John Tortorella has said it best. This Philadelphia Flyers team is working to bring back an identity that has been missing for quite some time. They want to be a hard team to play against.
Teams need to know it will be a battle the entire game. They don’t want opposing players to feel like things will be easy when they come to Philadelphia.
And that is a feeling that embodies this city. All everyone wants is to have a team that they feel can be competitive each night. A team that has an identity, not one that is still searching for one after all these years.
That’s what Tortorella is here to change. And the Philadelphia Flyers have already seen those changes early in this season.
Embody the city
Two players that embody what that city is all about are Nick Deslauriers and Zack MacEwen. The former signed a four-year contract this off-season, sayng the “rough and tough style” of this organization was a good fit for him. He mentioned how Philadelphia is a “blue collar” city, and knew what his role would be to help turn things around in his own way.
Deslauriers knew he wasn’t the type of player to score goals. His best season came in 2017-18, when he scored 10 goals and had 14 points in 58 games for Montreal. That’s not what he is around to do, though. He’s here to provide physicality and energy. If he happens to find a way to chip in offensively, well, that’s just a bonus.
MacEwen, who was injured in the third period Sunday in Arizona and was not in Tuesday’s lineup in Colorado — the Flyers have not yet given an update — can provide both if necessary. He supplies more physicality than scoring. His highest point total was the nine points he posted with the Philadelphia Flyers last year. He also had a career-high 110 penalty minutes, 60 of those minutes coming in fights.
This season, MacEwen has 38 penalty minutes, 20 of those minutes are fights.
Finding ways to step up
We’ve seen both of them finding ways to step up and bring energy to the team. One of the most evident moments was when the Flyers took on the Islanders on No. 29. Seven seconds into the game, MacEwen dropped the gloves with Matt Martin. One second later, Deslauriers dropped the gloves with Ross Johnston.
Deslauriers was asked about his fight after the game. He and MacEwen were both seen at center ice speaking to Martin prior to the opening faceoff. It all stemmed from what happened toward the end of the previous game between the Flyers and Islanders.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Deslauriers said. “Obviously, what happened last game, I saw him go after Risto (Rasmus Ristolainen) there. Trying to not seem that tough to him, but business was already settled there. He was kind enough to tell me that someone else [Johnston] got put in the lineup for me, so I assumed that was normal.”
Now there’s a difference between being hard to play against and being reckless. And it can be a fine line at times. That’s where you have to be smart. Taking a needless penalty and putting your team down a man isn’t the smart thing to do. Especially on a team that is toward the bottom of the league on the penalty kill.
When talking about being hard to play against, that involves not letting players skate through you into easy scoring opportunities. It means being able to use the body to separate a player from the puck, thus turning play in your favor.
Tortorella is known for wanting his teams to be strong in the defensive zone. That is where the aforementioned stuff comes in. If you can do those things in the defensive zone, it helps break out into offense. And Tortorella is seeing them become better in that aspect.
“Oh, I think we’ve made strides defensively. I think that the structure part of the game and cutting down our chances (is improving). … We were giving up 25 scoring chances a game. We’re into the 12, 14, 13 chances a game now. That part of the game is coming.”
Turning that into offense is another story. That’s something the Philadelphia Flyers struggle with the most. But that’s something for a different time. For now, the players, such as Deslauriers and MacEwen, are helping the Flyers gain that much-needed identity back.