By Nat Marlowe
You’ve probably heard by now that the Flyers’ defense has been terrible to start this NHL season. The Flyers historically have had slow starts to their seasons, and this year it’s primarily because of poor play in their own zone. Even with great offensive production from players like Travis Konecny, James Van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, the holes on the blue line have become too apparent.
Don’t look too much into Carter Hart’s numbers. Even at a 4.18 goals allowed average, only a handful of goals scored on him were his fault. There is only so much Hart can do as a goaltender when the defense hangs him out to dry each and every night. Hart’s frustration has boiled over as The Flyers have excessively relied on him to bail them out of sticky situations. Yes, Brian Elliott had a 40 save shutout against the Buffalo Sabres, but how many saves did he make were on quality shots? Also, has the Flyers’ defense given Brian Elliott any help either? No. The Flyers allowed the fourth highest amount of shots against at 239, and they have the third worst penalty kill in the entire NHL at 65.22%. The Flyers were lucky they only committed one penalty against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, because there were so many defensive breakdowns in the first and second periods. It’s alarming that Shayne Gostisbehere who played his first game in five months earned 22 minutes of ice time. What’s even more alarming is that Alain Vigneault says that Ghost is playing better than some of the other Flyers blue liners.
I refuse to buy into the theory that Erik Gustafsson is the replacement for Matt Niskanen. With how strong offensively Gustafsson played in Chicago playing alongside Duncan Keith, it seemed that he was supposed to be the replacement for Gostisbehere; the Flyers took a gamble on his offensive strengths knowing his defensive liabilities. If he consistently fails to find the puck when it’s literally at his skates, he’s going to garner a worse reputation than Andrew MacDonald. The true replacement for Niskanen is Phillippe Myers, a player who is showing tremendous signs of growth on both ends of the ice. Myers stepping up to fill Niskanen’s role made perfect sense with how high the organization is on him. But Myers’ injury exposed a lack of depth on the Flyers’ blue line when Mark Friedman was the next man up. Justin Braun has appeared sluggish, and the Robert Hagg Hive has been awfully quiet as of late (It’s me, I’m the Hive). And now it has been announced that 34 year old Nate Prosser, who hasn’t played an NHL game since January 2019 will be in the lineup for the Flyers tonight against the Devils. What could go wrong? The Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere pairing was great against the Devils but I’m skeptical about it working in the long term. I am praying Vigneault can unleash them as the deadliest pairing in the NHL, but I’m worried fans are going to relieve how that pairing worked under Dave Hakstol.
There’s no need to hit the panic button yet. The Flyers are still in great position to make some headway in the standings. Phillippe Myers is close to returning to the lineup, and Sean Couturier is making progress in recovering from his rib injury. Plus, there’s still an opportunity for the Flyers to sign or trade for a true defensive defenseman on a cheap contract, or double down on high scoring d-men by acquiring a player like Vince Dunn. Every team in the MassMutual East Division have hurdles that they need to overcome, and the Flyers still appear to be in the best position to take the division.