Keeping flyers gives them life, amid scoring struggles

Keeping Flyers Gives Them Life, Amid Scoring Struggles

Goalkeeping is back in the City of Brotherly Love.

A season away from one of the organization’s worst stretches between the legs, Carter Hart and Martin Jones have come out of the gates as strong as possible, making the Philadelphia Flyers one of the best goalkeeper tandems to begin with.

Tuesday’s win over Calgary epitomized everything the Flyers are this season. The Flames controlled the game from the jump, pinning the Flyers in their own end and making life hard for Hart, eventually getting one of his own – from a challenging diversion – to take the early lead.

That would be Hart’s only mistake all night as he stood on his head and averted 33 of the Flames’ 34 shots in the 2-1 overtime victory. The young netminder took the game on his shoulders, realizing that his attack continued the fight, and his team won another game at the start.

At this point in the season, Hart’s numbers speak for themselves. He is 5-3-2 in the young season with a 2.19 GAA and a .935 save percentage, which is good for seventh in the league.

Coming in from San Jose, Jones was also reliable in his four starts with an impressive save rate of 0.931 and 2.27 GAA. Those numbers are good for the ninth and twelfth best in the league respectively.

The Flyers are at 8-4-2 thanks to their netminders and fourth in the ridiculously tough Metro Division. Only Calgary can claim to have a goalkeeper tandem on par with the Flyers as both teams are the only team to have two goalkeepers in the Top 10 for save rate and Top 15 for GAA.

“We’re like any team in the NHL that wants to be successful, you have to be a good goalkeeper and we definitely get that now,” said head coach Alain Vigneault after Hart’s first shutout of the season against Arizona, who took a leap of faith. their goalkeeper renaissance this month.

Pull up a chair because how they pile up in the NHL during the month of November is a sight to behold. The pair have a season average of 2.43 GAA, good enough for fourth place in the NHL. Since the beginning of November – exactly when the offense took a step back – that is an even 2.00. Over that same period, the Flyers offense has a league-worst 1.86 goals per game; still the team is 4-2-1.

A “Player X carries his team” form is often thrown around in situations where it doesn’t apply, but in this case Hart and Jones really take this team on their backs. No team with 2.38 goals or less in that period has a record of .500 except the Flyers.

A goalkeeper can pick up his team on any night in a match with a bad score. For these two, they’ve been asked daily to do this for the past few weeks and they’ve performed admirably. Hart has a hefty save percentage of .953, 1.59 GAA and one shutout to start over the last seven games. Not far behind is Jones and his 2.53 GAA over two starts this month.

Aiding the goalkeepers’ efforts was also the renaissance of the Flyers’ blue liners. They too can take a lot of credit in the sheer dominance that this team displays by keeping the puck out of their own net.

Despite having their biggest off-season signing in Ryan Ellis for just four games and losing him again in the near future, Ivan Provorov and the gray veteran, Justin Braun, have made a surprisingly strong top pair. It’s also no coincidence that their tricky goalkeeping game aligns with Rasmus Ristolinen and Travis Sanheim finding their chemistry after a bumpy start. That pair has been a bright spot in the past seven games, culminating in the former Buffalo Saber who racked up a season-best nine and three blocked shots in Tuesday’s win.

Looking at Tuesday’s game and through the first 14 games, the one thing that stands out quite a bit is that Hart and Jones are in position before the puck is even fired. They also don’t fight through deflections as often as they did last season, nor do they have to cheat to the other side as often due to far fewer defensive errors compared to the 2019-20 season.

Hart even spoke of this after his shutout two weeks ago, crediting his defense for giving him a clear view.

“Our guys are doing their job in front of my boxing boys eyes and showing me the puck and to create second chances, so we’ve done a good job of that so far,” Hart explained.

All of this equates to a suffocating penalty kill unit, something they haven’t had in a while. The team is sixth this month with a horsepower success rate of 88.9. In comparison, the Flyers were the second to last one year ago with an ugly 73.1 penalty deaths.

However, what cannot be lost with all these wins is the fact that the Flyers attack has come to a complete standstill in the last 10 games. The team has scored two or fewer goals in eight of their last nine games, yet miraculously holds a 5-3-1 record in that period thanks to the determined work of the netminders.

“Sometimes, for whatever reason, the puck doesn’t find the back of the net, so we have to keep playing the right way,” explained head coach Alain Vigneault after their 3-0 loss to Toronto on Nov. 10.

“We just need to score more big goals and get pucks through,” Cam Atkinson said after their 5-2 loss to Dallas over the weekend. Atkinson, of course, followed up on his words with the OT winner the next game. “It seems like we’re having a hard time getting pucks on the net… we just have to find ways to get the puck into that area so we can hit it home.”

The Flyers can take solace in the knowledge that a score burst awaits them somewhere. A team just doesn’t score goals like at the start of the season and don’t forget to score. The numbers don’t suggest there’s anything seriously wrong with them either.

In the eye test, the Flyers make the extra pass a little more often than they should. There’s also an occasional lack of aggressiveness, as evidenced by their 5-on-3 on Tuesday, where they kept things in check rather than attacking the three Flames on the ice.

Their shot totals have not fallen either. They have played some of their highest shots in the past week. They are shooting 34.9 per game this month, which is sixth in the NHL.

This is just a case of a team in a rut, a rut that takes them a little longer than they’d like. However, the easiest way for them to break through would be to take advantage of the male advantage. Only Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders have worse powerplay in November, as the Flyers have scored a dismal 8.3% in their last seven games.

Bad as their infighting is, which has only become more worrisome after a season-worst 0-for-6 against Calgary while a man in the lead, there will be a positive correction. The Flyers had a score of 23.8% in October, which was actually slightly higher than the 20.1% they had in Vigneault’s first two seasons as coach.

Fortunately, the team’s offensive slowdown lines up with Hart standing on his head and Jones holding the fortress. If those two didn’t team up to be one of the top duos, the Flyers would find themselves in a hole in the subway that would be hard to get out of.

Instead, Hart and Jones keep their off-season promises. Hart preached that he had cleared his mind from last season’s grim results and Jones vowed he could regain his form by reuniting with his longtime goalkeeping coach. So far both things have been true and it has put the Flyers in a great position for the first month of the season.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @Kyle_Phillippi

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