Flyers

No standings needed, Scott Gordon's perspective has Flyers seeing playoff hunt

No standings needed, Scott Gordon's perspective has Flyers seeing playoff hunt

The Flyers were in so deep, it appeared daunting, even impossible.

On the morning of Jan. 10, 43 games into the season, the Flyers were entombed in last place of the 31-team NHL standings at 15-22-6 with 36 points.

More than halfway through their schedule, no other team was in worse shape.

Seven days earlier, Wayne Simmonds said the team's struggles felt like "quicksand."

"We're trying to get out and it feels like it's just getting deeper," he said.

No way they dig out of this, right? Maybe the Flyers were trying to climb all at once. It's the pressure the Flyers probably felt, trying to win 10 games in a night or lasso five teams with just one toss of the rope.

Impossible.

But since Jan. 10, when they could sink no lower, the Flyers have won eight of nine games, a stretch that includes this current seven-game win streak.

Around the beginning of the streak, interim head coach Scott Gordon provided his team realistic perspective.

Here was his message:

The biggest thing right now for us is just to make sure we don't worry about the eighth-place seed, we don't worry about the team that is 10 points in front of us, we just worry about what's in front of us immediately. … Whether it's the 10th-place team, the ninth-place team, we just worry about that team. Try to get above them. 

There are like two or three teams that are lumped together, and we move above them, then we can worry about the next tier. And then if everything's going to plan and we're still doing what we're doing, then we can start worrying about the eighth seed. But right now, it's just what's in front of us.

The Flyers are ready to hunt, one team at a time. Gordon's outlook, which he mentioned following the Flyers' 5-4 OT win Saturday over the Oilers, is resonating.

"We know we're a good team," Simmonds said. "Obviously we didn't have the ideal first half of the season but you never know what can happen — you stick with it, keep chipping away. You think of the smaller picture: catch the next team in front of you and go from there."

Remarkably, the Flyers are within striking distance, starting to join a race they looked no part of less than a month ago. They are within seven points of the Blue Jackets, who hold the Eastern Conference's second wild-card position. Twenty days ago, the Flyers were 15 points out of that spot.

Since residing in the NHL basement, the Flyers have overstepped five teams in the wild-card picture.

They needed a streak. 

They also needed the right frame of mind to put one together.

The Flyers don't have a standings board up at their practice facility or at the Wells Fargo Center.

As Gordon walked away from the podium at his postgame press conference Saturday, he smiled and said, "The team in front of us is in first place."

Such a mindset has the Flyers focused, feeling like they're right there.

Thirty games remain and they believe in the chase.

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Let's not forget the point of Kevin Hayes and his value to Flyers

Let's not forget the point of Kevin Hayes and his value to Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Kevin Hayes contract was and will always be polarizing.

Especially in a market as passionate and demanding as Philadelphia.

When seven years and $50 million are doled out to a forward, the eyes automatically go to the columns that count goals and points. They will this season and for the next six. Hayes was aware of that reality when he signed with the Flyers in June.

“I think early on, obviously I signed that big deal and I wanted to come in here and have 82 goals and 82 assists,” Hayes said Tuesday, “but that’s just not how it works.”

Not with a player like Hayes. Wins can serve as a proper reminder of that, as can the less ostentatious statistics. General manager Chuck Fletcher made clear from the outset the Flyers would not judge Hayes purely by the center’s offensive production.

To start the 2019-20 season, Hayes felt the need to put up points — a tangible way to quickly justify his new deal and win over fans, to show why the Flyers were wise to sign him.

“I think at the beginning, with the media and the fans, when you sign that deal, you want to come in and be on everybody’s good graces right away,” Hayes said. “When you’re not putting up points, it’s easy to think you’re not playing great hockey.”

The Flyers’ staff noticed a difference in Hayes. Alain Vigneault, who coached him in New York from 2014-18, knows Hayes’ game well.

The coaches grabbed me after about six or seven games in and felt like I was putting too much pressure on myself, cheating the game a little bit offensively and kind of exposing myself out there. Since we’ve had that meeting, I’ve gotten back to playing the right way defensively, I think I’m playing good hockey. Obviously I haven’t been getting a ton of points, but I’m playing the right way.

It was kind of just, ‘Hey, we didn’t bring you in here to get 100 points this year.’ Points are great, but I think I was brought in to play a 200-foot game, to help the PK, help the PP when they needed help, to play the right way and be somewhat of a leader on the ice.

I still play a lot of minutes every night and, honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in a while and I think a lot of it has to do with the team winning and everyone being so close.

Hayes has seven points (four goals, three assists) in 17 games. He has gone scoreless over the past seven games, but the Flyers are off to their best start since 2011-12 and Hayes has made an impact.

The Flyers entered the year with the NHL’s second-worst penalty kill since 2014-15 at 78.4 percent. This season, through the Flyers’ 10-5-2 start, the PK has ranked seventh at 85.4 percent. The Flyers are 8-2-1 since Oct. 21, a stretch in which the club has been the league’s third-best shorthanded team at 90.9 percent.

Hayes leads Flyers forwards in penalty kill ice time (31:01) but is eighth in power play ice time (22:33). Since Oct. 21, he has played just 2:55 on the man advantage, so Hayes’ point production must come at even strength. It’s why his PK work is so vital and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Do the Flyers need him to score? Of course — Hayes and his coaches know it, too. After all, the Flyers signed him for multiple reasons, not to only kill penalties.

“There’s still more there,” Vigneault said. “Hayesy, when he defends well, plays that 200-foot game, the offense comes with himself. Right now, I do think he’s pressing a little bit offensively, he’s putting pressure on himself. His best hockey this year, when he was fully committed … it was almost defense first, then offense. When he does that, he’s a real effective player.”

Inevitably, the offensive numbers will be placed under a microscope, examined and compared to the monetary figures on his contract.

However, don’t lose sight of what the Flyers needed to change. Seventeen games into the 2019-20 season, they are allowing fewer goals, are tied for the NHL’s sixth-best point percentage and haven’t even gotten close to Hayes’ best.

“I hold myself to a high standard where I think I should be contributing offensively, but that hasn’t come too much yet,” Hayes said. “I’m not really too concerned about it, it will come, I’ve been an offensive player my whole life.

“It hasn’t really crossed my mind. I know what I bring to the table and the biggest thing for me is the team stats. … I think it’s a lot different when your team is struggling, that’s when you kind of start caring about points, start proving, ‘Oh, I’m playing the right way because I’m getting my points.’ I don’t think that’s the case here.”

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Future Flyers Report: Egor Zamula continues to make a name for himself, Jay O'Brien dominating the BCHL

Future Flyers Report: Egor Zamula continues to make a name for himself, Jay O'Brien dominating the BCHL

Another week of hockey has come and gone, so it's time for another check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

• Things were quiet for defenseman Egor Zamula last week, but he made sure to turn up the volume heading into the next one. 

Zamula added another two goals, giving him an impressive 17 points on the season. He ranks second in points with the Calgary Hitmen and first in assists with 11.

It is also worth noting that Zamula is first among defensemen in plus-minus with a plus-18. This also puts him as fourth-best in the league.

This is a pretty impressive and rather rare sight to see a player who went undrafted find so much success. The Flyers have lucked out in recent years with finding two undrafted defensemen that have quickly made names for themselves — Zamula being one and Philippe Myers the other. If his upside is as great as it's projected to be, talk about another steal and even more depth at the blue line.

Jay O'Brien continues to flourish in the BCHL. In three games with the Penticton Vees this past week, O'Brien tallied six points (three goals, three assists).

In addition to that, he also extended his point streak to eight games. He now has 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) through 23 games. Only two other players in the league — Kent Johnson and Michael Colella, who both play for the Trail Smoke Eaters — have more points.

The Vees also announced on Nov. 7 that O'Brien was their first ever player of the month for the month of October.


Quick hits

• It was another weekend of racking up points for Morgan Frost. He had a two-assist night on Saturday and also scored his fifth goal of the season on Sunday. He now has 12 points in 13 games.

It's also important to note the assist on Frost's goal came from Maksim Sushko. It was Sushko's only point of the weekend, but a beauty at that.

Alex Lyon had a solid performance Saturday night when the Phantoms won in overtime against the Hershey Bears, only letting in two goals. Through six games played this season, he is 3-1-2 with a 2.10 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Noah Cates had a pair of goals in as many games this weekend with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. That gives him four goals thus far in eight games. Funny enough, he and his brother Jackson Cates are tied in first for goals on the team.

• Shifting gears to Western Michigan, Ronnie Attard scored the game-winning goal on Nov. 8. In that game, Wade Allison also tallied an assist. That was Allison's first point since Oct. 12.

Wyatt Wylie had a successful weekend on the road with Everett, collecting three points (one goal, two assists) in a two-game span. He now leads the WHL in power play assists with 10. Wyatt and the Silvertips won both games and they currently lead the U.S. Division with a 13-4-0-0 record.

Felix Sandstrom did not dress for either game this weekend for the Reading Royals. Through six games, he has a .890 save percentage and 2.80 GAA.

Down at defense

• This past Wednesday, while on a conditioning stint with the Phantoms, Samuel Morin suffered a torn ACL in his right knee for the second time in 19 months. He will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

• It's still unknown how long Mark Friedman will be out for the Phantoms after he left Saturday's game in the first period. He was injured directly following a collision against the boards and needed assistance off the ice. The Phantoms also recalled defenseman James De Haas from Reading, which could imply Friedman's injury may keep him out for a significant amount of time.

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