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February 04, 2021

What they're saying: Early grades for Flyers players, how they can improve, and who named Gritty

Flyers NHL
2_Gritty_2_FlyersvsKnights_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice


With Flyers season in full swing, we've decided to extended our weekly What They're Saying posts to the Orange and Black as well, as they're currently tied with the Bruins at 16 points atop the East Division. That's despite Wednesday night's loss to Boston in which the Flyers squandered a late 3-1 lead before ultimately falling in over time. 

It was an ugly game for the Flyers, one they had no business losing, but it was also not a wholly unsurprising result, as Alain Vigneault's team hasn't been playing as well as their 7-2-2 record suggests. That's one way to look at it. The other side is that the Flyers, while not playing their best, are still finding ways to win games, something that teams who hope to contend must be able to accomplish. 

It's also worth noting that the team has played the vast majority of its games without top forward Sean Couturier, the reigning Selke winner who suffered a rib injury in the second game of the season. 

He's getting closer to returning (more on that in a minute) and some other players could soon shake off some rust from extensive time away from hockey. Carter Hart hasn't been at his best, and the team's one offseason acquisition, Erik Gustafson, hasn't come close to playing at the level many expected. There are special teams issues and injury concerns. Sure, you can take a glass-half-empty approach, but Vigneault still has his team tied for the best record in the division. That certainly sounds like a good thing. 

Sure, losses like the one the Flyers suffered at the hands of the Bruins on Wednesday are unacceptable, but the sky is not falling in Philly. Let's take a look at what they're saying... 

A 'mixed bag'

Sam Carchidi | The Philadelphia Inquirer

The other day, our own Evan Macy wrote about how the Flyers' record was a bit deceiving. The next day, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher admitted as much. While he's happy with the points his team has been able to accumulate to this point, he acknowledged that there are cracks showing that the team would be wise to address now before they cause more serious problems when it matters most. 

That being said, he's taking the glass-half-full approach outlined above, and knows that if his team can collect points while not playing their best, they have the potential to be quite dangerous if they can put it all together — not unlike what they did last winter before the season was halted due to COVID-19.

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher is happy with his team’s 7-2-1 start, but he doesn’t have his head in the sand.

He knows his team hasn’t played as well as its record might suggest, which is why he called the first 10 games a “mixed bag.”

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be a very tight race. A 56-game sprint to try to make the playoffs,” he said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, “and anytime you can bank 15 points over your first 10 games, you have to be happy with the results.”

But ...

“I’m not sure the process is where we want it to be,” added Fletcher, whose team will host Boston on Wednesday and Friday and try to avenge a pair of losses to the Bruins. ”I’m not sure we’re playing at the level we want to be, and I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think anybody in our room is fooled by our record. I think our coaches understand the work we need to do to get better.”  []

Early returns

Charlie O'Connor | The Athletic

Over at The Athletic, Charlie O'Connor offered up some early season grades for the Flyers players, grading them on the following five-point scale: Great, Good, Mixed, Rough (but it's OK), Rough (but it's not OK). 

Given the Flyers' record and overall early-season success, the majority of the players were in the first three categories. Here's an example of one of the three players to make the "Great" category...  

James van Riemsdyk

Van Riemsdyk is racking up points (13 in 10 games). He’s producing on the power play again (four goals, one assist). And his play-driving bounce-back in 2019-20 has carried over: He’s one of just three regular Flyers forwards with a positive on-ice expected goal differential at five-on-five (51.14 percent). Van Riemsdyk  is also one of the only forwards whom head coach Alain Vigneault has singled out in a positive way this season (after Game 4, a 3-0 win over Buffalo). It’s not difficult to argue that van Riemsdyk has been Philadelphia’s best all-around forward through 10 games.

One interesting aspect of his early season success: Van Riemsdyk, long valued for his goal scoring, is leaning on his playmaking to drive his success. He has just 20 shots on goal through 10 games, and while that can be partially attributed to the team’s shot-creation woes, it also speaks to van Riemsdyk’s increased willingness to set up his linemates for quality chances. In the past three games, he has six points — and not a single shot on goal. “I think just part of (having) experience is (knowing) there’s a fine line between taking what’s available and trying to overly dictate certain things,” he said Tuesday when asked to explain his newfound preference for the pass.  [The Athletic]

Another player in that class was backup goalie Brian Elliott, while starter Carter Hart found himself two tiers lower, under "The Mixed."

Carter Hart

Hart has had some strong performances — Game 2 against Pittsburgh, for starters, and the “we didn’t show up for the first 40 minutes” win against the Devils qualifies as well. But he doesn’t seem like he’s settled into the kind of rhythm that would elevate him to the Vezina Trophy-contender status that many in the media were willing to bestow on him.

Obviously, the Boston game was rough, as Hart had a rare display of temper after the blowout defeat. But that wasn’t his only less-than-stellar moment; he was pulled against Buffalo in the Flyers’ other 6-1 defeat, and he’s occasionally been a bit late on his reads and decisions with the puck on his stick, which has led to quite a few preventable goals. Hart hasn’t been as bad as his .900 save percentage, but he also hasn’t been as good as fans hoped he would be.  [The Athletic]

Getting possessive

Drew Meyer |

One of the things that made the Flyers so success last season were their possession metrics. But they've fallen mightily in that area in 2021, which is part of the reason why they haven't looked as good (despite what their record says). A lot of ink has been spilled over their lack of shots and their shot differential, but over at Broad Street Hockey, Drew Meyer took a look at the numbers and tried to figure out what exactly has been the problem for Philly. 

Last season, the Flyers were within the top ten in the NHL for team Corsi-For at 5-on-5, improving from a rank of 21st in 2018-19. This was easily backed up by the eye test, as the Flyers were far more effective in breakouts, and were dominating on the cycle and forecheck when they were established in the offensive zone.

In 2020-21, however, the Flyers are dead last in the NHL in team Corsi-For and Fenwick-For at 5-on-5. The Kings and the Red Wings, of all teams, are besting them through the early stages of this season.

So, what’s happened?

Well, quite simply, the execution of plays have been poorer to start the season. This was likely to be the case for many teams, given the shortened pre-season and training camps. However for the Flyers, this appears to be an exacerbated issue. Turnovers in the defensive zone, failing to clear the puck out of the zone, lapses in coverage (especially around the crease; Hagg, Braun, and Gustafsson are guilty parties), and failures in carrying the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone are key issues which have plagued the Flyers through their first ten games. That is an issue of execution, and hopefully this should improve as the season continues so Flyer wins will not continue to come at the expense of process.  [BSH]

Frost warning

Jordan Hall | NBC Sports Philadelphia

While Sean Couturier is closing in on a return and could be back with the team in a week or so, top prospect Morgan Frost, who was called up to replace Couturier when he first went down, may be done for the season after just two games. 

It appears likely that Frost's second game will be his last of this season. Frost is set to undergo shoulder surgery this week at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, and will miss multiple months.

"I don't know if he's a candidate to come back at any point this season," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday. "I guess in my mind I'm just hopeful for a full recovery and a great offseason and get him ready for next year. Maybe he can beat that timeline; we'll have more information after the surgery is completed."

The injury is an unfortunate halt to the development of Frost, who was just starting his second year of pro hockey. He was going to be a key depth option down the middle of the ice for the Flyers and would have been one of AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley's best players had he'd joined the Phantoms at some point.  []

A big Hart

Sean Leahy | ProHockeyTalk

Carter Hart's on-ice play might be only "mixed" this year, but his off-ice game is as strong as ever. Here's a nice, positive story about the Flyers goalie interacting with his fans, and also serves as a nice reminder that the team wore their "Reverse Retro" jerseys for the first time on Wednesday night. 

The tagged photo appeared in Carter Hart’s Instagram feed and quickly caught his attention.

In the photo was Carter Gettler, wearing a Hart Flyers jersey shirt, who was about to undergo another chemotherapy treatment. To stay positive, the 5-year-old would wear the shirt for each session as he fights Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), a rare pediatric cancer.

Hart reached out to the Gettlers to purchase bracelets they’re selling to raise awareness for LCH and to help with the financial aspect of treatments. Around that time the Flyers revealed their “Reverse Retro” designs and the goaltender decided to trade a jersey for a bracelet to help Little Carter during his fight. 

The Gettlers are hoping that by the summer Little Carter is considered “non-active,” meaning he is free of symptoms and any signs of LCH.  [ProHockeyTalk]

What's in a name?

Abbey Mastracco | Bleacher Report

Over at Bleacher Report, Abbey Mastracco took a look back at the birth of Gritty and how this city eventually fell in love with him. One thing that jumped out at me was that Paul Holmgren came up with his name. Go figure... 

"We looked at animals, we looked at pilots, we looked at 'what is a Flyer really considered?'" Mina said. "We debated, is this aviation? That route felt very safe but didn't really feel right. And I think we all kind of landed on, 'OK, it needs to be sort of a monstrous creature or something that doesn't currently exist.'"

Former team president and Flyers alum Paul Holmgren named the beast. He described characteristics of the Flyers and kept coming back to the word "grit."

"He's really a good physical embodiment of what our organization is," Mina said. "Gritty was a word that... he kind of looked at everyone and said, 'That's what you should name it.' And I think from that point, everyone agreed that had felt really right."

So it had a name and face, but the reception was still missing. The club consulted with Dave Raymond, the original Phanatic, and he warned them that it would take time for the fans to embrace a new mascot. The marketing team braced themselves for a chilly reception. 

The first reception was actually quite warm, but that was to be expected. The team debuted him at the Please Touch Museum, and the kids couldn't get enough of the new Wells Fargo Center bleacher creature. But the livestream of the event didn't go quite as well. 

Twitter discovered Gritty. Like many things on Twitter, it didn't go well.  [Bleacher Report]

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