Flying Strong in Philly
The Flyers have one of the most talented group of forwards in the NHL and a pair of top-tier defensemen in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, but their decades-long quest to find a solid starting goalie remains a concern.
The Flyers were actually better than they showed offensively and defensively. Philly ranked top-10 in expected goals for and against but outside the top-10 in actual results. What really sank the Flyers last season was well below average goaltending.
What went right:
Claude Giroux found another level to his game last season. His 102 points and 66 even-strength points were both career highs and trailed only Connor McDavid. Sean Couturier benefited by playing with Giroux for most of the season. In an increased offensive role, he more than doubled his previous career-high in goals with 31 and points with 76. On the blueline, Shayne Gostisbehere was another Flyer who had a career year. His 65 points were 4th most among defensemen and he ranked 5th in completed passes to the slot, completing 70.2% of them, 14th among all defensemen.
What Went Wrong:
Philadelphia’s penalty kill was the 3rd worst in the NHL at 75.8%. While it was effective limiting quality shots, allowing the 4th fewest slot shots, its goalies couldn’t take advantage, posting a .820 shorthanded save percentage, worst in the NHL. Goaltending in general was a problem for the Flyers, just like it’s been for years. They acquired Petr Mrazek from the Red Wings in hopes of solidifying the position but accomplished just the opposite. Mrazek posted the worst save percentage of any goalie to suit up for Philly last season at .891, well below the career average of .913 he posted during his 144 appearances in Detroit. Things really fell apart in the playoffs, where the Flyers gave up 28 goals in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, an average of 4.67 goals per game.
Key Additions: James van Riemsdyk, Christian Folin
Key Departures: Petr Mrazek, Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, Johnny Oduya, Matt Read
Other Key moves: Re-signed Robert Hagg, Alex Lyon
James van Riemsdyk returned to the team that drafted him, inking a 5-year, $35M contract on July 1st. JVR scored 36-goals last year and led the league in deflected shots on net as part of the league’s most productive powerplay unit in Toronto. With elite playmakers like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek now feeding him pucks, he should step right in and continue to produce at a high level.
Petr Mrazek disappointed in Philly after being acquired mid-season from the Red Wings, posting a .891 save percentage and a 3.22 GAA, so they let him walk. Alex Lyon was re-signed and will likely be the first goalie to be called up in case of injury after a small stint with the team late last season. Lyon also had an impressive 94-save performance in the AHL playoffs where he stopped the last 79 shots he faced to secure a 2-1, five-overtime win for Lehigh Valley.
Valtteri Filppula decided to sign with the Islanders. He was Philly’s 2nd most used forward on the penalty kill and he also chipped in on the powerplay. Defensemen Brandon Manning and Johnny Oduya weren’t brought back either. With youngsters like Robert Hagg, who signed a two-year, one-way deal, and Travis Sanheim ready to pick up the slack, as well as free agent acquisition Christian Folin, they were essentially expendable. Matt Read wasn’t retained after splitting time between the NHL and AHL, scoring only one goal for the Flyers.
Next season preview
What could go right?
Nolan Patrick had a quiet start to his rookie year but turned it around in the second half. Playing some time with the first powerplay unit, Patrick showed some of the skills that made him the 2nd overall pick in 2017, scoring 23 of his 30 points after January 1st. This season, he is projected to center the 2nd line between Jakub Voracek and free agent acquisition James van Riemsdyk. With the opposition’s defensive focus likely to be on the first line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny, Patrick is poised to break out while playing with the most talented linemates he’s had in his short career.
On defense, the Flyers still boast two of the best young defensemen in the league in Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere was 10th in Norris voting last season at only 24-years old and could contend for the award next year. Provorov played all 82 games and scored 41 points while finishing 10th league-wide in blocked passes and total ice time.
What could go wrong?
Goaltending has been an issue in Philadelphia for what seems like forever and it doesn’t look like that will change this year. Yes, prospect Carter Hart is tearing it up in junior, but the Flyers seem to be taking a patient approach with their prized prospect, although a call-up this season isn’t out of the question. So this means Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth will be the duo in net once again. Neuvirth has posted decent numbers throughout his career, but he is 30-years old and hasn’t played more than 32 games in a season since 2011-12 with the Capitals, so he isn’t likely to be more than a backup. Elliott, meanwhile, has been inconsistent at best over the last two years. His save percentage of .909 over that span ranks 28th among 32 goalies to play in at least 80 games, not numbers that scream starting goalie. The Flyers will have to be sound defensively and rely on team defense to carry them this season.