By Connor Thomas
The Flyers have come out of the gates in the 2021-22 season looking much more like the team that secured the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference back in 2020 than the collapsing squad that we saw last year. This may not be the most surprising thing considering all that GM Chuck Fletcher did this offseason to retool a team that has had a rather competitive core for a few years now, but it’s one thing to find the pieces, it’s another thing to have them fit together and be successful on the ice. So far, though, the new look Flyers have fit like a glove. Or at least they look like they have. The orange and the black have only played 8 games, basically 1/10th of their season, so take everything with a grain of salt, but the eye test says that this is a talented hockey team that should be competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But do the stats back up what our eyes have been telling us about the 2021 Flyers? Let’s take a look and see.
For sake of brevity, and because it’s only been 8 games, we’ll keep this study to the most basic of stats, and largely they show that the Flyers are indeed a talented squad. They put the puck in the net with ease, scoring 3.5 goals per game, good for 6th in the NHL. Sean Couturier is leading the team with 11 points, and he is one of only two players in the top 15 point scorers in the NHL to play 8 games or less so far (Patrick Kane is 12th with 7 games played), but the team has been very balanced in terms of who is getting on the stat sheet. The Flyers are also 7th in the league in goal differential, which shows that the team is not just offensively powered. In fact, it appears that the Flyers are an even better defensive team than they are offensively so far this season when you look at the stat sheet. For a team that struggled last year defensively to put it mildly, this may be the most encouraging thing through the first 8 contests.
The stat sheet shows that the Flyers are 7th in the league in goals allowed, which can speak to one of two things (usually some combination of both): either they are getting outstanding goaltending, or they’re playing outstanding defense. In very rudimentary fashion – because like I said, we’re staying with the most basic of stats – take a look at how many shots Philly goaltenders have faced so far this year. They’ve had 264 shots against so far this year, which places them in 9th place in the NHL. Being that they’re 7th in goals against, it shows that they’re actually getting bailed out a little bit by some strong goaltending, but both of those numbers being top 10 in the NHL is a welcome sight following last year’s debacle on the defensive end. And all of this is with one of the team’s top defenseman, Ryan Ellis, playing limited time due to an early injury. When he is fully healthy and playing consistently the Flyers defense could be even scarier. Everything here speaks to their willingness to pressure the puck, but it also speaks to the strong work of the man who has spent the most time between the pipes this season.
Many times in the NHL, a team can only go as far as their goalie will take them. Last year for the Flyers, that wasn’t very far. Carter Hart had a year to forget last season, but so far this year he has been back to the player all of Philly had hoped he would be when he came up to the NHL as one of the most accomplished net-minder prospects of all time. He hasn’t been infallible, but Hart is 12th in save percentage, 13th in goals against average, and recorded his 3rd career shutout against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. The stats say that he’s closer to average than outstanding, but for a young goaltender attempting to rebound from really the first adversity he’s faced in his professional hockey career, it’s an encouraging sign. On top of Hart’s prowess, new backup Martin Jones looked very competent in his two appearances so far this season. To compete for the cup, they’ll have to be better, but to get them in the mix? The Flyers are getting enough to do that from their goaltenders, and their offensive and defensive units. Only time will tell if these trends continue, but so far, through 8 games of the NHL season, the Flyers look to have some fire to them. Let’s hope they continue to stay hot through the winter ahead.