December 23, 2021
The holiday break came a little earlier than expected for the Philadelphia Flyers. Set to begin following their since-postponed Thursday night tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers — and the entire NHL — were forced to begin their end-of-the-year vacation a few days earlier with the Omicron variant rearing its ugly head across the league.
The Flyers will now have more than a week off with their return set for Dec. 29 as they kick off a four-game west coast trip beginning in Seattle.
Heading into the break, the team finds themselves at “hockey .500” with a 12-12-5 record. Following a miserable 10-game winless slide, the Flyers responded with four wins over their final five games leading into the pause.
With a little more than a third of the season completed, there's plenty of data and insight around the team to begin predicting what may happen once the league resumes play. Will the Flyers continue wrestling among the bottom-feeders in the Eastern Conference or is there recent play indicative of turning things around?
Let's get into the reasons why the Flyers will right the ship and claw their way back into a playoff position.
It's pretty evident the Flyers lack consistency at the top of their defense. Justin Braun filled in admirably alongside Ivan Provorov but the latter truly needs a 1A alongside him to flourish.
In the small sample size they've played together, the team has gone 2-1-1 but more importantly, the duo proved that they can feed off one another and form a reliable top pair. That and the addition of Ellis allows for everyone else on the blue line to slot in where they should.
It's unclear when Ellis will officially be back, but whenever it may be in early January, the team will surely be happy to have him commanding the defense.
It seems like a long time ago but the Flyers fired their coach during this 29-game stretch. Mike Yeo has only had seven games with this club, going 4-2-1 in that timeframe, and minimal practice time.
Though he coached alongside Vigneault, the longtime head coach in Minnesota has a different system and philosophy, so having time to instill that into his team is of the utmost importance. He’ll get a chance for quality practice time when the team comes back from the pause for a few days before their game in Seattle.
It'll be much needed as the club will rip through 14 games in January including two sets of back-to-backs. Having a better understanding of what Yeo wants from his group will only boost the on-ice production.
The Flyers were tasked with an insanely-challenging stretch of games against the league’s best earlier this season. That, mixed with poor play, largely was to blame for the horrid 10-game run they went through.
With that behind them, the team can now play more of the league's middling to basement-dwelling teams, beginning with Seattle. They'll also have many more Metro Division games to make up ground. They’ve only had eight division games to date (3-4-1) and none of which against the last place New York Islanders or Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that has the same amount of points as themselves.
They'll also have another break coming up in February for the scheduled Olympic break — though the league has pulled its players from competing. Despite that, there will still be bigger gaps over those three weeks with the only games being played a result of postponements (the Flyers have three to date).
Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes are essential for this group’s success. Both have dealt with slower starts for various reasons, each though dealing with injuries that have hindered them despite playing through in most cases.
The top two pivots for the Flyers have just 23 points combined and eight goals in 40 games between the two. That's unacceptable. This break comes at the right time for both with Hayes hitting the COVID list ahead of the pause. Couturier will get some much needed rest, as well.
Once the schedule resumes the Flyers will need these two players to get back to playing at a high level. If they get back to that point, the rest of the club will follow suit.
Giroux has been the team’s best player to date. At 33-years-old, the captain has been as good as advertised but there's an elephant in the room when it comes to him.
He's playing in the final year of his contract which has some fans wondering if this thing bottoms out would the organization look at moving him ahead of the March trade deadline?
Without speculating on that, for now, Giroux is a Flyer and his quest for a Stanley Cup is centered on bringing one to Broad Street. There's been a lot that's happened to suggest this club isn't close to that, but Chuck Fletcher built this team with that goal in mind.
Through injuries piling up, the roster has hardly had a chance to play together. They looked dynamic in the first few games before injuries mounted. Perhaps that's more closely resembling who they are, and if that's the case, there's no reason to believe that they won't be a dangerous team behind their captain if they can fight back into the playoff picture.
There's a lot to be said about the importance of taking a mental break as well as the physical rest. While every team will benefit from this, in the Flyers’ case, it's a necessary reset after an up-and-down first third to the season.
Though it's only been 29 games, this group has already been put through the ringer. There's been a changing of the guard, a brutal losing streak, and at times, some of the most explosive play in the league. The whole gamut has been unloaded on this team in the early going.
Getting a chance to step away and self reflect will do this club wonders. Everyone has a lot going on both on-and-off the ice, having this pause at this time allows the Flyers to think long and hard about what they want to be moving forward.
As hockey fans know, all it takes sometimes to win is elite goaltending. The Flyers have received that at times in the early going but saw the play between the pipes taper off slightly amid the 10-game slide.
Nonetheless, the pair of Carter Hart and Martin Jones is playing much better than the team's goalie situation from a year ago that saw the Flyers allowing a league-high goals per game. Hart has flashed signs of greatness this season and there's a real belief that the sky can be the limit for him if he receives better goal support.
If some of the aforementioned reasons begin to come to fruition, the goalies would be the ones to reap the benefits as the play in front of them would surely improve.
The Flyers haven't had many pure goal scorers over the last decade. In Atkinson and Farabee they finally have a pair that can snap off a string of goals from anywhere on the ice.
Atkinson has had two point-per-game months over the first three this season with his drought coming amidst the team’s losing streak. Farabee lost some time with an injury but has already proven how effective he can be as evident during his team-leading scoring run from a season ago.
The two have 19 goals combined thus far, good for second and third on the club. Getting those two on the ice in the same game and if they can get coordinate their goal-scoring runs, there's plenty of optimism that this Flyers team can score in a hurry.
Going off the Atkinson-Farabee scoring punch, Konecny has been a surprise up to this point but not in a good way. The former first round pick goes into the break on a 14-game goal-less drought. He has just two goals since Halloween.
This is a far cry from when he scored exactly 24 goals in three straight seasons. While the goals haven't come for him — he sits one away from his 100th career NHL tally — he has provided offense with seven assists over the last seven games.
Recently married over the past week, look for Konecny to get going once he finds the back of the net. He's always been a streaky scorer so all it takes is one to get him going.
Sometimes things are a simple explanation. The Flyers missed the playoffs last season. How's that impact this year?
The Flyers have alternated playoff appearances every season since the 2011-12 campaign. If you're a believer in trends, then you should feel confident in history backing the orange and black to find a way into the postseason.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @Kyle_Phillippi
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports