Flyers’ start catching some teams by surprise

John Tortorella

That old line about the element of surprise never really gets old.

Prime example: The young Flyers and their winning record five games into the current season.

Picked by many to finish last in the Metropolitan Division and some to inhabit the Eastern Conference basement this year, the Flyers have shown some real resilience against some good competition.

A lot of those prognostications were based on last year’s performances and plenty of negative statistics.

Here’s one that jumps out at you: Last year the Flyers were the only NHL team which failed to overcome a two-goal deficit and win a game.

Then fast forward to this season. In the second game of the season, they were down two goals to the Vancouver Canucks. Outcome? A Flyer win.

In the next game, on the road at Tampa, the Flyers trailed 2-0 against the former two-time Stanley Cup champion Lightning. Result? A Flyer victory.

One night later, the Flyers were behind by a pair again, this time in a game against the defending Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers. Philadelphia did battle back to a 2-2 tie before giving in to the fatigue of back-to-back games on the road in a narrow 4-3 loss.

The point is, in similar situations last season the Flyers most likely would have folded their tent, packed it in and not held themselves accountable to another non-character defeat.

All of which brings us to why things look so different this season, at least for the first handful of games.

Even without the services of three important players – Cam Atkinson, Rasmus Ristolainen and Owen Tippett – the Flyers demonstrated resilience in a three-game road trip which concluded Saturday night in Nashville.

From this vantage point, the biggest factor in this early turnaround has been through the work of coach John Tortorella.

The new bench boss made it clear in training camp there would be no excuse making and certainly no lack of conditioning. Anyone who watched those heavy-on-skating practices for the better part of 90 minutes can tell you the players knew they had to buy in or find themselves sitting out.

Talk about an excellent merit system: Tortorella declared almost from day one he would not be naming a captain at the start of the season. It would have been easy to pin a “C’’ on the jersey of a veteran such as Kevin Hayes or Atkinson (discounting Sean Couturier, who’s been injured).

Instead, Tortorella decided to name the bare minimum for official leadership on the ice by giving an “A’’ for alternate captain to Scott Laughton.

Why?

Because he earned it.

The coach even said as much, declaring he didn’t see anybody else in the early going who deserved such a designation.

From a talent standpoint, this Flyer team has been upgraded and it has shown.

Granted, the Flyers have upgraded their roster by trading for offensive-minded defenseman Tony DeAngelo and enforcer Nic Delauriers. They’ve seen Joel Farabee come back from neck surgery far sooner than expected and watched youngsters such as the Cates brothers (Noah and Jackson), Wade Allison and defenseman Egor Zamula make a positive impact.

However, it all seems to come back to Tortorella, a 20-year veteran in the NHL coaching ranks, who knows exactly what it takes to keep the attitude fresh in his locker room.

As has been mentioned before, “Torts’’ will work his players to the bone in practice, then go over at the end of a grueling workout and, using his stick, tap each player on the leg or hip to acknowledge their hard work.

It’s such a refreshing change from the last two non-playoff seasons around here, when players just appeared to be going through the motions.

So while the season is only barely a week old, there seems to be a feeling the Flyers aren’t going to be intimidated by anyone. Tampa had beaten the Flyers 10 straight times and embarrassed them several times in Amalie Arena. Those days appear to be over.

Up to now, the Flyers look like they have caught teams off-guard. How long that state of affairs can last is anybody’s guess.

But this much we do know: If teams continue to take these Flyers lightly, they’re going to fall victim to that element of surprise, be it old or new.

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About Wayne Fish 2473 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.