The Flyers are officially a quarter of the way through the 2020/21 season. They’re sitting at 8-3-2 and tied with Boston for first place in the MassMutual East Division. Despite being one of the best teams in terms of record, this team still has a lot to figure out. You could argue it has some soul searching to do. Why? This team has absolutely no identity.
Are the Flyers a skilled team? Absolutely they are. Are they skilled enough to be labeled a “skill team?” Arguably not. They have some speed, but not enough to be considered a fast team in this NHL. It’s not even worth discussing if this is a tough team or not. There’s no trait this team possesses that is overwhelming enough to label them as such, and that’s a problem.
Take a look at some of the top teams in the league right now. Tampa Bay is arguably one of the most skilled teams in the league, even without the services of Nikita Kucherov. Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, even guys like Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde possess some serious skill. It’s no secret why Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup last season and continues to impress to this point.
The Boston Bruins. The team that has found a way to come back in three of their four contests against the Flyers this year. What more is there to say when you boast a top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak? Add in four forwards weighing over 200lbs, and six defenseman of the same stature, and you have a deadly combination of size and skill that not many teams can realistically compete with.
The Colorado Avalanche are among the league’s best sitting out in the West Division, and they have some of the most skilled players in the league. Their forwards, led by Nathan MacKinnon, include Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky, and Valeri Nichushkin, just to name a few. Their blue line boasts sophomore Cale Makar, who is one of the biggest offensive threats from the back end of any team in the NHL.
Then we have the Toronto Maple Leafs. When you have a team that includes Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner, you’re talking some serious skill. Add in crafty veterans like Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and Wayne Simmonds, the Maple Leafs are one of the most formidable teams in all of the NHL.
So who are the Flyers? Is this a case of the team trying to play a different role depending on their opponent, or do they just not know who they are right now? Is this team strong enough to play a different role depending on the opponent? Maybe they just aren’t strong enough to play a role regardless of who’s across the ice. It’s time to do some soul searching and decide which role best identifies the 2020/21 Philadelphia Flyers.
This team does have the skill to be considered a skill team. They’re young and sometimes inexperienced, but the skill shines through from time to time. In order to be one of the more notorious skill teams in the league, they need to be consistent. Consistency issues have been plaguing this team since the 2020 playoffs. Their series against Montreal saw the Canadiens identify the flaws in their game. The Islanders series saw New York completely expose those same flaws.
Claude Giroux may not be the player he once was. Same goes for Jakub Voracek. That being said, you can’t deny that there’s some serious skill between the two. Two players playing a certain style of game doesn’t make the whole team a “skill team,” however. Travis Konecny flashed some promise last season, leading the team in points. He hasn’t regained that form just yet, and the Flyers could use the 2019/20 version of TK. Nolan Patrick came out of the gates hot, but has since fizzled out a bit. He arguably possesses the most skill on the team, but it isn’t as noticeable when he’s typically the third line center behind Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.
Oskar Lindblom battled cancer for a majority of the 2019/20 season, but is now healthy and a regular in the lineup. The flashes we saw last year aren’t what we’re seeing this year though. Through his first 10 games last season, Lindblom posted five goals and two assists, totalling seven points. This season, he only had two goals and two assists in his first 10 games.
The fact remains, you won’t find the same type of skill on the Flyers as you do the Maple Leafs or Lightning. There’s no Mitch Marner or Steven Stamkos on the Flyers. While Giroux, Voracek, even Couturier are quality forwards, they aren’t elite-level talent. They’re very good, there’s no question about it. They just aren’t the type of forwards like Tampa and Toronto have right now.
Is this even worth discussing? The Flyers are the doormat of the East Division currently when it comes to physicality. When Nicolas Aube-Kubel is taking fights, you know you have a problem in the physicality department. The most snarl we’ve seen out of a Flyers player has been Nate Prosser, and he’s played one game for the Flyers this season.
For prime examples, you don’t have to go back very far. Just Friday night, Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton leveled Oskar Lindblom well after Oskar dumped the puck into his offensive zone. While normally Clifton would have to answer for such a late hit, the other four skaters on the ice did nothing to stick up for Lindblom after the hit.
Next up, we have the notorious Brad Marchand and his antics on full display. While this wasn’t as egregious as his spear on Jake Dotchin in 2017, it still goes to show the lack of grit/snarl/sandpaper that the Flyers have. While it’s becoming increasingly annoying to hear about the lack of toughness in this lineup, it’s also becoming blatantly more obvious as the games go by. Thing like this shouldn’t go unanswered, but they are.
Define “fast.” The Flyers surely have speed. Guys like Scott Laughton, Joel Farabee, and Travis Konecny all possess speed that is capable of burning past opposing defensemen. As a team, the Flyers aren’t even close to being one of the faster teams in the league. While the speed is absolutely there for some, for others it’s pretty obvious that it isn’t their strong suit.
JvR isn’t the only player who’s speed should be singled out. This is a prime example, but van Riemsdyk has been great for the Flyers this season. Sean Couturier is a great example. While he’s one of the best players on the team, his speed isn’t something to marvel at. Kevin Hayes may be one of the best goal scorers on the team, but not a lot of those goals come from him and his “blazing” speed. Travis Konecny showed us his skill last season after leading the team in points, and a lot of those goals came from his speed. This season has been a different story, as Konecny hasn’t been nearly as consistent as he was last year.
While the Flyers are continuing to find ways to win these games, it’s worth acknowledging that the team still hasn’t found an identity. The wins are great, but they aren’t masking the fact that this team doesn’t know who they are. The Flyers are going to continue to struggle against teams like Boston if they can’t figure out who they are. They might get by against the likes of the Rangers, Sabres and Devils. If they want to roll into the postseason as a serious contender, it’s time to put a label on who this team is and for them to start playing that way.
Photo Credit – Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire