PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Process in Philadelphia has become as cliché as showing Pat’s and Geno’s, snowballs and the Rocky steps on national game broadcasts. Trusting it, and hearing about it, can be tired. So when the Flyers began singing about the process when they returned home last weekend on a four-game losing streak, the results didn’t back it up.
Results matter in Philly. Fans were tired of hearing about how the Flyers were playing a dangerous brand of hockey under Alain Vigneault in the first six games, but the Hockey Gods weren’t rewarding the process. The underlying metrics suggested that if the Flyers kept playing the way they were playing, things would eventually even out.
The results finally backed up the process last week. The Flyers rung off three straight wins for their first October three-game win streak since 2014-15 before ending the week with a 5-3 loss to the Islanders.
Ten games in, the Flyers are 5-4-1 with a plus-four goal differential. It’s the first time since 2011-12 they’ve had an above .500 hockey record at the 10-game mark.
No one is anointing the Flyers as Cup contenders after 10 games. But for a team that notoriously gets off to slow starts, it’s enough to say this is a good start.
The Flyers continued to appease the analytical community while also appeasing the results community. They outscored their opponents, 20-12, and outshot them, 138-117, last week.
They followed up a 6-2 drubbing of Vegas, a Cup contender, on Monday with a 4-1 win in Chicago. They overcame shaky goaltending and sloppy play Saturday night with a five-goal third period in a 7-4 win over Columbus.
Sunday, everything that could go wrong went wrong on Long Island. Carter Hart was bad, Shayne Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin were a disastrous pair and, well, they were simply bad. But it was one game and certainly not one to overreact to.
Let’s take a look at a few takeaways from the first three weeks of the season.
1. Travis Konecny = NHL sniper
Konecny is developing into something the Flyers haven’t had since Jeff Carter — a legitimate NHL sniper. Fresh off signing a six-year, $33 million contract extension, Konecny leads the Flyers with six goals and 13 points. He’s riding a five-game point streak and has points in nine of the Flyers’ 10 games.
The goals are no fluke, either. The 22-year-old is flashing his shooting ability, picking spots and nailing them. He’s shooting at a 30% clip, which likely isn’t sustainable. His shooting percentage the past two seasons, on average, is 13.4%.
The average shooting percentage among the top 10 leading goal scorers last year was 16.75% with two players sporting a percentage lower than Konecny’s 13.2%. Where can Konecny live this season will be an interesting storyline to follow, but even in the 13% range, he can do damage. If it’s higher, watch out.
Konecny had three goals last week and twice, he sniped the goalie with a well-placed wrister.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 21, 2019
Travis Konecny with yet another snipe, that's just filthy pic.twitter.com/hLCtLLfN1k
— Brandon Murphy (@2Murphy8) October 27, 2019
Konecny’s found himself married to Sean Couturier and Oskar Lindblom, making up for the Flyers’ most consistent line. Placing Konecny with the team’s top two defensive forwards isn’t by mistake either. By doing so, it allows Konecny to be aggressive and do what he does best.
What’s been most impressive with Konecny isn’t his scoring, it’s that he’s playing responsibly in all zones. He looks like a more mature player who’s ready to take the next step in his development.
If he can maintain this level, Konecny’s $5.5 million cap hit will quickly look like a bargain. He’s becoming the shooter this team hasn’t had since trading Carter.
2. Growing pains
Hart received his first start since Oct. 19 on Sunday and was yanked after allowing five goals — at least three of which he should have stopped.
On the first goal, Hart made the initial save but couldn’t control or even eat the rebound and it was an easy score. The second goal, his glove positioning was weak. The third, he was a little too deep in the crease, though it was a Travis Sanheim miscue that shoulders the brunt of the blame there.
The fourth goal, however, is one Hart has to make. Ryan Pulock has a big slapper, but he was far out and there wasn’t much traffic in front of Hart.
You know when Pulock winds up, there's no stopping his 💣💥shot pic.twitter.com/XIjBMdvF46
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 28, 2019
Those are shots teams need their goalies to stop, no excuses.
That said, there was a lot of noise about the 21-year-old after his performance on Sunday. Since recording his first career shutout in the home opener on Oct. 9, Hart has been fighting it, allowing 14 goals in his last four starts — 52 of 66.
Because it’s goaltending and Philadelphia, this needs to be said: it’s far from time to start worrying about Hart. This is part of the process, these are growing pains. The Flyers panicked before the last time they had a franchise goalie-level prospect and that player (Sergei Bobrovsky) has since won two Vezina Trophies.
What’s worth watching here is how the Flyers handle Hart. Do they go back to him again Tuesday in Pittsburgh? Unlikely, especially since Brian Elliott has been strong and the Penguins game is an important early-season battle.
The fact of the matter is, Hart’s going to have to play through this. The Flyers need him and they also need to manage Elliott’s workload. This is part of the process, and Hart has the makeup of getting through it. Patience is key.
3. Joel Farabee belongs
When the Flyers called up Farabee before the Vegas game, it came at the time the Orange and Black were doing all but finishing. But it didn’t come at a time in which their top prospect was entering a situation where he would be perceived the savior. Instead, he showed he was NHL ready in just four AHL games.
Farabee didn’t look out of place. He immediately provided a shot in the arm for the Flyers, but he simply looked like he belonged. He was dangerous against the Golden Knights and recorded his first NHL point Thursday against the Blackhawks — a game in which he had a goal and an assist negated over offside challenges.
The 19-year-old found instant chemistry with Kevin Hayes. While he doesn’t officially have his first career goal, it’s coming. He’s getting more comfortable with each game and each game he’s come dangerously close to registering his first of his career.
One of the questions surrounding Farabee’s call up last week was if he truly was ready. Were four games in the AHL enough? Four games were enough.
Farabee is where he belongs.