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.”
“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.”
Despite their uneven play and getting badly outshot in nine of 10 games, the Flyers have been the definition of opportunistic.
“I guess what I respect about this group is we find a way, and the will to win is high,” Fletcher said. “Again, there’s certain areas of our game that clearly need to get better, but every night somebody steps up or some element of our game allows us to get the win. The last four games our penalty kill has been much improved. We’ve had games where our power play’s had a big impact. Obviously our goaltenders have been consistently good for us and they give us a chance.”
Fletcher liked the way the Flyers played and the physicality they showed in their 4-3 overtime win Sunday over the New York Islanders.
“We got our forecheck going for the first time and we were able to make the Islanders defend a little bit more than they’d had to defend against us in the past,” he said.
Fletcher said the defense has played “better than I expected” and praised the play provided by Shayne Gostisbehere, Phil Myers, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim.
He wants to see improved 200-foot play from the guys up front.
“Our group of forwards to me haven’t played at the level they need to play at,” Fletcher said. “I think they’ve made the game extremely difficult for our defensemen and for our goaltenders.”
Fletcher said star center Sean Couturier, sidelined with a rib injury, should return in seven to 10 days.
He wants his other forwards to have better situational awareness, “and that starts with puck management in the neutral zone, our ability to get pucks behind their D and establish a forecheck, and our desire to occasionally shoot the puck at the other team’s net,” he said. “I think we have a group of players that likes to make plays. The positive side to that is that we make some tremendous plays. Typically when we’re able to execute on the passes we make in the offensive zone, we give our teammates unbelievable looks at the net. We create a lot of high-danger chances. I think that’s one of the reasons our shooting percentage is so high. We make some incredible plays.
“The downside to doing that is we have a lot of one and dones. We have a lot of plays that get disrupted,” he said. “We allow easy transitions to the other team to come up the ice and often with an odd-man advantage. It puts a lot of pressure on our defensemen and goaltenders.”
Fletcher wants his forwards to have a “different mindset and different approach if we’re going to be successful as the schedule continues into February, March, and April, when teams start to tighten up. It will be difficult to be successful with the way we’re playing right now.”
The Flyers’ next four games – two against Boston (6-1-2), two in Washington (6-1-3) – will show how they stand against upper-echelon teams. The Flyers are tied with Washington atop the East Division, one point ahead of Boston.
“They are right with us in the standings,” said left winger James van Riemsdyk, who leads the Flyers with 13 points. “As we know, this year with every game being within the division, there’s different swings that can happen. It makes the games that much more important when you are jockeying for position.”