Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images
When the Flyers hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in a big rivalry tilt on Saturday night, I came away with the impression that if we threw out a 55 second stretch where the Penguins scored two goals to tie the game during the first period, that Philadelphia certainly played well enough to win. I actually thought they were outright the better team in the game. I needed to take another game to evaluate and to see if what I was watching was what I wanted to see as opposed to what actually happened. Philadelphia reassured me last night that what I watched on Saturday was a good skating team that dictated both tempo and play for most of the contest. Most importantly, the way that they played was sustainable. So with that said, we’ll break from traditional game recaps here and look at five takeaways from an eventful hockey weekend.
- Flyers simply need better goaltending
For both Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason, the beginning of the 2016-2017 campaign hasn’t got off to the best start. When I watch Neuvirth play this season, things like rebound control and just not competing hard enough to track pucks through traffic have been at the root of his issues. For Mason, his typically solid puck handling ability has been lacking in addition to not using his size best to his advantage have hurt his play this year. If I were to venture a guess, I would assume that both goaltenders play will rebound this season based on past performances. In the early going of the season, however, it has not been great.
- Despite the need for better goaltending, poor defensive zone coverage at the root of the issue
I defend the Flyers’ goaltending on most nights and while it hasn’t been spectacular, it hasn’t been the reason they’ve lost this season either. The Flyers poor defensive zone coverage has led to a number of high danger scoring chances that haven’t even given the goaltenders a chance to react to the shot. It’s also important to note that defensive zone responsibility falls on all five players on the ice and not just defensemen. The team needs to better in that area has a whole.
- Michael Del Zotto’s return to the lineup will be a welcomed addition
While the team needs to be better as a whole, the Flyers defense pairing would be much more balanced once Del Zotto returns to the lineup. MDZ completely remade his game a year ago from being a sole purpose offensive defenseman into more of a two-way defenseman that plays all situations. Once he returns (he’s scheduled to come back November 5th) Philly’s dee pairing will have enough puck-moving prowess and good coverage defensemen.
- Offensive production better than expected
One issue the Flyers haven’t had thus far has been their ability to put the puck in the net. No team currently in the league has more second period goals than the Flyers, which I think surprises many. Now with Konecny and Provorov, a full season of Ghost and internal improvement from Schenn, Couturier, and a healthy Voracek, this team should score at a respectable clip. So far, the production has been better than advertised.
- Everything is correctable
Whether it’s getting passable goaltending or cleaning up coverage gaffs in their own zone, the real encouraging thing about it all is that it’s correctable. With a healthy lineup, I expect the Flyers to be a good team this season. Suspensions and injuries hit the club during a stretch when they were playing a lot of games in a short period of time. As the Flyers get healthier and their schedule opens up a bit, consistency should soon follow.