More Sports:

October 21, 2016

Different or not, Matt Read off to hot start in potential make-or-break season

Matt Read’s career has been trending in the wrong direction, as the 30-year-old winger is almost the Bizarro Brayden Schenn: His offensive numbers have dropped off in each of the last four non-lockout seasons, all the way down to a meager 27 points in 79 games in 2015-16.

With the Flyers adding both youth and depth to the forward corps, you bet there is pressure on Read. Impractical as it may have been from a salary cap standpoint, there was some speculation outside of the organization this summer about a potential buyout of Read’s contract with two years left.

The front office didn’t publicly go that far, but Ron Hextall sure made it clear they expected more from him.

“I think sometimes he’s been bumped around the lineup, which is no excuse,” Hextall said last April. “Reader can play better.”

Hextall was right: Read can play better, and he certainly has to start the season, well enough to earn a promotion from the fourth to third line. He has tallied four goals in four games, including a couple of highlight-reel moves like the one he pulled off up above against Anaheim’s John Gibson in Thursday’s 3-2 loss.

Just in case you’re keeping score at home, Read is currently on an 82-goal pace (#Analytics). So what has gotten into him?

“I don’t know, it’s just kind of get some bounces, and for myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” Read said.

The “getting to the net” part might be key for Read, whose possession numbers last season were a mystery to anyone who keeps track or even pays the slightest attention to such things. Despite driving play compared to the rest of his career, Read was hitting career lows in scoring. In this scenario, you couldn't trust the process. Read's lack production prompted a few healthy scratch decision from Dave Hakstol, unchartered territory for him.

When Read was asked about that disparity between his possession and scoring numbers at the end of last season, he theorized that his lines tended to be comprised of three perimeter players who weren’t getting to “the tough area” of the ice right in front of the goaltender.

“We talked about getting in front of the net more often, or getting in that tough area where you take a cross-check to get a rebound or do the little things,” Read said at the time. “I think that’s where 95 percent of the goals are scored off of, rebounds or things right around the net. Not many guys can shoot from the top of the circles and score 50 every year. You’ve got to learn how to score goals, it gets harder and harder every year obviously with video and how everyone’s concentrating on every little aspect of defensive hockey.”

As explanations from players go, thisw was on the higher end. And lo and behold, all of Read’s goals to start the year have been from point-blank range. It has only been four games, but Read seems to be finding some success getting the right position on the ice.

“I really don’t know what the difference is from last year to this year. Maybe the bounces, maybe the confidence, just playing with a little edge and trying to do the most I can every night.”

Perhaps the fast start has something to do with his season prep. In the offseason, Read said that he especially focused on his cardio. Hakstol mentioned that Read was in the area by late August, working out regularly in Voorhees, getting a jump start on the season.

But when asked if he’s seeing a different Matt Read, Hakstol didn’t think so. The same goes for Read himself.

“I really don’t know what the difference is from last year to this year,” Read said. “Maybe the bounces, maybe the confidence, just playing with a little edge and trying to do the most I can every night.”

Whether it’s getting to the net, a different training regimen, or whatever Read is doing, it’s working. And if the Flyers are able to get out of this mini-rut (just one point in three games), Read building on his fast start very well could be a contributing factor.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann