With nearly 25% of the abbreviated NHL season completed, the Flyers continue to be an anomaly: They keep winning despite losing most key statistical categories — except goals scored.
They have been badly outshot in 11 of their 13 games, their power play has been mediocre, and their penalty kill is one of the worst in the NHL. Their 3.08 goals allowed per game is below average (19th).
Yet, entering Monday’s action, only the Toronto Maple Leafs had more points (19) than the Flyers (18) in the 31-team NHL.
Granted, some teams have played fewer games than the Flyers because of COVID-19 and will soon pass them in wins, but their 8-3-2 record is still surprising when everything is considered.
“We are playing a better five-on-five game right now,” said coach Alain Vigneault after practice Monday in Washington, where the Flyers will face the Capitals on Tuesday at 6 p.m. He said he saw “positive improvement” in the forecheck and other five-on-five areas over the last five games.
That said, he realizes they can be better. So do his players.
“I think we’ve been a little inconsistent, even within games,” goalie Brian Elliott said. “We can get a lot better in some areas, and so that’s our focus right now. It’s a process throughout the year of battling the ups and downs, and this year being a unique type of circumstance with how the world is.”
The Flyers have won games because they are the eighth-highest scoring team (3.54 goals per game) in the NHL, offsetting their defensive breakdowns and their opponents’ high shot totals.
Left winger James van Riemsdyk, 31, has sparked the offense. He leads the Flyers in goals (seven), assists (11) and points (18, fourth in the NHL entering Monday).
“He’s playing the right way,” Vigneault said. “JVR has had a tremendous amount of coaching throughout his career. I think he was able to analyze his last season and come to camp with a fresh mind and clean slate. He’s playing the right way and not just offensively. His game right now is a lot more about creating turnovers and jumping on those turnovers and finishing checks when the opportunity is there. Taking time and space away from the opposition, having a good stick. That’s why he’s been an effective player for us.”
Van Riemsdyk and linemates Scott Laughton (hat trick) and Joel Farabee had a monster game Sunday, combining for four goals and four assists in a 7-4 comeback win over shorthanded Washington.
The Capitals lost despite having a 16-11 advantage in high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. The negative disparity in that stat has been a common thread throughout the Flyers’ season, but they have been perhaps the league’s most opportunistic team, cashing in on their chances.
They will attempt to reduce the Caps’ opportunities Tuesday, and Elliott will get the start. On Sunday, Washington outshot the Flyers, 37-23, and got four-point performances from Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson.
For the most part, Elliott, 35, has been very good in his five appearances. He is 3-1 (one no-decision) with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.
In his last game, Elliott was sailing along with a 1-0 lead with less than eight minutes left Friday against Boston, but he allowed two goals in a 27-second span in a 2-1 loss. The second goal was a wrist shot by Sean Kuraly from above the left circle.
Elliott will try to bounce back Tuesday. The Flyers will try to continue winning, even if it isn’t always very artistic.