The miserable first half of the Flyers’ season has included the stunning firing of their methodical general manager, the canning of their stoic coach, too many goalie injuries to count, and lots of uninspiring play from a majority of players.
The first half could also have this as its slogan: The kids aren’t all right.
The Flyers’ young players were expected to take a huge step in development this season and help the team improve on its encouraging 98-point year.
Instead, many have regressed and, as a result, the Flyers are on a 72-point pace. That would be the sixth-lowest total (excluding shortened seasons) in franchise history.
“Coming off a pretty good season, it’s definitely shocking to see where this team is at right now,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said after practice Friday. “We have to stick with it. We’ve been through ups and downs before, and it’s more about how we come out of it. We’re pretty close to figuring it out.”
Defenseman Ivan Provorov (minus-13), who turns 22 on Jan. 13, was terrific in his first two seasons and looked like a future All-Star. But he has made an alarming amount of stickhandling and coverage mistakes this season and his offense has also dipped. As for the 25-year-old Gostisbehere (minus-19), he has looked lost on defense at times and has even seemed hesitant in the best part of his game, quarterbacking the power play.
“A lot of us in here know we can get a lot better,” Gostisbehere said.
Center Nolan Patrick, now in his second season, has just five goals and 11 points and, before a recent injury, was demoted to the third line.
The Flyers got what club president Paul Holmgren called a gift when they climbed to No. 2 in the 2017 draft lottery and were able to select the heralded Patrick. They need much more from Patrick in the second half of this season. No. 2 overall picks are supposed to be impact players – as Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov is demonstrating this season as an 18-year-old rookie winger. Selected No. 2 overall last June, the rookie went into the weekend with 11 goals and 19 points in 39 games.
In 108 career games, Patrick has 18 goals and 41 points. Vancouver center Elias Pettersson, taken three selections after Patrick in the 2017 draft, is a rookie this season and he had 22 goals and 42 points in his first 38 games.
Patrick is only 20 and has plenty of time to develop. He might be someone who blossoms at a slower pace, like Sean Couturier (selected No. 8 overall in 2011), who didn’t have a breakout year until his seventh season (31 goals, 76 points).
Travis Konecny, 21, who finished with 24 goals a year ago, and 22-year-old Oskar Lindblom are other young Flyers forwards who have struggled recently.
Before scoring in Saturday’s matinee against Calgary. Konecny hadn’t scored a goal in 13 games and was demoted from the first to the fourth line at the start of Thursday’s 5-3 loss to Carolina. Part of it was because interim coach Scott Gordon wanted to put Lindblom, now goalless in his last 25 outings, with better linemates – he started on the top line -- in an effort to jump-start his game. The other part was that Konecny was slumping.
“I had a conversation with T.K. yesterday about my expectations and where he was a little off,” Gordon said Friday. “He’s getting his opportunities, but it’s a question of him getting volume. The way you get volume is by the details in your game – from puck management … getting to the right spots. And then all of a sudden, instead of being on a backcheck, you’re maintaining on offensive-zone forecheck.”
Gordon liked the way Konecny played when he was moved back to the top line Thursday.
“With his skill and his skating, he’s going to get opportunities,” he said. “Let’s get some volume, and the more volume you get, the more opportunities you’re going to get to be able to be in scoring situations.”
The underachieving Flyers are battling to stay out of the basement in the overall NHL standings, and some fans want them to finish at the bottom and get a better chance to select center Jack Hughes, who is expected to be the top pick in the draft in June. A #LoseForHughes hashtag has become a popular Twitter hashtag among Flyers fans.
Maybe Hughes will turn into a big star someday. Maybe.