The coach is new, but the results are old. The Flyers failed to have more October wins than losses for the eighth straight season.
Here is a review of the Flyers’ performance in October, a month in which they showed mixed signals under coach Alain Vigneault.
Reason for hope: For the most part, the Flyers’ starts were much better than last season’s, as they scored first in seven of the 11 games. As the season progresses, this team should continue to get better in most areas as the players get more acclimated to Vigneault’s systems.
Reason for concern: In their last two games of the month, losses to the Islanders and Pittsburgh, the Flyers were outscored by a combined 12-4 and their compete level dropped considerably. In their 11 October games, the Flyers were very streaky: won two straight, lost four straight, won three straight, lost two straight. That should not happen with so many veterans on the team.
MVP for the month: Travis Konecny, 22, who led the Flyers in points (13) and was tied for the team lead with six goals. The right winger missed four days of training camp as contract negotiations dragged out, but he hasn’t skipped a beat.
Biggest surprise: Oskar Lindblom, a second-year left winger, had six goals in 11 games, a 45-goal pace. Lindblom, 23, finished with 17 goals in his rookie season.
Biggest disappointment: Goalie Carter Hart, another second-year player, was extremely inconsistent during the month (see below). But, hey, he’s 21, and growing pains are expected. That said, no player is more important to the Flyers’ success this season.
Special teams’ grade: B-plus.
The Flyers’ power play clicked at 23.8% in the month, tied for 10th in the NHL; their penalty kill was fifth at 85.3%. New assistants Michel Therrien, who directs the power play, and Mike Yeo (penalty kill) have done a commendable job, improving what was a weakness last season.
They have averaged 3.27 goals, 13th in the league, but have been inconsistent. They averaged five goals in their five wins, 1.6 goals in their six losses.
The Flyers got a high quantity of shots (34.9 per game, third in the league), but they need to improve the quality of them.
In the offseason, general manager Chuck Fletcher focused on upgrading the defense and added veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to the back end and center Kevin Hayes, a strong 200-foot player.
The Flyers started out solidly on defense but dipped dramatically late in the month. For October, they allowed 3.36 goals per game, 20th in the NHL.
A year ago, they surrendered 3.41 goals per game, 29th in the league.
Niskanen has probably been their top defenseman, and Ivan Provorov has shown some improvement from last year’s dismal season. Travis Sanheim has been up and down, while Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Justin Braun (team-worst minus-8 rating in October) have struggled.
Brian Elliott was playing very well before allowing six goals in two periods against Pittsburgh, a game in which his defense deserted him. Elliott’s GAA climbed to 3.10 and his save percentage dropped to .904. He’s been better than the numbers suggest.
Hart was excellent in his first three starts and he struggled mightily in his next three. For October, he had a 3.32 GAA and .864 save percentage. The Flyers obviously need him to be much better if they are going to reach the playoffs.
Vigneault made some puzzling decisions with his goaltenders — Elliott, for instance, was allowed to remain in the game way too long in the blowout loss in Pittsburgh — but he had his players playing with more urgency for most of the month. Vigneault’s assistants, the aforementioned Yeo and Therrien, also made big contributions.
Vigneault was not bashful about demoting players to lower lines or calling them out in public if they didn’t perform to their capabilities. Holding players accountable will help in the long run.
Give Fletcher credit for not being afraid to frequently use the Lehigh Valley Phantoms if the players on the big team weren’t performing — and for being bold enough to give Joel Farabee a chance to see if he belongs in the NHL at 19. Here’s hoping he gives the young players, such as Farabee, Carsen Twarynski, German Rubtsov, and Phil Myers, a relatively long look to see if they can get their footing.
Most underrated player: Left winger Michel Raffl. No one is going to call him “Mr. October,” but Raffl quietly had a very good month. He played solidly on the penalty kill and chipped in with three goals and a pair of assists over 11 games.
Most grueling part of the schedule: The Flyers traveled nearly 14,000 miles to play their first five games, including a 4-3 win over Chicago in Prague in the season opener. The good news: The travel gets only easier the rest of the way.
Best finish: The Flyers scored five goals in the final 9 minutes, 8 seconds to overcome a two-goal deficit and rally past Columbus, 7-4. Shayne Gostisbehere called it a “character win.”
Worst start: The Flyers allowed four first-period goals — three in a 2:49 span — and were torched by arch-rival Pittsburgh, 7-1. “It’s embarrassing the way we played,” said captain Claude Giroux, who didn’t get an argument.
Reason for optimism: Giroux and Sean Couturier each had only two goals in October and are due to break out. They combined for 55 goals last season. Because of injuries to Nolan Patrick and Scott Laughton, Giroux was forced to move to center, but he is more effective at left wing.