What was supposed to be a strength for the Philadelphia Flyers this season, goaltending, has actually been their biggest problem
Going in to this season, goaltending looked like a strength for the Philadelphia Flyers, while scoring goals looked like as a weakness. So far, things couldn’t be any more different.
Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers were 7th in the NHL with a team save percentage of .917. This year, the Flyers sit dead last in the NHL with a save percentage of .866. Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers were 22nd in the league in goals scored, averaging 2.57 goals a game. This year, the Flyers are third in the NHL averaging 3.80 goals a game. What was once a strength is now a weakness, and what was once a weakness is now a strength.
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When you look at how the Flyers goaltending carried them in to the playoffs last year, it looked as though the Flyers had finally solved what had been a long standing problem with the organization since Ron Hextall’s first stint with the team. They finally had competent goaltending. Neither Steve Mason nor Michal Neuvirth is a horse like a Carey Price or Johnathan Quick that plays 60 to 70 games in the regular season and carry a team on it’s back for long stretches of time. But as a tandem, they were effective for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Both have the ability to get hot and carry a team for a short stretch. Both have had problems with injuries as well. So it was good to have them as a tandem. When one would get hurt or not play well for a stretch, the other one would step in and give the Flyers the goaltending they needed to win games.
At the other end of the ice, the Flyers were a team that struggled offensively last year. They were top heavy and relied on one line to do most of the scoring. As was shown in their first round playoff loss to the Washington Capitals, if you shut down the Claude Giroux line, you shut down the Flyers offense. So secondary scoring was an obvious need for the Flyers in this past off season.
When rookie Travis Konecny made the team out of training camp, the hope was that by adding a skilled forward like Konecny, and putting him on a line with Sean Courtier and Jake Voracek, it would take some of the pressure off of the Giroux line. Finally, the Flyers would have a second line that could put the puck in the net. Teams would no longer be able to focus solely on shutting down Gioux’s line.
So far so good in that area. The Konecny-Couturier-Voracek line has been the Flyers most effective line so far this season. And after a slow start because of the suspension of Braydon Schenn, the Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds line has started to produce as well. The result is that the Flyers are now third in the league in goal scoring.
So the Flyers have addressed their biggest weakness from last year, therefore all systems should be go and the Flyers should be sitting comfortably in a playoff spot. Only problem is that they can’t keep the puck out of their own net. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that they are breaking-in a 19 year old defenseman, Ivan Provorov, in to the line up and he has struggled at times. Most notably the game in Chicago where he was a minus-5.
But, more than anything else, it has been the Flyers goaltending that has let them down this year more than anything else. Being dead last in the league in save percentage doesn’t fully explain the problem though. The Flyers goaltenders have given up weak goals at the most inopportune times. Last Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was a microcosm of how the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending has let them down this year.
Anatomy of Letdowns
Getting of to a slow starts in games had been a problem for the Flyers all year this year. Going in to the game against the Penguins, the Flyers had been outscored 8-1 in the first period. It was imperative that the Flyers get off to a good start against the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. They were buzzing, the Wachovia Center crowd was in to the game. All the momentum was on their side.
Then it happened. Sidney Crosby received a pass as he was coming down the left wing boards off to a sharp angle from goalie Steve Mason. For whatever reason, Mason was slow to get back in to position to cover the near side post. The result was that he left an opening over his right shoulder that Crosby exploited to cut the Flyers lead to 2-1. Nothing will deflate a team more than when its goalie gives up a bad goal. And that was exactly what happened after the goal by Crosby.
The building and the team deflated after that. The Flyers committed a penalty soon after that. The Penguins scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game at two. Only minutes later, Steve Mason gave the puck away, After the the turnover, the Penguins wheeled the puck behind the Flyers net and Mason was slow to react. The Pens stuffed the puck in to the Flyer net before Mason could stop the wrap around with his left skate to make the score 3-2 Penguins.
Instead of heading in to the first intermission up 2-0 and feeling good about themselves, the Flyers headed in to the locker room deflated and down by a goal. The Flyers went on to lose the game 5-4. What should have been a huge win against the defending Stanley Cup champions turned in to a disheartening loss.
To the Flyers credit, they bounced back the following day and defeated the Carolina Hurricanes. Part of the reason for the victory though was that the Hurricanes’ goaltending was every bit as shaky as the Flyers. The Hurricanes are one spot above the Flyers in team save percentage.
If the Flyers want to put together a stretch of wins in order to vault them in to a playoff spot, they are going to have to get much better goaltending than what they are getting now. The positive is that when you look at both Steve Mason’s and Michael Neuvirth’s career numbers, both figure to rebound from their slow starts. If and when that happens, the Flyers should start to rise in the standings