A lot of times, it’s all they have to cling to as they try to muddle their way through what is impeding them from being victorious more often than not.
Sometimes, it’s cut and dry that they are a bad team. Sometimes there’s a lot more to it than that.
For the Flyers, five games into a season that has already seen a coaching change and with it a system switch that results in adapting to a different philosophy, it is still way too early to tell what’s what.
So, at a time like this, even though the record is 1-4 and the team has set a franchise record for fewest goals in the first five games of the season, it’s better to accentuate positives.
It may seem self-serving or an advanced form of spin-doctoring for the team’s insider to present this angle the day after another loss where the team once again made scoring a goal as scarce as a Honus Wagner baseball card, but the fact is, there have been things taking place that are positives this week.
Don’t get me wrong. Six goals in five games is not good, no matter how you want to paint the circumstances. This is the NHL and if you are playing at this level, you have to be expected to provide offense as a team. Anything less is, as Craig Berube is quick to point out, unacceptable.
The power play, so good a season ago, has been dreadful, scoring once in the opening game of the season and not since.
And yes, there are still too many turnovers, although to be fair, there have been fewer in the past two games.
Now you pile on injuries to Scott Hartnell and Vinny Lecavalier that will last at least a week – a span of games against stiff competition like Detroit, Vancouver and Pittsburgh – and all of the sudden you are left to wonder where exactly the offense, if it’s going to suddenly appear, is going to come from.
Every one of those concerns is fair and valid. I’m not here to sugarcoat that in any form whatsoever.
It’s pretty cut and dry – the team has to start scoring and quick. And if they are going to be without two of their top guys, then other players are going to have to pick up the slack. There’s no other option.
And yet, as I said before, there are still a good amount of positives to take away from this unwelcome start.
For the better part of two seasons (or more) the common complaint about the Flyers is that their defense is weak and their goaltending is weaker.
However, albeit it’s that cautionary “small sample size” so far, rhey actually been strengths of this team.
O.K., the defense was a little shaky in Montreal and Carolina, but the last two games they were better. Specifically last night’s loss to Phoenix. There were fewer chances against than any game so far this season.
"I thought we were a lot better,” Berube said. “I thought guys did a good job around our net, battling, good sticks. I thought we were a lot better."
And when they aren’t really good in their own zone, the goaltending has been there to bail them out.
Steve Mason has been the most hard-luck goalie in the NHL this season.
His third in the league in total saves, and ninth in save percentage at .935 among goalies with at least three starts. His 2.03 goals against average should be good enough to win most nights, and yet he’s 1-3.
There’s always the line that goalies are only as good as the team in front of them, and if that is true, then the Flyers have been pretty good in front of Mason.
There is a concerted effort that is noticeable in the way the Flyers play to limit the chances of the opposition. They still struggle with actual puck possession at times, allowing opponents to control the puck a little bit too long, but if Berube wants the team to play better without the puck, you can certainly see strides in that direction over the course of the past two games.
Individual players have done a nice job. Sean Couturier has had his two best games in a long time, even if he’s not putting up offensive numbers. Matt Read was one of the best players on the ice - period - against Phoenix. Wayne Simmonds played with a bit more energy and flair.
On the defensive side, Braydon Coburn has been better in the past two games. Nick Grossmann still gets in the way of a lot of shots or would-be shots – and with the exception of his penalty at the end of the game, which cost the Flyers offensive zone time with a sixth attacker, Andrej Meszaros was having a solid outing against Phoenix.
Yes, there are still issues.
“We're not desperate enough around the net,” Berube said. “And we don't have enough traffic at the net getting those second and third opportunities. We need to get some greasy goals."
That’s next on the agenda. It would justify the recall of Tye McGinn, who has no problem serving as a net-front presence, and Michael Raffl, who had a scorer’s touch in Sweden and scored a goal and an assist for the Phantoms in Hartford last night, will be up as well to try and replace Hartnell and Lecavalier.
But it’s not just those two who have to step up. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Simmonds, Read, Brayden Schenn… they all have to sacrifice more in the offensive end.
“The difference in the game [Friday] was they scored a goal because they were in front of the net, hit somebody and it went in,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “Then we shot at their goalie, we didn’t have anybody in front of the net, had lots of guys off to the side but unfortunately we need to score goals and to get into those areas.
“It’s hard to score and the fact that we are (pressing)… I thought there were more good things again, still its going to take a while to catch on with what Craig wants them to do. Overall, it’s a loss and we need to turn around quickly.”
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