Flyers Look to Become 4-1 After Game Vs. Predators
The Philadelphia Flyers will face the Nashville Predators at 8PM. In a year where success seemed to look like a bloated loss column and a draft pick in the single digits, the team has overperformed to date and has a chance to go 3 games over .500 while collecting 8 out of a possible 10 standings points.
The Flyers’ schedule thus far has been filled with teams that have a wealth of speed and skill up front. One blunder in the neutral zone could lead to an odd-man rush against, and one of those could easily lead to a puck being found in the back of their own net.
But Nashville–with due exception to the dynamism and offensive brilliance of Roman Josi–is not a team filled with speedy and dynamic forwards. Their rush is most frequently led by a defenseman, because their forwards are not built to play a fast game.
Instead, they are a team that plays heavy on the walls and cycles the puck with smart passes. Those smart plays as they cycle the puck in the offensive zone can very easily lead to nifty goals from gifted snipers like Matt Duchene and Fillip Forsberg.
They play a hard, methodical game that prioritizes control and battles of attrition over the high-danger chances that come with a dynamic rush attack.
In some ways, they are exactly what the John Tortorella Flyers aspire to be.
Tonight’s game will serve as a way to observe just how close they are to becoming a team one might consider “hard to play against.”
That is the main storyline of the night. How far along are the Flyers, really, in building what they’re trying to build?
Here are some of the subplots worth attention:
Scoring By Committee, and How to Actually Do It:
Scoring by committee is what a lot of teams say they want to do.
When they aren’t blessed with the unequalled brilliance of one of the game’s superstars, they recite mantras about how they will compensate for this with a full team effort.
More often than not, they’re full of shit. Usually, people who try to “score by committee” don’t score at all. To actually “score by committee” in the modern NHL is far more difficult than relying on the magnificence of a superstar.
The John Tortorella Flyers will seek to score by committee. The bench boss himself has mentioned Zach MacEwan has a man who needs to participate in such diverse scoring.
Let me assure you: that will not happen.
If scoring by committee was as easy as getting the fourth liners to score more, then every team would just do that instead of spending $9-12M on a superstar player.
But there is a blueprint to follow. A team who accomplished exactly what the Flyers are looking to do now.
The St. Louis Blues were one of the league’s most dynamic offenses during the 2021-22 season. They accomplished the feat without a transcendent superstar.
But there were plenty of players who played at or near an All-Star level on that team.
Ryan O’Reilly and Vladamir Tarasenko were paired with the emergence of breakout stars Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas. The trade for Pavel Buchnevich paid immediate dividends, and minor scoring pieces like David Perron thrived in their role.
In all, St. Louis had 9 forwards who broke the 20 goal mark. They had 4 forwards amass 70 points or more, and 8 forwards amass over 55 points.
Those 55 point mark would have led the Flyers last year.
Proper scoring by committee is very rare. But it is possible.
How can the Flyers possibly replicate what the Blues did? And can we see the beginnings of the blueprint tonight?
Aggression from the Blueline:
The Flyers do not have a large collection of scoring forwards like the Blues had. But, they do have a surprising amount of offensively adept defenseman who can join a rush… or even lead one.
If the Flyers do score by committee, it will start with the defenseman. The offensively brilliant Tony DeAngelo has to turn his early momentum–5 points in 4 games–into a career offensive year.
Ivan Provorov, a defenseman who was once one of the best in the league at operating in transition, must rekindle that dynamic flame he possessed from 2016-2020.
Travis Sanheim, a high-level skater and puck carrier, has to return to his form of last year where he would join his forwards up-ice and help them create offense.
If the Flyers do successfully manage to score by committee, it will be a movement led by the blueliners. If those blueliners–as a unit–are among the league leaders in collective points by defensemen, then the Flyers have a chance at scoring by committee.
That is one thing to watch for as the Flyers play in Nashville, and as they play any game this season.
Forward Support via Breakout:
No blueline can sustain the scoring load of an entire team. The forwards have to help. Speed and skill has to exist on the frontline, or the brilliance of offensive defensemen will be mitigated.
The Flyers are not rich with dynamic forwards ready to carry this burden, but they aren’t impoverished either.
Travis Konecny has to keep doing things like this
Morgan Frost must take the next step, and become a top-two center on this team. Likewise, John Tortorella has to give him the opportunity.
There is a potential leader of rushes and maker of plays in there.
No such thing exists in Noah Cates, who is a talented hockey player in his own right.
But he is not the answer to the lack of offensive dynamism on this team. And if Tortorella continues to prioritize the development of Noah Cates over Frost, he will do so at the expense of his own team’s ability to score.
Joel Farabee has to stop playing like he hasn’t lifted a stick in two years. Then, after he recovers his former self, he has to take the next step and become a top-line offensive contributor.
This is not an exhaustive list of players on the roster who should pick up some slack, but these are the primary names up-front to watch when the Flyers face the Predators tonight at 8PM.
Can Carter Hart Continue His Brilliant Start?
Carter Hart is one of the most talented young goalies in hockey today. And his tremendous start has not been an outlier that’s above his skill-level. Rather, this is the Carter who was always in there.
His ability to read the play and follow it with his skates–constantly presenting his chest to shooters no matter how hard they try to move him out of position–has shone. This is the Carter Hart who was drafted.
This is the guy who nearly carried an empty husk of a Flyers team to a conference final in the 2019-20 season.
Now, to be specific, Carter’s present .943 save percentage is not sustainable.
Igor Shesterkin–a uniquely gifted goalie himself–required every ounce of talent he had to maintain a .935, and there was likely some dumb luck involved.
The question isn’t if Carter’s current number will drop, but rather… how far? Can he maintain the .920 save percentage that many of the league’s elite goalies produced last season?
If the Flyers have any hope of winning games on a semi-consistent basis, he will need to.
And if the Flyers are going to play aggressive with their defenseman, they will inevitably surrender quality chances against because of risks that backfire.
Carter Hart has the talent to make sure that those backfired risks don’t lead to goals against as often as they should.
But does he play the rest of the year up to his tremendous ability?
Only time will tell. And we’ll have one more data point tonight, when he takes the ice against the Predators.
How will this all turn out? Well, for reasons beyond my comprehension, I’m pretty optimistic.
Prediction: 5-3 Flyers.