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December 23, 2022

Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and more make strides as the Flyers try to build

The results aren't there, but "you gotta hang your hat on somewhere," head coach John Tortorella said. "Or you'll lose your mind."

John Tortorella shifted the tone of this team and the season as soon as he walked in the door as the next head coach, and was blunt about what it really was at the start of December. 

The Flyers are building, and they're doing it from the footers. They need to nail down a new identity, establish a process of accountability and attention to detail, and figure out who's in and who's out for the long term. 

They're going to compete every night, and you can see it in how much harder they're skating this year compared to last, but they have a long, long way to go. And in terms of concrete results, you're not gonna see much for a while.

Losses are going to pile up, there's going to be a ton of frustration and, again, tons of pain. It's hard, for the fans, the coaches, and the players. But in a situation like this, you have to take the wins wherever you can get them. 

"As hard as it's been to eat all the losses, and for coaches, it's hard, they're the ones that play. I can imagine how they feel," Tortorella said of his team following the 5-3 win over Columbus Tuesday night. "There have been some good things going on as far as development, as far as individual players, and also our team concept.

"Right now you gotta hang your hat on somewhere, or you'll lose your mind, and those are the things we're trying, little small victories, as far as where we're coming as individuals...Hopefully, 50-plus games here, hopefully we just get some consistency and maybe some results."

They were starting to see some. 

After dropping four straight from their home game against Washington On December 7 through their west-coast road trip to December 13, the Flyers came back and won two of their next three at Newark against the Devils and then at home vs. the Blue Jackets on Tuesday. 

Then they ran into a buzzsaw on Thursday when they got Maple Leafs up in Toronto though – a second period with four penalties against Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander? Yeah, that's never going to go well. 

But the Flyers did push back and with names they're hoping there are much more to. In a 4-1 hole, Morgan Frost scored and Joel Farabee potted one before coming within inches of tying it up on another scoring chance. The comeback fell short, but something was brewing there at the end. The result just isn't there yet. 

"I think all year you look at our group, we never quit, we never just packed it in and said, 'We'll move on to the next one,'" Farabee said. "A lot of credit to the players in the room. We're a group that knows we have to play a full 60 every night to give ourselves a chance and even when we're down three in the third, to get within one, yeah definitely gives you a little confidence but you don't want to be in that situation every game."

So where can you hang your hat right now? 

• Travis Konecny has bounced back and answered just about every call so far this season. He scored twice on Tuesday night, had two assists on Thursday, and has stepped in as a key part of the team's penalty kill. "I'm always looking for him," Tortorella said after the Blue Jackets game

He has 14 goals and 30 points on the season, tying him for the team lead with Kevin Hayes (who is a whole other situation right now).

• Morgan Frost had a four-point night in the overtime loss to Arizona on Dec. 11, and has been on to something since coming back to the east coast. He's had three goals in the last three games and said after the loss to Toronto that this is the best he's felt in his pro career. A late first-round pick in 2017, Frost is still just 23 years old, but hasn't made much of an impact at the pro level. He signed a one-year "prove it" deal over the summer, so in a lot of ways, this is make-or-break. 

"This is a big time for his career," Tortorella said Tuesday night. "He has a chance to show or not show. He's going to get the opportunity throughout the rest of this year. I think he's trying to seize it here."

• Owen Tippett, the 23-year-old winger who was the key return in the Claude Giroux trade with Florida last season, also had a two-goal night against Columbus, including a nice give-and-go with Farabee in the second that gave the Flyers the lead. Like Frost, Tippett is still trying to find his footing in the NHL. He's had flashes and knows where to find the open ice, but finishing plays has long been one of his problems. He has 10 goals and 16 points in 29 games and has looked increasingly comfortable on a line with Frost and James van Riemsdyk. 

• Farabee has been pretty quiet so far this season after coming back from disc replacement surgery in his neck during the summer

His aforementioned goal and scoring chance that could've tied it on Thursday are good signs, but he does need to show more with just six goals and 11 assists as one of the team's better, and younger, forwards. 

"He's playing better," Tortorella said. "I still think there's more. I'll leave it at that. I think he's improved in some areas. I think he feels more confident with the puck, but we're gonna have to get better. All of our offensive guys have to continue to get better."

• Cam York has been a much more effective defenseman since his demotion and call back up from Lehigh Valley. Tortorella initially cut the 21-year-old in camp because he was just trying to get by, but mistakes are going to happen, he wanted the former first-round pick to go for it and "make a difference." He rejoined the Flyers for the West Coast trip and has been much more aggressive in moving the puck up ice and getting involved in the offensive cycling, which resulted in two assists in the win over Columbus. 

• Carter Hart gives the Flyers a chance every time he's out there. His .911 save percentage and 2.87 goals-against average don't really do him proper justice. Leaky goals still happen now and then, but they don't open the floodgates anymore as they have in the past couple of years. His technique has been noticeably cleaner this season and so has his mentality. He stole the Dec. 15 win against the Devils by stopping 48 of 49 shots and, at numerous points by his teammates, has been considered the team's best player. 

"He's been great all year," Farabee said Thursday after the Leafs game. "He's done everything we've asked of him. He's someone that when he's in the net, we have a ton of confidence playing in front of him. He's been awesome." 

So look, at 11-16-7 with 29 points – only creeping closer to the cellar of the Eastern Conference – and a number of major injuries already (Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson, etc.) the Flyers'results this year just aren't the endgame. 

The climb back to relevance is way down the line. 

But as Tortorella said, you have to hang your hat somewhere and take the wins where you can get them. Otherwise, you lose your mind. 

"Everybody wants results. You can't minimize that," he said at the poidum Tuesday. "We always are preparing to win a hockey game. I need to, in my mind, players – that's all they want to do is win. I have to, as the head coach of the team, understand some of the situations that some guys are in, maybe where we get overwhelmed at times. 

"I gotta make sure I keep patience as we're building – because we're building – but as we're building and you approach each game, you want to win. It's my job and my coaching staff's job to make sure we handle ourselves the right way. Players just want to win. We have to control circumstances and how we coach them when we're not getting results." 

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