PHILADELPHIA – Ever since Morgan Frost replaced Sean Couturier (injured for two games) on a line with Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson, that unit has been heating up.
Atkinson has come up with four goals in four games after going 26 games with none and Farabee just keeps finding the back of the net. He scored his 16th in Saturday’s 7-4 loss to Colorado at the Wells Fargo Center, surpassing last year’s grand total of 15 in 82 games.
Frost had two assists in the game and continues to shine as a playmaker.
“Those guys are playing unreal,” Frost said of Atkinson and Farabee after the game. “It makes it easier for me. I think Cam has really picked up his game in the last little while and he’s starting to feel it again, which is nice to see.
“I just think ‘Beezer’ (Farabee) has just been so solid all year. He’s just making so many smart plays. I really enjoy playing with those guys.”
Everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief after Atkinson ended his slump.
“One of my favorite things is seeing that big smile again,” Frost said. “Everyone likes to see that. When he’s on, he’s such an effective player. He makes so many smart reads. It’s really good to see him start feeling it again.”
Quicker puck movement has made the Flyers a tougher team to defend against this season.
When coach John Tortorella arrived on the scene last year, there was an inclination to be cautious because rapid play often led to turnovers.
But with a revamped roster and a year of learning under their belts, the Flyers are better equipped to get out of their zone quicker and pass the puck with more authority.
“I think we just kind of introduced it this year,” Tortorella said. “At the beginning of the year after playing so much defense last year. We talked about playing ‘north’ last year but we really didn’t make it a point of emphasis as we’ve done this year.
“I think as the season has gone on, it’s become instinctive. It just happens now. I think they feel more comfortable with it. They don’t worry about the mistakes that come with it. I think that’s a huge hurdle to get over is, knowing there may be a couple breakdowns but the rewards that come with playing fast and going north and taking a chance far outweigh the breakdowns.”
The Flyers entered Saturday’s game against Colorado with a team plus-minus number of plus-14. That’s a far cry from last year’s forgettable minus-55, one of the worst numbers in team history. Protecting the puck and knowing when to break and when not to is a big part of that improvement.
Better goaltending also figures in the formula. If you get the big stop, it can trigger play back toward the other end.
“That’s where our goaltending comes into play,” Tortorella said. “They (Carter Hart, Samuel Ersson) have been solid for us this year. I think it’s becoming instinctive.”
>A harmonious locker room
Much has been made of the different feel in the Flyers’ locker room this season. Of course, winning certainly doesn’t hurt that dynamic.
“I really like the team,” Tortorella said. “This is a different year than last year. Last year was a lot of refereeing, it was a lot about cleaning up things that had just gone in the wrong direction in the organization, forget about on the ice. Just downstairs in the locker room, our medical stuff.
“I didn’t mind the locker room last year but, as I’ve stated, it needed to change so we could have a few more young guys come in and feel comfortable with some of the personalities we had in the room last year.”
The vibe just feels different.
“Different type setting this year,” the coach said. “It’s beginning to take over. The coaches don’t need to be in there all the time. I still think we need to be there but I think we’re on the right track as far as letting them have the room. That’s a really good sign for the organization.”
>Ersson among stat leaders
Perhaps another factor in the Flyers’ success to date has been the presence of a highly competent backup goalie behind Hart.
Ersson has played in 20 games to date. He’s ranked fourth in the NHL in goals-against average with 2.26. He’s the only rookie in the top 10. Also, he’s tied for fourth in the league in shutouts with three.
There are no awards for rookie goaltender of the year but if there were, Ersson would be a strong candidate for the honor. The only first-year netminder with numbers close to Ersson’s is Carolina’s Pyotr Kochetkov.
Ersson’s record is 12-5-3 with a .911 save percentage. Kochetkov is 11-7-3 with a 2.58 GAA and .900 save percentage.