The first month of the season is complete and from a Flyers' standpoint, you almost think it should be entitled the "what if" month. The Flyers ended October at 6-5-1 and right in the mix in the very competitive Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. That record is okay, but you have to wonder about what could have been.
What if the Flyers had finished their season opening road trip at 3-1-0 instead of 2-2-0 after the late penalty problems in Nashville in the last game of the swing? What if the Flyers had finished the subsequent homestand at 4-1-0 instead of 3-2-0 after struggling in the finale against Anaheim? And what if the Flyers had been ready to answer the challenge of the winless Arizona Coyotes in the last game of the month? What if? Try 9-3-0 instead of 6-5-1 and we are all talking about one of the best starts to a Flyers' season in recent memory.
The good news for Flyers' fans is that the team showed enough to be in position to post that kind of record. There were indeed several positive developments in the first month and here are some that caught my attention:
TOP LINE EXPERIMENT SUCCESS
It took some courage and creativity to come up with the idea of putting together the line of LW Claude Giroux, C Sean Couturier, and RW Jacob Voracek. It was truly an experiment. So far, the results have been smashing. And it's easy to think now, that there was no risk in trying it.
But think about it. Giroux had spent almost a decade piling up points as a center. He accepted the position change immediately and without complaint. He's found more room on the wing and no less time to create plays. It's worked, but there are a lot of players in the NHL with Giroux's resume that would have at least hesitated to make the switch if not refused altogether.
Couturier is off to, by far, the best start of his career. It would have been easy to doubt he would be able to produce this much offensively given his track record through over 400+ NHL games. But, he has remained confident that put in the right situation, he could demonstrate more of an offensive side to his game. Playing with Giroux and Voracek appears to be that "right situation."
Voracek has been the engine driving the line. On most nights, he has appeared dangerous to opponents every time he touches the puck. He and Giroux have maintained their special chemistry even with the captain's position change.
It's all added up to the most productive scoring line north of Tampa in the NHL in October. If the three can keep it up, it bodes well for the Flyers being a difficult team to hold down as the season rolls along.
YOUTH BEING SERVED
It's no secret that the Flyers are in the midst of a youth movement. The question is how does the line between growing pains and maturation move as the season progresses. In October, there were ups and downs as expected.
It's energizing to observe a player in his early 20's in consideration for the top star of a game on any given night. For the Flyers, 20 year old Ivan Provorov can be considered on almost a nightly basis. Before his injury, 23 year old Shayne Gostisbehere was leading all NHL defensemen in points and playing the best all around hockey of his young career. Twenty two year old Robert Hagg has been a steadying addition on the blueline, and finds himself among the NHL rookie leaders in hits, blocks, plus/minus and ice time. Travis Konecny, at 20, and Travis Sanheim, at 21, show glimpses of their tremendous potential just about every night.
The growing pains are still evident with the young players committing mistakes, some of them critical. But, you have to live with them as these players continue to grow as NHL regulars. The injury to Nolan Patrick has been a setback, but in general, as the season goes along, one should expect the growing pains to dissipate and the progress to increase. If so, the Flyers will get deeper and stronger as the springtime approaches.
ENERGY FROM THE FOURTH
A pleasant development has been the play of the line centered by Scott Laughton with Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. The goals and points haven't been there, but that trio spends a lot of time in the offensive zone buzzing around, making life difficult for the opponent. Their speed is always noticeable as is their tenacity. All three players have shown the ability at prior levels to contribute offensively, so some goals from this group eventually is far from out of the question. As it is, they bring lots of energy and give Dave Hakstol a reliable line that can be utilized in a checking role as well when need be.
THE WAYNE TRAIN
Wayne Simmonds got off to a rousing start with an opening night hat trick. Before the month was done, he had tallied four game winning goals and supplied his usual grit and toughness. He did all of this while being well below 100% due to a variety of bumps and bruises. Simmonds has developed into one of the NHL's top power forwards. His value to the team is felt in much more than his goals and points, and yet he supplies plenty of those too. A healthier November could lead to an even more explosive Wayne Train, and that's a ride the Flyers would love to be aboard.
So, there have been lots of positives with the potential for even more moving forward. The recent spate of injuries is concerning, and an uptick in goaltending consistency would help. However, if many of the above factors continue in their current direction, it's quite possible in a month, we are talking about a November of what was, instead of what if.