Flyers’ first-quarter grades reflect slow start

Zack MacEwen has been a steady performer for the Flyers this season (Zack Hill photo).
         It might feel like the hockey season is just getting started but the Flyers play game No. 20 on Sunday, so we’ve already reached the first-quarter mark.
      Is this enough time to fairly assess what the Flyers have (or have not) accomplished as a team? That answer would be a big fat “maybe.’’
      This much is certain: After an encouraging 6-2-2 start, the Flyers have fallen to a 2-4-2 record over the next eight games entering Friday’s match with the Carolina Hurricanes.
      Clearly, averaging just over one point per game isn’t going to get it done as far as making the playoffs next April. Somewhere around 95 points is the usual benchmark, so mid-80s isn’t going to get it done.
      Here’s how we grade the team so far:
      There have been a few pleasant surprises and several disappointments.
      On the plus-side, Claude Giroux is off to one of his quickest starts in recent years yet his minus-3 in plus-minus ratings isn’t cause for celebration.
      Derick Brassard, a 33-year-old journeyman who currently is sidelined, might be the player competing the highest above expectations. He’s good in all three zones, can score and set up plays, plus he’s third on the team in scoring.
      Zack MacEwen might be just a fourth-line right wing but he’s been playing his butt off. He was the only forward to show up the other night in a disturbing 4-0 loss at Tampa. The guy hits, fights, charges the net hard and hustles on the backcheck. What’s not to like?
      Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Cam Atkinson (plus-9) and Joel Farabee have each had their moments but need to pick it up a bit. Pending Friday action, the Flyers had not scored more than three goals in a game in 12 outings. That’s unacceptable.
      As for disappointments, James van Riemsdyk has been stuck on one goal for 18 games. That’s far below standard for someone who’s making $7 million per year. Also, Oskar Lindblom has to finish some of the quality chances he’s getting.
      Nate Thompson and Patrick Brown have been OK. The injured Kevin Hayes has only played a couple games, so that’s an incomplete. Max Willman has done what he can.
      GRADE: **C+**
      The big story here, of course, is the absence of top pairing backliner Ryan Ellis, who’s only played a handful of games and now appears to be on the shelf for at least a month. Big loss there.
      Ivan Provorov continues to play big minutes every night but without Ellis his plus-minus is a pedestrian zero. By the way, newcomer Keith Yandle is minus-9 and that’s not something to write home about.
      Rasmus Ristolainen has added toughness and some spirit – not bad with the puck, either, but needs to shoot more. Travis Sanheim, who was a minus player last season, has turned that number around and hit plus-7 the other day.
      Justin Braun might deserve the best mark here. He’s been steady at both ends of the ice and has already exceeded last season’s point total. Nick Seeler has filled in admirably for Ellis.
      GRADE: **B**
      Martin Jones was signed to be Carter Hart’s backup but the veteran goalie has turned in some strong performances, as recently as that 2-1 overtime loss gem in Florida the other night. Jones figures to play about 25-30 games this season so it’s imperative he stays at this level of play.
      The numbers for Hart don’t really speak to his compete level. He’s kept the Flyers in numerous games so far and a big reason why the team is still among the league leaders in goals allowed per game average. It’s a big comeback from last year when he looked unsure of himself at times and raised a few questions about his long-term future.
      GRADE: **A-**
      Alain Vigneault has insisted all along if his team had the chance for a full offseason and a full training camp, things would be different. So far, the results have been mixed. The team has done well in tight games, going 4-0-4 in one-goal tilts. The big question is this: Is Vigneault safe if the Flyers fail to make the playoffs for back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992-1993 to 1993-1994? Stay tuned.                              GRADE **C+**


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About Wayne Fish 2437 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.