This past season was undoubtedly a special one for the Philadelphia Flyers. The season began, however, dauntingly enough; with a rookie head coach at the helm and a new developmental path that stressed patience, playoffs seemed more like a long term goal than one that would take place at the end of this season. Philadelphia would go on a march from February-onward that was among the best in the league as they won 20 of their last 35 games to clinch a playoff spot. The club would draw the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals in round 1 and despite falling behind 3-0 in the series, the Flyers battled back to win the next 2 before bailing out of the series in game 6.
This is a look back on 5 highlights the Philadelphia Flyers had this calendar-season since their campaign was filled with many more positives than negatives:
- Reinforcement From North Dakota
One of the Flyers first orders of business of last off-season was to replacement Craig Berube as head coach. At the time, I was of the school of thought that the Flyers would hire someone with credentials or possibly a retread of someone who had been here before. Instead, Philadelphia opted to bring in long time University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol and from there the foundation was laid for the rest of the season. The club immediately took to Hak’s message and as the season progressed, took to his system’s play too.
Hakstol seldom yelled or changed temperament and often left it to his team to find their way through difficult times. He has an intelligent seriousness about him and he always gives the club credit for the successes and is quick to assume blame when they failed. Without his candor, who knows how the season would have ended for the Flyers. Here’s Hakstol on his team’s players:
- The maturation of Schenn and Couturier
Both Schenn and Couturier had career years this season as both set career-highs in points. It was a big reason why the Flyers as a whole were much more consistent throughout the season. Ironically before this season though, each player had to work on what the other one was good at. For Schenn, it was working on being more consistent and developing his overall game and for Couturier, it was finding a way to assert himself offensively.
It’s important to keep this in mind as the Flyers continue to filter youth over the next few seasons; that player development is never a straight, upward trajectory but rather more of something that has peaks and valleys, but in due time things get better. Here’s Schenn’s hat trick against Calgary and a pretty goal from Couturier against Ottawa:
- Claude Giroux’s Leadership
This one will tend to get lost in the shuffle of the 2015-2016 season because of the way things ended for Philadelphia, but in reality, Giroux grew as a player too. His offensive numbers were down not because of decline, but because Claude dedicated himself to being a better two-way player under Haktol. With his hallmark ability to perform in the clutch still intact, Giroux led the Flyers by example in 2016-2017.
He also appears much more comfortable in front of the media than he did before, giving an accurate depiction of where the team was and where they were headed in the future. Personally, I think it was difficult for Giroux to admit that the team had shortcomings in the past because by extension that meant that he shortcomings. That was difficult for a player like Claude since he holds himself to such an incredibly high standard but with age and experience, he appears much more level headed and that will only help this team as they move forward in their rebuild. Here’s a highlight video of some Claude Giroux’s best, including some of his best from 2016:
- Goaltending No Longer An Issue In Philly
Between the play of Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason, the Flyers received more than adequate goaltending throughout the season and both played a significant role in the team making the playoffs. In addition to this, both Neuvy and Mase played during critical stretches for the team, which for Neuvirth included a magnificent shutout performance in the playoffs. For Mason, most of stellar work was done during a stretch of the final weeks of the season, where he turned away 106 shots on a 111 attempts.
It’s really worth repeating again, however, for those who prefer one goaltender over the other that Michal Neuvirth, while he had strong year, did not outperform Steve Mason. The narrative that he overtook Mason is inaccurate by all accounts; admittedly, Neuvirth did outplay Mason for first couple of months of the season, but from January 1st onward, Mason deservingly earned the lion share of starts, with an adjusted 5v 5 save percentage of .936 this season; that was second best in the league only to St. Louis Brian Elliott. Through it all, however, it’s a great problem to have and goaltending, at long last, is not a problem in Philadelphia. Here’s highlights Michal Neuvirth glove save against the Wild and Steve Mason’s career highlights with the Flyers:
- The Arrival Of “Ghost”
It’s difficult to deny the impact the arrival of Shayne Gostisbehere had on the 2015-2016 Flyers. The club struggled in the beginning of the season with many of the same issues that plagued them before, but when Ghost was called up from Leigh Valley, he injected life into the franchise again. I’m always impartial to give one person credit as its never just one guy but Ghost’s ability to handle and skate the puck in addition to his strong neutral zone play made him the best addition to this Flyers team. Hopefully, Gostisbhere gets his due this summer by winning the league’s Calder trophy (rookie of the year) as no rookie had more of an impact. Here’s one of many overtime heroics from Gostisbehere: