Successful Road Trip Buys Time, But Work Just Beginning For Flyers
With Monday’s 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes, the Flyers had completed a four-game road trip with a 3-0-1 record and seven of a possible eight points in the standings, certainly a massive turnaround from a three-game losing streak just 10 days earlier, at least by the results.
Wins in three of four games and a loss that could have easily been a fourth win if not for sleeping through the opening seconds of overtime in San Jose brought the Flyers up to 15 points in the standings. In the crowded and highly-competitive Metropolitan Division, that is tied for third place and three points back of first.
At the very least, this quells some of the noise surrounding the team as they left on the trip. If they didn’t have success, fans would have been waiting with torches and pitchforks ready to make wholesale changes. The 3-0-1 record on the trip buys more time for a team that needed to either turn it around quickly or indeed face changes.
But this is only the beginning for the Flyers. They can be satisfied with the results of the road trip, but they should not be satisfied with the process of getting those wins, which only leaves more work ahead for the Flyers.
The Flyers had their improvements on the road trip. One big one was getting ahead in games. Prior to the road trip, the Flyers had allowed the first goal of the game in 10 of 11 games played. They scored first in all four games on the road trip and never trailed with the exception of allowing the overtime winner in San Jose.
Not chasing the game on the scoreboard is a step in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean the Flyers are free from chasing.
On several occasions on the road trip, the Flyers had to weather the storm. In San Jose, the Sharks put together a stronger first period, even through the Flyers led 2-1 after 20 minutes. In Arizona, the Flyers took a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the first 10 minutes of the game showed more dominance from the Coyotes.
There are still moments where the Flyers commit the inexcusable turnover, get careless with the puck, make a bad decision or fail to clear. It didn’t haunt them near as much on the road trip, where they allowed 10 goals over four games -- a much-improved 2.5 goals allowed per game -- but it easily can at any moment. The play still needs to be cleaner.
Of the 10 goals that were allowed on the road trip, four of them were power-play goals. The penalty kill remains a problem and is one of the few areas on the road trip where no improvement was seen.
The team got off to better starts for the most part, led throughout, got timely goaltending, but could not stop the puck from going in the net while shorthanded. Opponents were 4-for-15 on the power play over the four games, a 73.3 percent success rate.
Ron Hextall sounded critical of special teams. In addition to saying that the road trip would not be evaluated until it was completed on Monday, not just after wins in the first two games, Hextall also said that the thing that bothers him most about the penalty kill is "the puck going in our net."
The Flyers power play didn’t fare much better. They went 2-for-11 on the road trip after being mired in a 1-for-20 slump in the previous seven games. If there is one area this team needs to improve upon quickly it is special teams on both sides.
Goaltending was an issue as well, not as much in performance as personnel. Brian Elliott did his job to keep the Flyers in close games and wins within reach and his teammates did take care of the rest. Cal Pickard turned in two solid performances, one a win and the other the OT loss in San Jose, essentially filling in for injured Flyers netminder. Michal Neuvirth was sent back to Philadelphia early for evaluation before the San Jose game and Elliott left Sunday’s practice early and was scratched for Monday’s game as a result.
The road trip did see the emergence of Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom as top performers. Both finished the road trip with two goals and four assists apiece for six points over the four games. The points came in big spots too, like Lindblom’s assist to Patrick on the game-winning goal in Anaheim.
Ivan Provorov also started to look like the defenseman he was a season ago, hold for a few turnovers in the early part of the Arizona game. Provorov was starting to look like a player masking an ailment, because the mistakes he was making were just plain uncharacteristic for him. In the last four games, he appears to have found some confidence and it is reflected in his play, more steady than sporadic in the last four games.
If the road trip was any indication, nothing will come easy for the Flyers, not that it has in recent years.
The Ducks were a battered team with multiple players out of the lineup and it took a late goal for the Flyers to avoid overtime and escape with a win.
The Kings were floundering and kept the Flyers locked in a close game until the final five minutes.
The Sharks got a deserved result after the Flyers sat back in the third and allowed them to press for the better part of 15 minutes before finally tying the game.
The Coyotes kept the pressure on throughout and it took a strong game from Pickard to secure the win.
It should change very little about the potential for a major shakeup to happen. As quickly as the Flyers went on the road and picked up three of four wins, they could fall into another losing streak. That would make the road trip a forgotten memory at that point and breathe new life into the angry mob that wants the big trade or the coaching change.
So just because it was a road trip with wins in three of four games, it doesn’t mean the Flyers have suddenly solved all their problems. They got the results they wanted in games where the performance was far from perfect. There’s still plenty to do to perfect the process throughout games and what leads to wins so that the Flyers can start doing that with some consistency.
Their first chance to build on the trip comes on Thursday night in the first game of a five-game homestand against the same team they beat to end the road trip on Monday, the Arizona Coyotes.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.