Chuck Fletcher’s State of the Flyers: ‘Our best hope for a quick turnaround is by internal improvement’
The general manager, whose team has lost six straight, thinks getting some injured players back will energize the Flyers. "We still believe," he said.
When he engineered an ambitious roster remake in the summer, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher did not envision his team struggling to score goals, being crippled by injuries, and sitting near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings at the season’s quarter pole.
But here they are. Losers of six straight. Minus three key players (Kevin Hayes, Ryan Ellis, and Derick Brassard). Trying to snap a skid with a lineup that has gone 15 straight games without scoring more than three goals, something done just five times in franchise history, and a power play — 4 for its last 50 over the last 16 games — that is powerless.
“I’m responsible,” said Fletcher at a news conference Tuesday at the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees, when he was asked if he put pressure on himself when things weren’t going well. “You can talk about head coaches and power-play coaches and players. I’m the one who is ultimately responsible for everything, and you want to look for solutions.”
The Flyers, who are 8-8-4, are expected to have Hayes (abdominal injury) back in the lineup Wednesday against his former team, the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden.
“I truly believe that our best hope for a quick turnaround is by internal improvement — by getting some guys back, but also having the guys who are here play better,” Fletcher said.
Several Flyers are in a slump at the same time, including James van Riemsdyk (2 goals in 20 games), Oskar Lindblom (0 goals, 1 assist in 19), Cam Atkinson (1 goal in last 15), Travis Konecny (1 goal, 2 points in last 11), Sean Couturier (0 goals, 2 points in last 10), Keith Yandle (0 goals in 20, minus-9), Travis Sanheim (0 goals in 20, 0 points in last 12), and Claude Giroux (2 goals in last 12).
The Flyers have a total of 11 five-on-five goals in the last 10 games.
“We need to play better with what we have, too,” Fletcher said. “Everybody deals with injuries and illness, so we need to get better. The first 10 games, we were 6-2-2. Goaltending was great, PK was good, the power play was 14th in the league. We weren’t perfect; we didn’t have the puck enough and we were chasing a little bit, but we were defending well. …. The last 10 [games], we’ve slipped back, so now the onus is on our group to get it back. When the injured players come back, it makes it easier, but we can’t kid ourselves. We have to get better here.”
Brassard (hip injury) practiced Tuesday but won’t play Wednesday, Fletcher said. That means Morgan Frost will probably center Giroux and Atkinson. “That’s a good third line. It gives us a chance to maybe produce a little more and be a little harder team to check,” said Fletcher, who hinted that Ellis might be able to return in about three weeks. “I think we have ways here to get better quickly and we’re going to have to because it’s difficult to look for help from the outside. We have to look to the inside. We have good enough players and we’re a good enough team.”
The Flyers power play ranks 28th in the league at 13.1% and is clicking at only 8% over the last 16 games. Fletcher pointed the blame at the personnel and their poor entries and failure to get off enough shots, and not on the coaches.
“Often times when your power play struggles, it puts frustration into your game and it can creep into other areas,” Fletcher said. “They’re trying, they want to do better, but clearly right now the confidence is down a bit. That’s why it was great to see the energy in the practice today, and I’m sure Kevin Hayes being out there was a big part of it.”
‘Looking at everything’
Fletcher said the Flyers coaches were in their Voorhees office Monday, an off day for the players, “looking at the power play, looking at how we can have the puck more often, our entries, our forecheck, our line combinations. How we practice. Load management. Everything. We’re looking at everything every day. But I saw the energy in the group today and that’s what still gives me hope.
“I’ve been doing this [for various teams] for 30 years, and I think you can see when players are frustrated and lack confidence, and you can see when players don’t believe. There’s a big difference. We still believe. We have a lot of work to do, and that’s our mindset.”
That said, Fletcher said the team’s entries, forecheck, and transition game need to get better. “And when you don’t have the puck, you end up defending too much, and you don’t defend as well,” he said. “It’s a process, and the coaches and players are working on it — some systemic things to change how we play a little bit.”
The Flyers have been outshot in each of the six games game during their skid, including 45-33, 36-23, and 35-25, respectively, in the last three contests.
As for making trades to improve the team, Fletcher said, “I’d really like to see what we have before we start making changes. But we’re always looking. I’m talking to teams every day. If there are ways to make us better, I’ll look at it.”
Fletcher, who said the return of Ellis “will allow us to put everybody in the right chair,” was asked how he evaluated the coaches through 20 games.
He said they have done a good job tightening things up defensively and on the penalty kill, “but the last 10 we’ve slipped in a lot of areas. I think it’s coaching, players, all of us. We’re all in this together. We have to continue to push.”
Fletcher pointed out that in the last 10 games, “we’ve played seven top-10 teams. This is the toughest part of our schedule. So on one hand, we have work to do if we want to compete with the top teams in the league. On the other hand, this is the toughest stretch we’re going through in the compression of the schedule and the quality of the teams we’re playing.”