You look at the Flyers and you see a little bit of the St. Louis Blues in them.
That’s not to say the Flyers are going to end a 45-year drought and win the Stanley Cup this season. Heck, with all the parity in the Eastern Conference, they will have to huff and puff just to make the playoffs.
This is a team that can look like an also-ran (see its holiday road trip) one week, and like a serious contender the next week (see its wins over powerhouses Washington, Boston, and St. Louis).
“They’re a tough team to play against,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube said before the Flyers outhit the defending Stanley Cup-champion Blues and dictated the pace in the last two-plus periods, emerging with a 4-3 overtime win Wednesday.
After beating the powerful Blues on the road, the Flyers returned home and lost to struggling Montreal the next night.
Teams with Cup aspirations aren’t as inconsistent as the Flyers, especially on the road. They are tougher mentally, and more focused. Like the Blues.
Consider: St. Louis has had four winning streaks of three or more games — including seven- and eight-game runs — and just one three-game losing streak in which it failed to pick up a point via a shootout or overtime defeat.
Conversely, the Flyers, perhaps because their young defense and goalie are still maturing and seem lost on the road, have had four winning streaks of three or more games and three losing streaks of three games in which they collected zero points.
Still, there are signs, positive signs, that something is growing here and that the Flyers are using the Blues’ blueprint for success.
Defense and goaltending carried the Blues to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup last season. That, and the accountability Berube demands from his players.
General manager Chuck Fletcher is using a similar plan. Like the Blues with Jordan Binnington, he has an inexperienced goalie, Carter Hart, with the potential to carry a team when healthy. And in the offseason, Fletcher upgraded the defense — calling it his No. 1 priority — and hired a coach, Alain Vigneault, with a winning resume and no-nonsense approach.
Like the Blues with Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, the Flyers have two defensemen (Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim) who could be All-Stars in the making. Like the Blues, the Flyers have a defense that can become their identity.
“They have a good group of young defensemen who get into the play offensively, jump into the play a lot,” Berube said about the Flyers, his former team. “They’re an aggressive team. Alain Vigneault’s teams are always aggressive, and they put pressure on you.”
Former Flyer Brayden Schenn said another reason the Blues have been so consistent is that they have great balance among their four lines. That’s another area Vigneault has tried to emulate, spreading the talent among his lines, though it has become more challenging with Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick sidelined.
The Flyers had lots of holes on the team when Berube was fired by then-GM Ron Hextall after going 31-33-18 and missing the playoffs in 2014-15. He was replaced by Dave Hakstol.
Berube, who will accept the Team of the Year award from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association at a banquet Monday at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, was asked if he thought he could have worked the same magic in Philadelphia that he did in St. Louis if given more time.
“I don’t know. That’s hard to say,” said the man who spent 18 years in the Flyers organization as a coach or player. “You’ve got to have the right team, and it all has to click. I would have liked to have had more of an opportunity there to get to a certain point, but, hey, that’s how it goes.”
Schenn, traded to St. Louis in 2017 for a package that featured draft picks that turned out to be Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee, has blossomed into one of the Blues’ top scorers. St. Louis has been good for Schenn, who became an All-Star, a Stanley Cup champion, and the owner of an eight-year, $52 million contract extension.
“I’m very happy to be a part of this organization. I [like] what they’ve built in this room, whether it’s guys like Steener or Petro or Vlady or the list of [other] guys who have been here a long time ” Schenn said, referring to Alexander Steen, Pietrangelo, and the injured Vladimir Tarasenko. “They built a heck of a culture here, a winning culture, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
The longtime Flyers — Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Sean Couturier, for instance — haven’t won a playoff series since 2012.
Has that lack of a winning culture held back the Flyers?
“I think they have good pieces, good guys there, guys who lead the way,” Schenn said. “Guys like G and Jake and Coots. They do a good job of leading the guys on the right path. It’s a combination of everything. It’s not just culture, right? You need the pieces and stuff like that, too.
"They’ve had good teams there. They’ve been to the Stanley Cup Finals not too many years ago [actually, it was in 2010], so I think the culture is very good in Philadelphia. It’s only a matter of time, I’m sure, before they’re real, real good.”
The Flyers’ blueprint, which has been adjusted because of major medical problems being confronted by Lindblom and Patrick, might cause Fletcher to make a trade. Still, the goal is to put together a team in the Blues mold: strong defense and goaltending, and four lines that are hard to play against.
The pieces aren’t all there yet, but as they showed by recently beating the NHL’s three top teams, the Flyers are making strides.
Now they have to find a way to maintain that consistency, that urgency, that the Blues have shown by avoiding a Stanley Cup hangover.