The Philadelphia Flyers took a step back in 2018-2019, posting a 37-37-8 record for a total of 82 points. In 2017-2018, they managed 42 wins and made the playoffs. Pittsburgh eliminated them in six games, but it was a step in the right direction.
2018-2019 was, therefore, a step in the wrong direction.
Philly scored 244 goals in 2018-2019, seven fewer than the previous season. Five players had 20 or more goals, including Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, James van Riemsdyk, and Sean Couturier.
Couturier led the way with a career-high 33 goals, two more than 2017-2018. He tied the previous year’s totals with 76 points, but took a 32-point dip in plus/minus and fired off fewer shots on goal. The 26-year-old from Arizona had eight power play goals.
Giroux had a drop in production, scoring 22 goals and a total of 82 points. That’s a fair shade off the previous year’s totals, which saw him post 102 points and 34 goals.
While the Flyers certainly can find the net enough, it’s defence that represents the most glaring wrong. They allowed a miserable 281 goals against in 2018-2019, putting them second from the basement in the Eastern Conference. That gave them a goal differential of minus-37, which would’ve been even worse had Philadelphia not scored regularly.
The Flyers famously saw at least eight goalies make a start in 2018-2019. Carter Hart logged 30 of those starts and he played admirably, posting a 2.83 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
Hart was statistically the best netminder on the team in his debut season, becoming the youngest goalie since Carey Price to win his first NHL game. By January, he’d become the first goalie since Steve Mason to notch four straight wins as an under-21 starter. He was also named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for January.
Despite Hart’s best efforts, the Flyers went through a revolving door of netminders that included Brian Elliott, Anthony Stolarz, Cam Talbot, Calvin Pickard, Mike McKenna, Michal Neuvirth, and Alex Lyon. The latter saw just one start, where he permitted four goals on a dozen shots and was pulled after one period.
Obviously more steadiness in goal will tilt that goal differential back in Philly’s favour. Using an NHL-high eight goalies in a single season is not ideal in the best of circumstances, but the Flyers went through a mountain of injuries.
In 2019-2020, it’s up to the newly-inked Elliott and Hart to hold the fort. Talbot, attained from the Oilers in February, is with the Flames. Pickard is with the Red Wings now and Neuvirth is a free agent with a tryout pending with Toronto. Stolarz, who headed out of Philly as part of the Talbot swap, was signed to a two-year deal by Anaheim.
The Flyers will also hope for more consistency behind the bench, with the hiring of head coach Alain Vigneault. He’ll have some new blood to work with, including forward Kevin Hayes, and it’ll be up to him to form some impression of team identity.
Some of what went wrong in 2018-2019 amounted to dumb luck, but the Flyers need their best players to be better. And 6’5 Hayes will have every chance to make an impact, with a beefy seven-year contract to live up to.
Photo credit: NHL