Aside from the first period of the October 10 game in Florida, which at the moment looks like an outlier on the data set that has been the first two weeks of the season, the Flyers have a lot to be happy about as they enter a mini-break in the schedule beyond the obvious pair of shutouts against Chicago and Florida.
They have played the two teams that were left standing at the end of last season and played them well, blanking the Blackhawks on Wednesday and controlling play for large periods of time against Tampa Bay on October 8’s opening night, when they eventually settled for an overtime point. Their other win was the solid rebound game against Florida in their home opener on October 12.
A theme throughout from the players has been the notion of “buying into the system” – which is to say that up and down the roster, players are doing their individual jobs and not trying to do too much or do their own thing. That’s a matter of execution, but it’s also a matter of many intangibles that make up a good hockey team – or any good group for that matter, inside or outside of sports. “Buying into the system” is happening because through this early going, the Flyers have shown to be a group that can work extremely well together, and that is translating into some early success.
“I’ve said it from Day 1 I’ve been here, this is the closest group of guys I’ve ever played with,” said Michael Del Zotto. “You have some veteran leaders like [Nick Schultz] and [Mark Streit], and guys a little bit younger but have been in the league a long time like [Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds] and [Claude Giroux.] It’s a group leadership thing. I think we’re all in this together. We all know where we stand and we keep each other accountable. That’s one thing we’ve done a good job of this year is being accountable and responsible for our own jobs, and doing the job at hand so we can trust each other on the ice.”
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol sees this type of thing and recognizes it as good news. It might be his first year as an NHL head coach, but leadership and other intangibles are things that transcend all levels of hockey. Hakstol’s North Dakota teams didn’t reach the NCAA’s Frozen Four seven times in 11 years by going out and having a bunch of players do their own thing.
“I think it’s about growing the strength of the team from the locker room and within that locker room,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got so many good people inside of that room that are focused and hungry to succeed. They’re the driving forces inside that locker room.”
The strength of the locker room starts with the captain, and most Flyers fans know that’s Claude Giroux. Building the room is a responsibility that Giroux is happy to accept, but he also knows he doesn’t have to do it alone.
“I think leadership is more of a team thing or a group thing,” Giroux said. “I think everybody’s doing a good job communicating and being on the same page, and when we do that we’re going to be more successful.”
The Flyers’ alternate captains this year are Mark Streit and Wayne Simmonds. But past those three, there are even more people pulling weight. Jake Voracek doesn’t wear a letter, but there’s no doubt he’s a strong leader in the room. Almost all the Flyers have been a captain or alternate on some team at some point in their hockey life. Some have worn letters on other NHL teams, including Streit, who was the captain of the Islanders before he came to Philadelphia.
“A guy like [Nick Schultz] too, he takes a lot of leadership and leads by example,” Streit said. “And then a guy like [Sean Couturier], he’s still young but he’s been in the league a long time. Guys like that step in and take more responsibility every year, and I think that’s the way it should be. Everybody has his role, and if the same guys are talking it’s going to be a broken record soon. We need all 23 guys in the locker room helping out on different levels on different days, and so far so good.”
Indeed, that leadership and buy-in does seem to go all the way down the roster. Couturier is only 22, but this is his fifth year in the NHL, and he sees the opportunity to help.
“I’ve been through a lot of games,” Couturier said. “I can definitely gain some experience from those four years and try to show the way for some young guys or some other guys coming in. Just trying to step up and grow into that role as the years go by.”
Even the new faces in the Flyers locker room are blending in with the group that has been here for years. Sam Gagner was part of the leadership group when he was in Edmonton, but has now been on the move for the last couple of seasons. As he gets settled in with the Flyers, he’s eager to do his part to help guide things in the right direction.
“I don’t think you can ever have too many leaders or too many guys stepping up to fill that role,” Gagner said. “I think it starts on the ice with your work habits, and from there how you’re taking care of yourself and leading by example. Hopefully I can develop into that here and help the team win some games.”
All of this provides perhaps the most promising indicator that the Flyers can have a successful season that will be exciting to watch. The team, at least in the early stages, is excelling in areas that statistics can’t directly measure, but those areas lead to good on-ice play that turns into good statistics and then into wins.
“I think that’s how a good team grows and develops,” Hakstol said. “It absolutely starts with your captain and your assistant captains. The core leadership group grows in and around those guys as a base. A team is driven by a focus from within. When everybody is on the same page, working towards the same goal, with team success in mind, those are the things that drive success, ultimately.”