MONTREAL – The Flyers led the NHL by compiling 24 points and a 10-2-4 record in a hectic November, giving them just their fourth 10-win month in the last decade.
That’s the good news.
The better news: There are areas in which they can improve, and they won’t play 16 games in any other remaining month this season.
Continual improvement will be the goal as the season progresses and they jockey for a playoff spot.
As for equaling a franchise record for points in November, they did it by grinding out victories, by getting superb work from their penalty killers, by quickly grasping Alain Vigneault’s 1-2-2 system, and unlike in recent seasons, by rarely taking a period or two off.
But mostly, they did it by getting outstanding goaltending from Carter Hart and Brian Elliott, The Kid and The Old Pro.
It was a month in which the Flyers, now 15-7-5, scored two or fewer goals in seven of their 16 games, but their goalies bailed them out.
Hart and Elliott both made clutch saves at the most opportune times.
“They’ve been keeping us in games and giving us momentum,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said after making a length-of-the-ice dash and scoring a Bobby Orr-like goal, lifting the Flyers to a 4-3 overtime win Saturday in Montreal. “We know that they’re behind us, and we’re confident if someone makes a mistake, they’ll be able to help us out.”
Hart, 21, had a 6-2-2 record, a 1.94 goals-against average, and a .927 save percentage in November.
Elliott, 34, had a 4-0-2 record during the month, along with a 2.38 GAA and .926 save percentage.
“We needed both goaltenders with the schedule we just faced,” said Vigneault, whose team played 16 games in November, including four sets of back-to-back contests. “And we’ve been basically able to play four lines. … That’s obviously helped us with the load we’ve had.”
Vigneault has kept the skaters fresh by reducing the number of practices and giving the four lines more balanced playing time. He also has the luxury of a reliable seventh defenseman, Robert Hagg, who has given some of the other D-men rest.
Elliott said the team is maturing and doesn’t panic when it falls behind or gives up a bad goal.
“I think you can see it in everybody’s body language in how they’re treating their linemates,” he said. “No one is really getting frustrated with each other. Everybody knows everybody’s heart is in the right place. We’re all trying for that same goal and it’s working out right now.”
Provorov returns to form
It was a month when Provorov looked like an All-Star; a month when Provorov’s partner, veteran Matt Niskanen, steadied the defense; and a month when rookies Phil Myers, Joel Farabee, and Morgan Frost gave the team a jolt of energy.
The Flyers looked exhausted from playing four games in five-and-a-half days -- and on back-to-back days – before perhaps their gutsiest win of the season Saturday in Montreal.
“This team is well-conditioned, well-trained, and every time we go on the ice, we give 100 percent,” Provorov said. “No matter how tired we are or how many games we’ve played in the month, we’re going to go out there and try to do our best – and that’s what we’ve been doing so far.”
It was also a month when the young players combined with the veterans to give the team excellent balance. The Flyers scored 46 goals in the month: 21 by players 23-years-old or younger, and 25 by players over 23.
Six players had double digits in points, led by Sean Couturier (15), Claude Giroux (12), Travis Konecny (12), Jake Voracek (11), Oskar Lindblom (10), and Provorov (10).
Couturier (plus-11), Lindblom (plus-10), and Myers (plus-9) were the top plus-minus players.
“It’s a lot of fun, a lot of guys just buying in right now,” Konecny said. “I think the biggest thing is that it’s not about any individual’s stats or individual’s plays. We know we have to back each other as far as mistakes, but at the end of the day, we trust each other and we know we’re going to find a way to at least give ourselves a chance to win.”
Playing a ‘team game’
Giroux, who tied Couturier with a team-best six goals in November, said the Flyers “didn’t do anything special” during the month, “but we just played a team game and we’re having fun doing it.”
“Sixteen games in a month is definitely a lot; it takes a toll on your body,” Kevin Hayes said after Saturday’s overtime win. “The guys are going to enjoy a day off [Sunday] and hopefully we can set a new record in the month of December.”
Here’s the thing. They can play better, and they might – might – get center Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) back at some point. In addition, Shayne Gostisbehere, who has struggled during most of the first two months, could return to his old self.
The Flyers’ power play was out of sync at times and was just tied for 18th in the NHL during the month, clicking at 16.7 percent, and they were just 3-4 in shootouts. And they should get better in the faceoff circle now that Couturier’s injured shoulder has healed. In November, they finished an admirable ninth in faceoff percentage, but that number figures to climb.
The schedule lightens a bit, too, so if the Flyers are going to be among the elite in April like they are right now – they entered Sunday fifth among 31 teams in points -- they need to keep improving.
If they do, winning their first playoff series since 2012 is certainly within their reach.