected to secure an NHL spot out of the gate, odds that went up even higher when it was announced Hayes would miss at least a month with an injury, but he ultimately failed to lock up a role. He has had some offensive success with the Phantoms to start the season, one goal and 11 points in 13 games, but the overall question of where he’d fit in is still relevant. With Kevin Hayes back and the top twelve spots all taken, not to mention the Flyers don’t have much cap space to work with, Frost still doesn’t really fit in anywhere. If Frost gets recalled and doesn’t produce, then what? Not only do the Flyers spend their last bullet in the chamber, but one has to imagine his trade value drops if the mystique surrounding him goes away. Unless an injury occurs, Frost probably won’t get the call anytime soon.
Overall, this is a very deep, well balanced hockey team. But the absence of a true goal scorer is evident. It’s a group of players that when they’re hot can produce at amazing rates, but when they’re cold, they’ll lose games because of their inability to bury the puck. There’s a good chance this group of players will get hot again sooner or later, they’ve got too much talent not to, but there needs to be some kind of plan in place for when the slumps happen. Chuck Fletcher had a great summer, but it’s clear his job isn’t done just yet.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: yardbarker.com