PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Ten days ago, the sky was falling. Everything sucked. The Philadelphia Flyers were bullied by the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins by a combined score of 12-4 in back-to-back games. All the good faith that had been built up in the first nine games was quickly erased.
Last week, though, was a needed reminder that hockey is a long season — a marathon, not a 16-game sprint. It’s important not to overreact in October.
The Flyers won all four games last week, beating Carolina and Montreal before making a statement by sweeping a weekend back-to-back in Toronto and Boston. In six games since the 7-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Oct. 29, the Flyers are 5-0-1. They’re 8-2-1 in their last 11 games.
Let’s take a look at a few takeaways from the week that was.
1. Mr. Reliable
When the Flyers acquired Matt Niskanen from the Capitals, the trade came with mixed reviews.
On one hand, Niskanen came over with a laundry list of experience, a Stanley Cup and a coveted right-hand shot. On the other, he was far from the player last season that he was when the Caps won the Cup in 2017-18.
In between, the Flyers sent Radko Gudas to Washington, and many argued, based on Corsi (shot attempt differential at even strength), that the Orange and Black underutilized the rugged defender. Gudas was essentially stuck in a third-pair role with the Flyers, and some folks felt his role should have been increased.
However, it’s clear why Chuck Fletcher identified Niskanen as a priority this offseason.
Niskanen has stepped onto the Flyers’ top pair seamlessly, providing 22-year-old Ivan Provorov a veteran partner to rely on. The 32-year-old isn’t just a calming force to Provorov, but he’s making a difference every night.
Last Tuesday, Niskanen was the driving force behind the Flyers’ first goal and the game-winning goal in their 4-1 win over Carolina.
He picked up a primary assist on Sean Couturier’s power-play goal when he simply placed a puck in an area where Couturier could deflect it past Petr Mrazek.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 6, 2019
On the second goal, Niskanen was awarded a secondary helper, but it was his shot that allowed Travis Konecny to deposit the puck into an open net.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 6, 2019
While Niskanen is no longer the skater he used to be, he hasn’t lost enough of a step to be worried. He’s making noticeable plays with his stick, breaking up entries and winning puck battles. He’s giving Alain Vigneault minutes in all situations.
This is the Niskanen the Capitals had when he manned their top pair for all those years. It’s clear Provorov is benefiting from having Niskanen alongside him, and the Flyers are a better team with Niskanen than they were with Gudas.
Gudas is finding a home with the Capitals, but for what the Flyers needed, the early return is positive. It sure looks like a good hockey trade for both sides.
2. Captain Clapper
Let’s talk about Claude Giroux for a moment, because the Flyers’ captain continues to have his detractors. Giroux responded well to Vigneault clamoring that he — along with the fellow veterans on the team — need to be better after the Oct. 29 debacle in Pittsburgh.
Giroux has five points in his last six games, including multi-point games vs. Toronto on Nov. 9 and Carolina last Tuesday, and eight points in his last 10 games.
After faking a slap shot on his breakaway goal Tuesday, Giroux opted for the clapper during the shootout of Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs.
Here it is:
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) November 10, 2019
Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen wasn’t a fan of it, telling reporters, “Maybe it was frustration from last time and they ran out of ideas. It worked this time. It sucks to lose that way.”
Andersen, who stopped 10 of 11 shooters in Philly last week, not thrilled with the Giroux slapper in the shootout:
"Maybe it was frustration from last time (or) they ran out of ideas. It worked this time. It sucks to lose that way."
Credits Couturier for nice move on second one https://t.co/2xsy35tIrM
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 10, 2019
You can understand Andersen’s frustration, but credit Giroux for keeping it simple and channeling Penguins star Evgeni Malkin circa 2008.
Giroux has embarrassed many goalies in the skills competition throughout his career — now he’s added the clapper to his arsenal. Watch out.
3. The elephant in the room
It was another week in which the Flyers shuttled young players to-and-from Lehigh Valley in an attempt to find a solution to their fourth-line problem. German Rubtsov began last week as the Flyers’ fourth-line center, but he was sent back to the AHL after Tuesday’s win over Carolina.
When Rubtsov was sent back to the Phantoms, the Flyers recalled 22-year-old Mikhail Vorobyev, who had played five games earlier in the season. Vorobyev played seven minutes and 34 seconds against Montreal before he was sent back to Lehigh Valley.
The Flyers then recalled 28-year-old Andy Andreoff on Friday, a move signaling that it’s time to give some veterans a chance.
While the constant roster shuffling may be unusual, their hand is being forced with Nolan Patrick (migraines) and Scott Laughton both injured. The fourth line has consistently been an issue so far, so it’s refreshing to see Fletcher and Vigneault attempt to solve it.
Then there’s the Patrick situation. The 21-year-old remains on a week-to-week basis and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play this season. At some point, the Flyers may have to make a decision on that for both salary cap and depth reasons.
The Flyers have to be smart about handling Patrick’s migraine condition. He has a concussion history and the condition runs in his family. There is too much to lose by forcing it. If Patrick doesn’t play this season, so be it. The focus should be on Patrick’s well-being.
Some are calling for the Flyers to call up 20-year-old Morgan Frost to man the third-line center spot and allow Claude Giroux to move back to left wing, a position he feels he’s better suited for at this point in his career. All indications suggest the Flyers feel Frost still needs more seasoning at the AHL level.
How much seasoning is the question, though. Frost put together a seven-game point streak and has 12 points in 13 games with the Phantoms, but he reportedly is still struggling with adjusting to the pro pace.
Frost may not be too far away; if he figures it out soon, he could find his way to South Philadelphia. Fletcher has shown he’s not afraid to call up young players, and Frost could fill a need. The Flyers are not at that point yet.
It’s an unfortunate situation with Patrick, but kudos to the organization for letting it play itself out. His long-term health is far more important than rushing him back. The Flyers have too much to lose. Patrick has too much to lose, too.