By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
The days of the Broad Street Bullies are in the rearview mirror. Additionally, today's National Hockey League has transitioned to a more finesse-oriented style of play as opposed to physical. Regardless, after a few rocky days of hockey, the Flyers are lacking some of their talent, but more importantly seem to lack their "killer instinct."
With no fans in the majority of NHL arenas for the time being, the mental side of the game has grown exponentially. In other words, it's up to the players themselves to bring their own motivation day in and day out until each team's faithful followers can make long-awaited returns to the stands.
As stated before, the Flyers are down a few key players in Sean Couturier, Phil Myers and Morgan Frost. Also, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is just returning to action after being on the league's COVID Protocol list. The constant jumbling of lines, poor play, and lineup changes have definitely made for some tumultuous hockey these last few days.
Despite differences in personnel, one is left to wonder what's been wrong with the team as they've gone through their first rough patch of the season.
Yes, ebbs and flows of the NHL schedule happen to every team, but I believe that this team has had a problem finding that "next gear" of their game, their "killer instinct."
In the league's Return to Play stage last season, the Flyers dominated each and every one of their Round Robin games and took the Eastern Conference's top seed going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team as a whole was firing on all cylinders and it looked as if they were poised to make a legitimate run at a championship for the first time in a long time.
Philadelphia took down the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Playoffs relatively easily. In a six-game series, goaltender Carter Hart shutout Montreal twice and outshined his idol, Carey Price, at the other end of the ice. The Flyers looked good and had some of the usual mistakes happen. However, a couple of worrisome topics came to light.
In the series against Montreal, the Flyers' power play looked almost lifeless. They were also outscored 13-11 and outshot 145-132 throughout the series. Additionally, the team's top scorers seemed nowhere to be found.
Next, in the second round against the New York Islanders, things got ugly. On multiple occasions through the seven-game series, the Flyers were hemmed in their own zone for minutes at a time until either a penalty was taken or the Islanders scored a goal. On top of that, New York played their patented "suffocating" style of hockey with strong forechecking, neutral zone clog-ups and just being stingy overall giving up goals.
Yes, the Flyers did make it to Game 7, but their effort in that climatic game was anything but heroic. Philadelphia mustered up just 16 shots throughout the game and were shutout, 4-0, to be eliminated from the Playoffs. It was bittersweet as the team had won its first playoff series in eight seasons yet went out with a whimper instead of a bang after so much hype.
Fast forward to this season. The Flyers are six games into their 56-game sprint of a schedule and already are having the same type of problems. Of course, it's no time to panic, but with such a short season each game will continually be more important in the Flyers' hopes of another run at the Stanley Cup.
Currently, the team's power play is clicking at just 26.3 percent earning them the 12th spot in the league. On the penalty kill side of things, they sit near the bottom of the barrel with a 63.6 percent PK and the 29th spot in the NHL. However it's looked at, the Flyers' special teams could and should be better with the caliber of players they have.
Additionally, Philadelphia has also fallen from grace when it comes to pucks on net. Last season, the Flyers ended up with the 16th spot in the league averaging 31.4 shots per game. Now, they sit dead last averaging just 23.7 shots per game.
On top of that, they were the league's best team when it came to shots allowed per game last season allowing just 28.7 shots against. Now, through six games, they've allowed the third most shots on goal per game at 35.5. Again, there should be and needs to be improvement.
The statistics don't lie and fans have seen how this team has struggled as of late. With no fans in the buildings, again, it's imperative that the Flyers find that "killer instinct" in order to right the ship. In turn, one can believe and bank on the statistics and overall level of play improving immensely.
The fans know what this team is capable of and have seen glimpses of it in the past. Now, it's time for the Flyers to show their teeth and, no pun intended, show some grit as well. If they can kick their game back into gear and elevate their play once again, there's no telling what they can achieve.