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5 Takeaways on Flyers’ Start: Surprises, Disappointments & More

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Bobby Brink, Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers right winger Bobby Brink, shown skating down the ice against Vegas last month, is tied for the NHL lead in points among rookies. Photo: AP.

As the Philadelphia Flyers begin a four-game road trip Tuesday in San Jose against the awful Sharks, it seems like a good time to evaluate their play after a dozen games. Here are five takeaways on their 5-6-1 start:

1.  Some players have been better than expected.

Take a bow, Sean Walker. You, too, Bobby Brink, Travis Sanheim and Egor Zamula.

Walker was considered a throw-in piece in the Ivan Provorov deal, but he has been a steady defender and has supplied some surprising offense.

Brink earned a roster spot with an outstanding preseason, and he has carried that strong play into the regular season. The small and speedy right winger has eight points (3-5), placing him tied for first among NHL rookies.

On defense, Sanheim’s production (10 points in 12 games) has been startling, and he has been a workhorse, averaging  25:46 per game. Sanheim has chipped in with 19 blocks, though he is a team-worst minus-7. Zamula, has not looked out of place in his first full season with the Flyers. He hasn’t been perfect, but he has been mostly steady and he leads the Flyers with a plus-7 rating.

2. Travis Konecny edges Carter Hart for the team’s early-season MVP.

Konecny has shown last year (31 goals in 60 games) wasn’t a fluke. He has stepped up his game and is tied for second in the NHL with nine goals in 12 games. That means he has scored 40 goals over his last 72 games.

He is on a 62-goal pace this season.

As for Hart, who has missed the last two games because of an injury, he has been very good (2.52 GAA, .913 save percentage), and he makes the Flyers competitive every time he’s in the nets.

Thus far, the same cannot be said for the team’s backup goalies.

3. The power play has been dreadful.

With Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson back after missing last season because of injuries, the Philadelphia Flyers figured to show marked improvement on their power play.

It hasn’t happened.

Atkinson and Couturier (who has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury) have been impressive overall. Both have made strong comebacks and have made the Flyers’ penalty kill and five-on-five play better.

But the power play, directed by Rocky Thompson, has looked like the unit that finished last in the NHL the last two years. It is clicking at just 9.8 percent, 30th in the 32-team league through 12 games.

The problem(s)?

Not enough shots. Not enough cohesiveness. Not enough chaos in front of the opposing goaltender.

“I think it’s just a matter of execution,” Atkinson said.

All you need to know about the Flyers’ power play is this: It has as many goals (four) as the team has scored while shorthanded

4. Paging Owen Tippett, Tyson Foerster and Morgan Frost.

The first two players have struggled finding the back of the net, but it’s not because they have lacked opportunities.

Tippett, who had 27 goals last season, seems on the verge of a breakout. He shares the team lead with Konecny with 41 shots, but has been frustrated by opposing goalies and his off-target shooting. He has just two goals and his shooting percentage is at 4.9%. It was a career-high 11.7%  last season.

As for the snakebitten Foerster, he has played with an edge and done a lot of good things. But scoring isn’t one of them. He has no goals, and you get the feeling that when one goes in, it will open the flood gates.

Frost was benched for a six-game stretch and is still searching to find his rhythm. He has no points in six games and has managed just eight shots. The Flyers need him to build off last year’s 19-goal performance.

5. Flyers coach John Tortorella has done a good job getting the youngsters playing time.

Credit the coach for patiently playing the kids. Some of it has been because of injuries, and some of it is because he knows this is a season to build for the future.

Despite the influx of youth, the Flyers are allowing just 26.6 shots per game, the second-fewest in the NHL (behind Carolina). At this point of the reclamation project, it’s a baby step. Many more are needed, but the Flyers are at least heading in the right direction.

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at samcarchidi55@gmail.com.

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