VOORHEES, N.J. – If it’s both optimism and pessimism you’re looking for regarding the Flyers, there’s no need to go beyond general manager Chuck Fletcher.
During a Tuesday press briefing at the Flyers Training Center, Fletcher provided some encouraging news about injured players and why their return could help the team get out of its current six-game winless streak.
But he also made a point to say his team has to improve with the players currently available.
The numbers are rather simple: The Flyers started the season 6-2-2 with a relatively healthy lineup but when players started headed to the medical room, the next 10 games went almost in reverse: 2-6-2.
Clearly, the Flyers have been decimated by the injury bug but Fletcher made it known a makeshift lineup should not totally excuse the team’s recent performances.
Fletcher announced second line center Kevin Hayes, who practiced for the first time upon returning from an aggravation of an abdominal injury, should be ready for Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers in New York.
The GM is also hopeful center Derick Brassard (shoulder) is not far behind.
Even with reinforcements on the horizon, Fletcher said the Flyers have to do better with what they have.
“Look, we’re not where we want to be,’’ Fletcher said. “The last 10 games, the last six in particular, there are parts of our game which have really taken a step backward from the first 10. There’s no question if Hayes can play tomorrow he makes our team better. Having said that, we need to play better, too.’’
Fletcher noted the Flyers were doing a lot of good things in those first 10 games and the contrast to the next 10 has been stark.
“Goaltending was great, penalty kill was good,’’ he said. “The power play was 14th in the league at 21 percent. We weren’t perfect, we didn’t have the puck enough for me. But we were defending well. We were making progress in those areas. The onus is on our group now to get it back. When injured players come back, it makes it easier. But we can’t kid ourselves, we have to get better here.’’
Fletcher indicated he’s not of a mind to make any changes yet, be it player personnel or the coaching staff.
“I’d really like to see what we have before we start making changes,’’ he said. “I don’t think I’ve been able to see that. Right now, if you look at the first 10 games vs. the second 10, one segment was clearly better than the other. Once we get a sense of what we are, then we can make those decisions.’’
Simply put, the analytics have not been good.
Fletcher was mildly critical of the Flyers’ lack of puck possession time, inconsistent entries, a spotty forecheck. The Flyers are defending too much and that can only lead to trouble.
A killer schedule hasn’t helped.
“The last 10 games we’ve played seven top 10 teams,’’ Fletcher said. “This is the toughest part of our schedule. The compression of the schedule and the quality of the teams we’re playing, it’s tough. We’re not playing well right now so it’s a double-edged sword.’’
Fletcher said he’s meeting with a lot of players individually to try to get the same message across as the one he went public with on Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of frustration,’’ he said. “When you’re not scoring (11 even-strength goals the last 10 games), some guys are pressing, they’re struggling. Often times when your power play struggles, it builds frustration in the game and it can creep into other areas. You get a guy like ‘Coots’ (Sean Couturier), one goal in the last 10 games, he’s had all kinds of chances and they’re not going in. Clearly right now, the confidence is down a bit.’’
That power play has sunk to 28th in the NHL at 13.1 percent.
“We were 14th the first 10 games, 29th the next 10,’’ Fletcher said. “Power play, since I’ve been here, has been an everyday question. I think way too much blame gets attached to the power-play coach (Michel Therrien). The biggest thing for me, we’re having a hard time entering (the attack zone). A lot of it is execution, mindset.’’
Getting Hayes back would be a step in the right direction.
“I’m hopeful on Kevin,’’ Fletcher said. “I haven’t spoken to him. We’ll see how he feels. He really wants to play. He’s made tremendous progress the past week. He told me yesterday this is the best he’s felt in over a year. We’re hopeful for tomorrow. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow morning.’’
>Vote of confidence for Vigneault
“I saw enough in the first 10 games to know we can be a good team,’’ Fletcher said. “We have to improve internally. This is a critical week for us. It’s a massive week to get our house in order.’’
Fletcher said he puts pressure on himself when things aren’t going the way they should.
“Of course,’’ he said. “You talk about head coaches (but) I’m the one responsible for everything. You want to look for solutions. I do believe our best hope for a turnaround is by internal improvement. It’s difficult to keep looking for improvement from the outside.’’
>Brassard nursing hip injury
Center Derick Brassard, still dealing with a sore hip, skated on Tuesday but won’t play against the Rangers.
“He felt some tweaking in his lower body,’’ Fletcher said. “So we have a little bit of time after tomorrow. We don’t play again until Sunday. Hopefully he’s day-to-day and not week-to-week.’’
Fletcher provided upbeat news on Wade Allison (ankle surgery) and the Ryan Ellis (hip/groin) injury.
“Ellis has made good progress,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s still week-to-week. I can’t imagine he would play next week but again he’s making progress.’’
Allison is skating full speed and there’s a chance he will resume play with the Phantoms this weekend.
Center Nate Thompson underwent shoulder surgery on Tuesday. Fletcher said he will miss a significant amount of time.
Patrick Brown (hand injury) is also a possibility for next week. It’s just a matter of being able to grip a stick with strength.
>Phantoms dealing with injuries, COVID
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms injury list continues to grow. Some of new coach Ian Laperriere’s roster has missed a number of top players.
On top of that, a couple games were postponed due to COVID and one player remains in protocol.
“Six of their top forwards have been out,’’ Fletcher said. “I feel bad for ‘Lappy.’ It’s been a tough road for him and his players.’’