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Meltzer: Six straight wins, Six reasons why

Flyers contributor goes through the factors that have turned the Flyers play around

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

It is no secret that the Flyers have been a streaky team in recent seasons. Nevertheless, regardless of how the rest of this season goes, the current six-game winning streak has a little different feel than some of the team's other runs in terms of their long-term implications. 

Here are six reasons why the team has strung together its current run.


The first and foremost reason for the Flyers' winning streak is very easy to identify: stellar goaltending from NHL Rookie of the Month winner Carter Hart and a spectacular return by Anthony Stolarz from the injured reserve list. There have been games during the current stretch where the Flyers have been outplayed and the goalies have given the Flyers a chance to win every night.

Hart led the entire NHL in saves (283) and ranked third in minutes played (540:13) during January. He has won five straight games to close the month, posting a (2.38 GAA and .930 SV% including two wins over the Bruins and a victory over Winnipeg in the first game after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Stolarz was outstanding in a 38-save shutout as the Flyers nipped the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 1-0.

2) KIDS ARE (more than) ALL RIGHT  

Right in line with the big-picture implications of Hart's play during the current winning streak have been the contributions of the team's rookies and second-year NHLers. Nolan Patrick has generated a pair of two-goal games and played some of the best 200-foot hockey of his young career. Travis Sanheim is playing 20-plus minutes a night and starting to blossom as an all-around defenseman; including a game-winning overtime goal and an assist in the Flyers' road win in Boston. Oskar Lindblom is now getting more ice time, playing in all game situations including penalty kills and protecting late leads, and has scored three goals and five points in the last five games, including the game's only goal for either team in the MSG game and the third-period game-tying tally on the power play in Boston. Mikhail Vorobyev earned a recall from the AHL with a strong couple weeks of play leading up to his return to the big team.

Meanwhile, two key third-year NHLers have been vital pieces of the current surge. Ivan Provorov, the team's single most-important defenseman, has put together three stellar games in a row to start the post All-Star break portion of the schedule. Travis Konecny has five points (2g-3a) in the last four games. He also drew an overtime penalty on Boston star Brad Marchand in Thursday's game, setting the stage for Sanheim's winning goal and earning a secondary assist on the final goal as well.



In the early weeks of interim head coach Scott Gordon's tenure with the Flyers, there was scarcely any time to practice. Any system-related tweaks had to implemented gradually, so as not too inundate the players with too much to absorb at once and also because the tightly packed game-night schedule had to take precedence. The first three games of the current winning streak took place prior to the team's bye week and the NHL All-Star break but there had already been some adjustments implemented by that point, starting with some special teams related changes both in structure and personnel. 

In the first practice back after the All-Star break, a heavy emphasis was placed on tightening up the team's neutral zone forecheck. The team plays a 1-2-2 or modified 1-3-1 -- a variation on what used to be called the neutral zone trap before that terminology fell out of favor. The key to its success is to create layers of checkers when opponents move up ice. Done properly, it makes it difficult for opponents to carry the puck into your zone for a clean entry and increases the chance of an opposing turnover and a counterattacking opportunity. While this style is hardly unique and was, in fact, also employed during the Dave Hakstol era, the team has been much better at late at creating the necessary layers of defense to minimize opposition chances off the rush. 

Within the Flyers own zone, the team has emphasized -- and executed -- much better at playing below the puck and taking away the inside areas below and between the faceoff dots. This has produced an upswing in shot-blocking. The Flyers' shot-attempt metrics have actually swung in an unfavorable direction in terms of the volume of opposing shot attempts on net, but the goalies have generally had cleaner looks and better opportunities to save the shots that don't get blocked. 



After a frank talk with Gordon, whom James van Riemsdyk knew from their time together in Toronto, JVR has responded to a brief (less than one game) demotion to the fourth line with his best all-around hockey of the season. He's up on his skates. He getting to the scoring areas with regularity. He's been more engaged without the puck. The upswing started shortly before the team broke out an 0-6-2 spell and has continued into the team's current streak of six wins in a row and seven wins in the last eight games. Correspondingly, JVR has posted seven goals and nine points in the last eight games including a hat trick against Minnesota on Jan. 14.

In the case of Couturier, the player has been a good two-way groove for the better part of two months after a slow start due partially to an abbreviated training camp. Specific to the current 7-1-0 run for the team, Couturier has produced four goals (including a hat trick against Boston on Jan. 16) and 10 points. Through the first 11 games of the season, the 2017-18 Selke Trophy finalist had only three goals, was still looking for his first assist of the season. Over the last 38 games, he's averaged a point per game (16g-22a) despite being separated from Claude Giroux in recent weeks when Giroux has moved back from left wing to center.



For the most part, the Flyers have played from ahead during their current run. It goes without saying that games are much easier to manage when you are playing with the lead. However, there have also been a few games where the Flyers have to come back in teams; the first two games of the six-game winning streak saw the Flyers start out trailing both Minnesota and Boston by 2-0 scores. In Thursday's return game against Boston, the Flyers trailed 1-0 and 2-1. In general, the team has shown an improved ability to play through adversity and still find ways to win. That is no different than how any team in the league puts together multiple consecutive wins. As Gordon said on Tuesday, "They're not going to be Picassos."



The Flyers struggled on home ice early in the season but then won the first two home games with Gordon at the helm. After league-wide holiday break, the Flyers went into a tailspin (0-6-2) in which venue made no difference -- the team simply wasn't playing well enough to win, and goals were sparse. Over the last eight games, the team is 4-0-0 at home and 3-1-0 on the road with the only loss being a 3-2 decision to the Devils. With each of the Flyers next five games being on home ice, it's imperative that the team continue its recent run of strong performances at home. 

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