To say the Philadelphia Flyers have had an uneven start to the season would be… entirely accurate. Sitting with a record of 3-3-0 through 6 games doesn’t look so bad on the surface, but dive just a few feet deeper and you’ll find a few vaguely threatening sharks lurking. One of them arrived just this past Saturday, as the Flyers lost 1-0 in pitiable fashion to the same Golden Knights they’d opened the year against with a raucous victory.
The Flyers generated the better shots and chances for the greater part of the game, only to be denied by Marc-Andre Fleury at every turn. I mean, come on:
If this were a playoff game it would've gone in ? pic.twitter.com/HkHxrqAAHC
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) October 13, 2018
And then the defense, which had its best collective showing of the season thus far, gave up a slot snipe with under two minutes to play in the third period. 1-0 Golden Knights. Game, set, and match.
Tuesday’s shootout victory over the Panthers offered some reason for hope, but not without the requisite heart attacks. Good teams don’t give up 5-2 leads in the second period. Even though the Flyers should be applauded for holding on and getting that invaluable second point in the skills competition, let’s not forget that their opponent remains *winless* and is not expected to be any sort of threat in the East.
So… yeah. There’s still a lot to be panicking about. But which players/coaches/units/existential questions should we be most concerned with? Let’s run through the top five, and, since things are always more fun when you keep score, I’ll include a scoreboard at the bottom in future editions (this will likely be a running feature).
Let’s get to it.
5. Dave Hakstol
“A bit early for Dave, don’t you think?” you say. Indeed, fictional reader, Hakstol should be feeling much more panicked than he likely is. With three years as the Flyers head coach under his belt and only two first round playoff exits to show for it, this has the feel of a make-or-break year. We signed James van Riemsdyk. There are no more excuses. It’s time to show some progress.
But the good news for him is that his leash is not a solitary piece of rope; it’s one of those mechanical ones that allow your dog to roam so far that it defeats the purpose of having a leash in the first place. Hak is Ron Hextall’s handpicked coach, and you can bet it’ll take a whole lot more than a dicey start to destroy that loyalty. It’d be really interesting to see what would happen if the Flyers ultimately lose in the first round again, denying fans and management of their expected improvement, but also making the decision to fire him an incredibly tough call. For now, though, mild concern is the most accurate label.
Oh and in case we weren’t sure Hakstol was the villain of this story…
The fallout of Ron Hextall’s good intentions… pic.twitter.com/PxdNWR2xJA
— Nick Som (@nicksom95) October 13, 2018
4. Andrew MacDonald
Similar to Dave Hakstol, Andrew MacDonald’s concern is not an existential one. The bold “A” on his away jersey speaks to the security of his job and the confidence that his head coach had and still has in him. However, even the most unabashed AMac supporters cannot deny that the 32-year-old defenseman has been absolutely, unequivocally terrible to start the year.
We all saw this coming in the preseason—the embarrassing turnovers, the lost battles along the boards. Now, AMac is the proud owner of *the lowest* Corsi For % at even strength among all Flyers skaters who have appeared in at least three games (38.71%) and the second lowest Expected Goals For % with the same restrictions. He’s far from the only problem plaguing our defense thus far, but he’s certainly not helping.
It seems management came to the same conclusion, benching him on Tuesday night against the Panthers. And with his wife giving birth to their second child, you can be sure panic levels are only going to skyrocket from here on out.
3. Ivan Provorov
Oh, Ivan. You’ve been everything we hoped you’d be when we drafted you 7th overall back in 2015, and the footage of you crying at the end of the Penguins series should be replayed before every game as a motivational tool. But man, you have not had a good start to the year. You appear to be going through calculus equations in your head every time you make a pass, and we’ve seen an uncharacteristic number of breakdowns in front of our net as a result of you being out of position.
Please understand that this all comes from a good place. We expect much from you because we know you can take it. But you (and Ghost, to a lesser extent) need to get going, and fast. The team needs you. We all need you.
2. Jordan Weal
Before the Panthers game, Weal might very well have placed at the top of this list. Positioned as the favorite for the 3C job before training camp, Weal found himself a healthy scratch on opening night. Not great! But injuries have conspired to reopen his door to minutes, and the young-ish forward responded with his strongest, most aggressive game yet. He drove play all night (a team high 72.23% Corsi For Percentage), made it onto the scoresheet with a goal and an assist, and most importantly, scored the winning shootout goal.
One game is one game, though. It’s up to Jordan to prove that he can turn that one positive performance into a habit, because we’ve seen him run hot and cold before.
1. Travis Konecny
TK isn’t just snakebit– right now, he’s got cottonmouths dangling off either arm like party streamers. He’s hit something like three goalposts already, and has only two assists to show for his efforts. And though he appears to have permanently moved out of Hakstol’s arbitrary doghouse, that history of benchings means his spot on one of the top lines is less secure than Giroux’s or Voracek’s. If this continues for another six games, smart money says there will be consequences.
The good news is he looks every bit the dynamic forward we’ve come to expect him to be. Eventually, the pucks will start hitting the back of the net for him. It’s just a matter of when, and the worry is that Hak won’t feel like waiting around until then.