As the Flyers unwind from an eight-day road trip that stretched over three time zones, let’s unpack what transpired over their first four games.
1. Flyers deserved better
The end result of the four-game road trip is a .500 record, with the Flyers earning four of a possible eight points. They built a two-goal lead Tuesday night with 13:12 remaining in the game. At that point, the Flyers should have at least earned a point and possibly two. To the Predators' credit, they seized back some of that momentum just 50 seconds later when Filip Forsberg scored, sniping a shot over Brian Elliott’s glove hand. The sting of this loss would have been slightly eased if the Flyers could have found a way to force overtime in Nashville. When you evaluate the entire road trip, the Flyers never had that “dud” of a game, where they played without energy and flat-footed.
2. Challenging the penalty
At the time it happened, my initial feeling toward Dave Hakstol’s decision to challenge the offsides play was this had the makings of a Music City meltdown. Personally, I would have just conceded the game-tying goal with the knowledge that had I lost the challenge I would have been penalized (yet again) and looking at another monumental 5-on-3 penalty kill of a tied game. Last season, only one-third of every challenge plays involving an offsides call were overturned, so the odds already were working against Hakstol. The momentum swing alone is a key factor that has be under consideration when those decisions are made. To the Flyers' credit, they killed the 5-on-3, to only give up the game-winning goal moments after Dale Weise stepped out of the box. With this new rule now in play, coaches need conclusive, indisputable evidence the attacking team went offsides, and that’s almost impossible considering the turnaround time before they have to notify the referees of their desire to challenge.
3. Patrick's 1st goal
It was nice to see rookie Nolan Patrick score his first NHL goal in just his fourth game. However, Patrick was in no mood to talk about it afterward and understandably so. For a 19-year-old still working his way through the infancy stages of his career, Patrick had a relatively solid road trip, picking up two points and playing better over the final two games. Containing Jeff Carter and his line in L.A. was a tough assignment, and he’ll ultimately benefit playing on a third line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Patrick said he’s traditionally been a slow starter when it comes to scoring goals.
4. More firepower
Four games into the season and already nine different Flyers have scored goals and 14 players have registered at least a point. When you examine the roster, the Flyers have depth at the forward position, where seven and potentially eight players can realistically score at least 20 goals this season. Even the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl generates pressure, quality scoring chances and each player has the skill set to do damage offensively. Overall, the Flyers have the firepower to finish top 10 in goals scored this season.
5. The Money Train
Wayne Simmonds was absolutely steamed following the Flyers' 6-5 loss Tuesday to the Predators. No player appeared to be more riled up than Simmonds was, which is precisely why Flyers fans love the emotion and raw passion he brings on the ice and in times of frustration as well. Simmonds is unquestionably one of the leaders and lifelines of this Flyers squad, and it’s hard to imagine this franchise without him. For years, Simmonds had set 30 goals as a benchmark, but with a red-hot start to this season, it’s not unrealistic to think he’s capable of reaching 40 goals for the first time in his career. If that happens, Simmonds will certainly cash in with a lucrative contract extension next summer.
6. Ivan the Great
There’s no other way to describe it, but defenseman Ivan Provorov is simply a machine. His stick work in the corners and along the boards is a work of art. He has an underrated shot for a player that doesn’t uncork wicked Shayne Gostisbehere-like slap shots. In the second period of Tuesday’s game, Provorov took the puck from behind his net and created a rush on his own. On the four-game trip, the Flyers' shutdown defender was on the ice for just one even-strength goal against — Hartnell’s shot from the wing that Elliott should have stopped. If I’m taking a one-goal lead into the final period, I want Provorov on the ice every other shift. There’s a calmness he brings to the situation, and it’s refreshing to see the Flyers finally have the all-around defenseman that’s been missing since the days of Eric Desjardins.
7. When will we see Morin?
After watching the Flyers play on numerous occasions in the preseason, one NHL scout undoubtedly feels the Flyers have three NHL-ready rookie defensemen, saying, “It’s a good problem to have.” Right now, the problem is the Flyers can’t squeeze Samuel Morin into the lineup and on Wednesday, he was assigned to the Phantoms (see story).
Speaking to Morin Tuesday morning, he was definitely down on the situation but is handling it with grace and dignity.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been a healthy scratch and it’s pretty hard,” Morin said. “What else can I do? I think it’s normal that I’m pretty upset. I just need to keep working hard and see what’s going to happen. There’s not much I can do right now. It’s out of my control.”
8. Stronger in the middle
I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of Sean Couturier filling the role as the team’s No. 1 center, and while he doesn’t have the skill set of a Tyler Seguin or a Mark Scheifele, Couturier plays the necessary 200-foot game necessary in today’s NHL. If Hakstol continues to keep that Claude Giroux-Couturier-Jakub Voracek line intact, "Coots" should hit the 40-point mark for the first time in his career with ease. Furthermore, when you see how the Flyers are stacked down the middle with Couturier-Valtteri Filppula-Patrick-Scott Laughton, there’s no weak link the opposition can exploit defensively. Ron Hextall wants to construct a team that cuts down on those quality scoring chances in the danger areas between the circles and those four centers have shown to play a very responsible game.
9. Down with Hartnell
Predators head coach Peter Laviolette had his list of players that did not jive with his coaching style (see James van Riemsdyk). However, Lavy always had an admiration for Scott Hartnell and spoke highly of the Nashville winger following Tuesday’s 6-5 win over the Flyers. Signing Hartnell on a one-year, $1 million deal was a very low-risk, high-reward investment on Laviolette and general manager David Poile’s part. Hartnell still possesses a high-caliber shot and has a knack for finding the soft zones in and around the net. Who knows how well he would have fit in the confines of Hakstol’s system, but for that term and price, I could see Hartnell working well with Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny, as well as providing that net-front presence on one of the team’s power-play units.
10. Who starts the home opener?
The Flyers received steady goaltending until Tuesday night’s game in Nashville, which was not Elliott’s best effort. It’s obvious Hakstol has been looking to establish Elliott as his early season starter, but in saying that, Michal Neuvirth was excellent in his only start in Los Angeles. It’s early but Neuvirth resembles the goaltender who came to Philadelphia in 2015-16 and turned in a gem of a season with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Hakstol won’t hesitate to play the guy with a hot hand and with Saturday’s home opener against Neuvirth’s former team, the Washington Capitals, it seems like an opportune time to give the backup another shot in net.