Flyers

Flyers have 'easy' part down, now the 'overrated' part begins

Flyers have 'easy' part down, now the 'overrated' part begins

The 3-0-1 road trip for Dave Hakstol's team definitely has merit to it.

The Flyers grabbed seven of eight points, went to overtime against a Stanley Cup contender (Sharks), convincingly beat the team allowing the NHL's fewest goals per game (Coyotes) and took down a squad that went 26-10-5 at home last season (Ducks).

There was a lot to like and you would think the Flyers are coming home much more comfortable with rebuilt confidence and some swagger.

Five straight games at the Wells Fargo Center are now in store for the Flyers.

Home sweet home, right?

Not necessarily — or least not yet.

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Flyers analyst Chris Therien provided excellent insight on the differences between playing at home and on the road. 

The assumption is away games present a greater difficulty considering the travel and atmosphere, compared to having luxuries and the crowd on your side at home.

Therien, a former Flyer and 11-year NHLer, said that's not always the case. Here's his breakdown from Monday night's Flyers Postgame Live on NBCSP:

I think playing at home in the NHL is completely overrated. I think it's easy to win on the road, I don't think there's a problem playing on the road, in fact, for most teams, they'll probably tell you they're comfortable. 

That being said, I think if the Flyers play exactly like they did on the road, you won't have to worry about some of the stuff that you deal with at home. The problem when you're at home, sometimes you think it's going to be easier, you think the crowd is going to get behind you. And then if you don't perform, the crowd turns on you and you can hear the boos sometimes. 

But they're big boys, they're professionals, they're going to have to get over whatever funk they think they're having at home. Even last year was not a good record for this team at home prior to other seasons. It's huge, it's major-league important that they find a groove and find a groove in Philadelphia.

The last time the Flyers took the Wells Fargo Center ice, they lost to the Islanders, 6-1, dropping to 4-7-0 before their four-game road trip. The Flyers certainly looked like pressure got the best of them on Oct. 27. Head coach Dave Hakstol said his team "tightened up in this building" and Claude Giroux echoed that sentiment.

"I think when you want too much sometimes, you press a little harder, get away from what you're supposed to be doing, you're just pressing," Giroux said then. "I really feel like we're pressing right now, we're just tired of losing, so we're trying to do everything we can to make something happen, but sometimes it's not always the right thing."

Through the early going, the Flyers are 2-4-0 at home with a minus-12 goal differential. Among NHL teams, they've scored the second-fewest goals at home with 2.33 per game, while allowing the third most with 4.33.

All it takes, though, is one strong period to shake the nerves and feel at home again. Put the fans back on your side. The Flyers have five cracks at it — they're big boys and should get it done.

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Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

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Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

Throughout the first half of this season, the Flyers have been relatively injury free on defense, but as a group, they’ve regressed from last season. However, under assistant Rick Wilson and new coach Scott Gordon, we’re beginning to see signs of improvement. 

After breaking down the goaltending Monday, we grade out the Flyers' blue line.  

Radko Gudas

Grade: B+ 
Stats: 2 G, 11 A, plus-10, 18:00 A/TOI

Dare I say that Gudas has been the Flyers' steadiest defenseman this season. While some writers like to use Corsi as a barometer for puck possession, I like to utilize goals against/60 minutes during 5-on-5 play to determine the strength of a player’s overall defense. Gudas’ 1.76 goals allowed/60 min. is the best of any Flyers defenseman … by far. Perhaps most impressively is how Gudas has adapted his physical game without taking foolish penalties.

Offensively, Gudas’ philosophy seems rather simple. When given the opportunity, just put the puck on net as he leads the team with 16 rebounds created at even strength while contributing 13 points — a nice total considering he barely strays from the blue line.

Robert Hagg

Grade: B
Stats: 4 G, 9 A, plus-5, 17:43 A/TOI

Hagg has gained a reputation as such a hard hitter that other teams' forwards have altered their forechecking approach with the Flyers' defenseman on the ice. Hagg had his most consistent month in November and has cut down on some of the positioning flaws in the defensive zone that were a problem area in his rookie season.

Hagg has even chipped in some additional offense this season. His 15 primary points (goals, first assists) at 5-on-5 is second on the Flyers behind Travis Sanheim’s 16, and he’s currently on pace to finish with seven goals and 22 points, which would more than double last season’s totals. 

Travis Sanheim

Grade: B-
Stats: 4 G, 11A, minus-6, 17:56 A/TOI

I like the decision from Wilson in placing Sanheim on the top pairing Ivan Provorov. Not only was the Provy-Shayne Gostisbehere combination simply not working, but it has given the Flyers a chance to see how much responsibility Sanheim can handle. Sanheim was tested early against the opposition’s top forwards with a minus-12 rating in 13 games but has had periods of steady play. Has seen his ice time jump by five minutes from October into January. 

Overall, Sanheim has made a conscious effort to refine the defensive aspect of his game with improved positioning but can still get beaten one-on-one and along the boards. Would also prefer to see Sanheim on one of the two power-play units.

Ivan Provorov

Grade: C-
Stats: 4 G, 13 A, minus-14, 24:54 A/TOI

It’s beyond baffling to see Provorov’s struggles with his puck management this season. It began over a 10-15 game stretch last season, and it’s been a problem area for the entire season. The new coaching staff has worked on eliminating some of those errant passes and making that first pass up the boards. Provorov’s 3.28 goals allowed/60 min. at even strength is up significantly from 2.18 last season. 

For a player many expected to work his way into the Norris Trophy conversation, it’s been quite the regression offensively as well. Provorov is projected to finish with seven goals after leading all NHL defensemen with 17 last season. As he simplifies his game, look for Provorov to have a much better second half.

Shayne Gostisbehere

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 15 A, minus-12, 20:12 A/TOI

Everything came together for Gostisbehere last season, and conversely, nothing worked over the first few months of this season. Ghost was an NHL-worst minus-18 when Dave Hakstol was fired. Since then, he’s had much more favorable matchups and has settled in playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as the team’s third pairing.

However, the most alarming aspect to Gostisbehere’s season has been his lack of efficiency on the power play, so much so, he’s no longer part of that top unit. Last season, he averaged 7.03 pts./60 min. on the PP compared to just 2.86 this season, a 59 percent dropoff. A big reason to Gostisbehere’s lack of success on the power play has been a failure to get pucks through traffic and his shot on net.

Christian Folin

Grade: D+
Stats: 0 G, 1 A, plus-4, 16:13 A/TOI

After some obvious struggles in the opening month, Folin has settled in but still can’t be counted on to play extensively. Interestingly, Gordon is much cautious in his use of Folin than Hakstol and Gord Murphy were. After averaging over 17 minutes in October and November, Folin is playing just under 13 minutes in January. 

Will be interesting to see how much the Flyers utilize Folin over the second half of the season with Phillippe Myers possibly getting a look with the big club. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to invest in Folin as he won’t be with the team beyond this season and the Flyers can fill that role with a Phantom next season.

Andrew MacDonald

Grade: D
Stats: 0 G, 5 A, minus -5, 17:55 A/TOI

Quite frankly, MacDonald came back way too early from a lower-body injury he suffered during an offseason workout and that seemed to throw off the first half of his season. Has been limited to 27 games and has been a healthy scratch as a result of ineffective play. More turnover prone than last season, MacDonald has also really struggled early on with the penalty kill this season.

Last season was the first time MacDonald TOI dipped below 20 minutes per game, and this season, it’s a career-low 17:55. Hasn’t been nearly as active jumping in offensively as well. Zero goals in 27 games with no shots on net in 10 of those games.

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Flyers weekly observations: Sean Couturier on tear, Wayne Simmonds trade chatter, more

Flyers weekly observations: Sean Couturier on tear, Wayne Simmonds trade chatter, more

The Flyers are playing arguably their best hockey of the season.

Now they won't be playing again until next Monday.

Let's get into some observations on the state of the organization:

• Imagine where Sean Couturier would be if he had a full training camp and preseason?

Scary good.

Remember, he played just one exhibition game because of an offseason injury suffered to the same right knee in which he tore his MCL during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Couturier was good enough to go by opening night but the first two weeks of the regular season were like his preseason — trying to find his legs, his conditioning, his rhythm.

Understandably, he didn't race out of the gates, putting up three goals and no assists through his first 11 games. Since then, he has 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) over his last 35 games and leads the Flyers with 19 goals on the season.

He's projected to finish with 33 goals, which would be a new career high and awfully impressive considering all the circumstances. In a season needing positives, the 26-year-old center has been one of the biggest, showing general manager Chuck Fletcher he's a clear part of the solution moving forward.

• Last week on Sportsnet's "Tim and Sid" show, Wayne Simmonds was a topic of discussion, with Sid Seixeiro making an interesting point about a possible trade partner for the Flyers ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline.

"I think the Leafs need Wayne Simmonds," Seixeiro said.

"Toughness is enough guys who are willing to go in the blue paint. … The Leafs don't have enough of those guys, this is a player in Simmonds … he goes to those areas."

Toronto is a team with a slew of offensive weapons. Still, head coach Mike Babcock has highlighted a missing element to the Maple Leafs, who many are considering as a Stanley Cup contender.

Via Sportsnet's Luke Fox, here's what Babcock had to say Jan. 7 following a 4-0 loss to the Predators:

Being heavy isn't getting on a scale and measuring yourself; it's a state of mind. I think we can do a better job there. And I think we can get better defensively so we can spend more time offensively and have the puck more. We got a lot of work to do.

It's heavy on offense. It's having the puck. It's getting the puck back all the time. It's checking it back. It's putting your work in front of your skill. It's being determined offensively, not coming down, having a rush and being one-and-done. It's multiple-shot shifts.

It's having some jam.

Sure sounds like Simmonds, who would not only bring that heaviness but also provide leadership and experience to a relatively young roster.

Toronto has the talent, prospects and picks to intrigue the Flyers.

• Speaking of trades, the 2017 Brayden Schenn deal continues to look better and better for the Flyers.

The club received two first-round draft picks in the exchange with the Blues and used them on prospects Morgan Frost (27th overall — 2017) and Joel Farabee (14th overall — 2018).

Frost on Sunday went off for five goals after scoring four points (two goals, two assists) the night prior. Yes, that's seven goals and nine points in two games.

Last season, the 19-year-old center put up 112 points in 67 regular-season games with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. This season, he has 30 goals and 45 assists through 38 games.

Meanwhile, Farabee, an 18-year-old goal-scoring winger, has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 20 games as a freshman at Boston University.

Prospects are only prospects until they prove themselves in the NHL, but the future looks exciting — and not all that far away — for these two picks.

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