The Philadelphia Flyers come to Dallas tonight with the dubious distinction of being one of three NHL teams yet to record a win this season. But while the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes deserve to carry that winless banner high, the Flyers are simply not good at the skills competition, nor at holding 3-goal third period leads.
My questions, his answers:
1. An unfortunate start to the season, with two regulation and two shootout losses. Take away the empty net goal scored by New Jersey though and all four were one-goal games. Objective view: was it mainly puck luck, or are there growing concerns after the slow start?
I think it's a mix of both, although the fact that Philadelphia had the chance to win all four games in the third period (tied 1-1 against Boston in the third, 4-4 against New Jersey in the third, up 3-0 against Montreal in the third, tied 3-3 against Anaheim in the third) is something that can't be ignored. The team's played just about how you'd expect after the first four games of the season. Some players have been impressive. Some players have been underwhelming. The team's looked decent at times. The team's gotten shelled in certain periods. Repeat ad nauseum.
The growing concerns stem from the notion that this team is going to be in a dogfight for the wildcard spots (realistically) - and they can't afford to throw away points like they happened to do against Montreal and in the two shootout losses (although, let's be real, we're talking about the Flyers and shootouts now.).
And while the concern is that a team that's projected to barely make/miss the wildcard can't have such a slow start, I think the team has definitely played better than their record indicates. At this point, the team will take any positive they can get.
These next three games (Saturday at Dallas, Tuesday at Chicago, Wednesday at Pittsburgh) are probably going to be the most important games of the season. This team won't be able to start 1-4-2 or 0-5-2 or something similar and get away with it like last year.
2. Offseason move that will have the biggest impact on the organization this season. Go.
I don't have a move per se, but, without a doubt, the re-signing of Andrew MacDonald and giving him that new contract will have the biggest impact on this team both this season and in the future. With that contract offer, the organization has basically told the fans "We're going to lean on Andrew MacDonald quite a bit, and he's going to be getting a ton of minutes."
Ugh. I don't even know where to begin. In just 4 games, MacDonald is already getting pinned into the defensive zone and getting shelled by opposing offenses. He plays the second most minutes of any of the Flyers' 7 defensemen, and he's getting absolutely killed at even-strength. He's the worst of the group -by far-.
There's also no evidence (as of yet) that MacDonald was able to work on his neutral zone play over the offseason. The rest of the defense (sans Shultz, the Flyers' 7th defenseman) has actually looked competent so far, which is something I didn't think I'd be able to say back in August.
The Hartnell - Umberger swap has the potential to come in second.
3. Interesting article on your site about Ron Hextall 'admitting' that the Flyers are in rebuild mode. Does this mean we're expecting regression? Or do the Flyers still have a shot at being a playoff team again?
Regression isn't necessarily the right word to use. Regression implies that last season's team played above what was expected. The team didn't overachieve last year, if that's what you're saying. Last years team was pretty much expected to make the playoffs, at least through a wildcard spot. They ended up third in the Metropolitan Division, and there was the possibility of home ice up until the final weekend of the season.
This year's team, through the loss of Timonen and Hartnell, has a much greater possibility of missing the playoffs, but I don't think the team is going to be as bad as some people have declared (read: McDavid sweepstakes). The expectations of management and the fanbase have seemingly lowered, because, on paper, this year's team (especially the defense) is worse than last years. I'm not sure I get the "sky is falling down!" mentality, though. The Metro is still pretty shaky though. Spots 2-6 are potentially up in the air.
So I'm not so sure if we can tell whether or not this organization has taken a step back at this point in the season/time. The Flyers still have a shot to make the playoffs, and the organization has shown they're at least halfway committed to building for the future.
4. Wayne Simmonds has had an impressive start to the season, with 5 goals and 2 assists. Granted, he won't shoot 33% for the whole season, but delving deeper his fancy stats show him a +61 in Corsi events through 4 games. Think he can maintain that kind of production as the season goes on?
That depends. Simmonds does pretty well of holding his own at even-strength, but he's not a possession powerhouse. You might be able to classify him as a support possession player, a la Scott Hartnell. He most likely won't be able to continue that kind of attempt differential throughout the entire season, but it's certainly a welcome sight.
In terms of production, Simmonds is picking right up where he left off last season. He's absolutely unstoppable down low on the umbrella (power play), and there's a good chance he'll eclipse his season-high in goals (28, last season). It's always taken him a long stretch at the beginning of the season to get acclimated, but this season? He's off to the races.
If Simmonds continues to be a dominating force on the power play (which he will be) and hovers just north of 50% attempts at even-strength, he'll have a monster season. This could be his year.
5. Being fans of a Western Conference team and all, we at Defending Big D aren't overly familiar with our occasional Eastern Conference opponents. Give us a brief rundown of what to expect from this season's version of the Philadelphia Flyers.
This year's Flyers are pretty much going to be a carbon copy of last year's team. They're a piss-poor even-strength team that's going to put hope in their #1 PK (through shot suppression) and elite power play; hopefully those two buoy this team and keep them from sinking. If Steve Mason falls below league-average once again (based on his career numbers), then watch out. This team could be in real trouble. Let's not forget that the backend is pretty atrocious.
Instead of a bonafide top-3 seed in the Metropolitan Division, the Flyers will most likely be vying for one of the two wildcard spots in the Eastern Conference.
6. And lastly, tonight's game kicks off a tough little road trip for y'all, with upcoming stops in Chicago and Pittsburgh. Let's focus on this one though. Flyers-Stars, call it.
The Flyers are desperate, and, with all due respect, the Stars are the Flyers' weakest opponent until next Saturday. I'll take Flyers 4-2 for this one. [Ed. note: This is true. I mean, it's not like the Stars outplayed Chicago or beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh in the last week. Oh wait...]