What’s not to like?
The 7-2-1 Flyers are off to one of the fastest starts in their history and they’re finding different ways to win on a nightly basis.
Sometimes it’s the goaltending. Other nights, like the 4-3 overtime win against the Islanders, it’s crazy four-assist efforts from James van Riemsdyk. And then there are others where, for instance, Philippe Myers plays the best game of his NHL career.
So when pressed to find any fault with his team’s 10-game getaway, general manager Chuck Fletcher didn’t have a very long list.
“It’s been a mixed bag,’’ said Fletcher during a Tuesday afternoon media Zoom call. “We’re happy with our record. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a 56-game sprint to try to make the playoffs.
“Anytime you can bank 15 points over your first 10 games, you have to be happy with the results. I’m not sure the process is where we want it to be, not sure we’re playing at the level we want to be and I think that’s a good thing.’’
“I don’t think anybody in our room is fooled by our record,’’ Fletcher said. “I think our coaches understand the work that we need to do to get better. Our play’s been a little bit uneven.
“Having said all that, I think what I respect about this group is we find a way. The will to win is high. There are certain areas of our game that need to get better but every night somebody steps up that allows us to get the win.’’
Fletcher then cited some reasons why the Flyers have been so successful, even though there are some unsightly stats, such as being outgunned by a more than 100-shot margin.
“Our last four games, our penalty kill has been much improved,’’ Fletcher said. “We’ve had games where our power play has a big impact. Our goaltenders have been consistently good for us, they give us a chance.
“The other night we got our forecheck going for the first time. We were able to make the Islanders defend a bit more than they’ve had to defend us in the past. We’ve had a couple big goals in overtime. We haven’t played a consistent game we need to play eventually but we’re working our way through some things. At the end of the day we’ve found ways to win.’’
Fletcher sounds happy with the work of his defense. In particular, he praised the performances of Myers and Shayne Gostisbehere.
“I think they (the entire defense) have played better than I expected,’’ Fletcher said. “I guess I would suggest our group of forwards to me haven’t played to the level they need to play at. I think they’ve made the game extremely difficult for our defensemen and our goaltenders.
“There have been some players who have exceeded my expectations, namely Gostisbehere and Myers. I thought the game he played Sunday night was tremendous. I thought that was arguably his most impactful game as a pro.’’
Gostisbehere, just back after recovering from a case of COVID-19, has been placed on the first defense tandem with Ivan Provorov and looks like his old self so far.
“Shayne is playing as well as he’s played since I’ve been with the Flyers (November, 2018),’’ Fletcher said. “As a group, there hasn’t been perfection, but considering the pressure put on our defense and goaltenders, they’ve done a pretty job for us.’’
Fletcher said his forwards can improve with their puck management in the neutral zone, their ability to get pucks behind the opponent’s defense and establish a forecheck.
“We have a group of players that likes to make plays,’’ Fletcher said. “The positive side to that is we make some tremendous plays. We create a lot of high-danger chances and I think that’s why our shooting percentage is so high.’’
>Talks with Niskanen
Fletcher disclosed he’s had talks on a bi-weekly basis with retired defenseman Matt Niskanen.
While there have been conversations, Fletcher is fairly certain Niskanen is not coming back to the NHL, either as a player or some sort of consultant/advisor.
“He (Niskanen) seems to be doing well, enjoying his time with his family,’’ Fletcher said. “Matt’s made it pretty clear he’s done playing. We didn’t terminate his contract, we left open that possibility if he did change his mind, we would be in a position to bring him back.
“But it’s not something we’re counting on.’’
>More physicality needed?
Big left wing Samuel Morin got into one game but for the most part, the Flyers don’t have a lot of heavy hitters. Fletcher said he isn’t concerned about things in the physicality department.
“I think there’s time we need to play a more physical brand of hockey,’’ Fletcher said. “Again, our game Sunday was the most physical game we’ve had all year.’’
>Getting through the pandemic
“I think the protocols are appropriate,’’ Fletcher said. “These are difficult times, you can do everything right and still contract COVID. I think we’re all trying to be careful. The players recognize how fortunate we are to be back playing. I don’t think anyone is taking it for granted.’’
Fletcher said Sean Couturier (rib injury) is still about seven to 10 days from a return. Morgan Frost is scheduled to undergo surgery for his dislocated shoulder and is expected to be out for months. Prospect Wade Allison underwent ankle surgery and will miss at least another month.