Though the Flyers have played only seven games thus far, management and the teams’ Head Coach, John Tortorella, have had to make some major decisions regarding this lineup.
To start. The first test was when the injury bug hit the Flyers blueline. This came in the way of Ramus Ristolainen and the newly acquired Marc Staal. The only difference between the two is while Staal’s veteran presence and insightful on-ice coaching tips to the team’s youth in between the whistles will be missed after he suffered an upper-body injury during last week’s game against the Oilers, sadly the same cannot be said for Ristolainen who currently holds a career -176 average. Rasmus, who recently suffered a setback after being thought to be nearing a return to the lineup, has been pleasantly replaced by some of the team’s top budding defensive prospects. That’s right, guys like Egor Zamula (who is a +5 right now) and rookie Emil Andre have made the most out of their increased roles with the Flyers, and it has resulted in the team being not only able to pull out some impressive wins but compete to the final minutes of a game against even the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights.
In fact, without Ristolainen in the lineup, the team has looked more defensively responsible than they have in years. Collectively working together as a solid unit now, the Flyers defense this season has been able to create far fewer turnovers, has taken fewer penalties, and is managing to drastically lower the shot attempts a night that Carter Hart has had to face. Furthermore, as a direct result of that, this season, Hart has been able to recently record a shutout against the Canucks and bring down his overall goals-against average to a very respectable 2.19 as well as increase his save percentage to .924. Need more proof? How about we check on how Ristolainens’ old defensive partner, Travis Sanheim, has been doing? Since being freed of the burden of having to double back to cover for Rasmus’s mistakes, Sanheim has been able to turn it up a notch offensively, netting eight points in seven games played this season and is currently a +2 on the year instead of the -5, he finished with last season while playing with Ristolainen.
But that’s not the only recent event contributing to this team’s success. Tortorella’s decision to bench Morgan Frost in lieu of hungrier, less experienced players like Bobby Brink and Tyson Foerster has allowed the Flyers to be able to dress possibly the best group of shut-down dot dwellers (centers) of any team in the NHL this season. Combined, Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton, Noah Cates, and Ryan Poehling are a +8 this year. To top that off, we all were witnesses to them each playing a significant role in the Flyers being able to recently hold the likes of both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (who scored a combined 281 points last season), scoreless in their recent game against them on the 19th.
It just so happens that this writer suggested this very switcheroo with the centers weeks ago in an article I provided a link to below.
While the Frost faithful are still up in arms here in Philly about Morgan being left out in the cold by Tortorella, they fail to realize that his stats from last year were inflated. Yes, we all know he scored 19 goals and 46 points last season, but what his super fans won’t admit to is those point totals were mainly derived from his increased playing time due to Couturier being out for the season because of injury). But with Coots’ injuries now being hopefully a thing of the past, the question now becomes, would Frost be able to offer the same kind of point production playing on a lesser line? Probably not! Plus, despite Morgan finishing the season with 46 points, he still ended up being a -12 last season and is now a -27 for his career, which means, in theory, everything he did last season offensively was for not because when he was on the ice, he couldn’t prevent the other team from scoring more goals than his.
So, when you pair those “series of unfortunate events” with the Flyers’ decision to trade away Ivan Provorov, who ranked ninth in the league in turnovers last year, as well as buying out Tony DeAngelo this past off-season, who was a team worse -27 during the 22-23 campaign, you can start to see that this new regime of President of Hockey Ops. Keith Jones, General Manager Danny Briere, and Head Coach John Tortorella may just know what they’re doing when it comes to constructing a roster.