Don’t look now, but the Philadelphia Flyers are playing themselves into the conversation as a dark horse Stanley Cup contender. Now is the time to get on board with the fun.
If the Philadelphia Flyers are your 2020 Stanley Cup champions come June, you will see a lot of comparisons to the reigning champions, the St. Louis Blues, this summer. Are we getting ahead of ourselves here? Absolutely! But, the comparison isn’t wrong.
Last year, the Blues were the NHL’s best team in the final months of the season, a stretch of hot play that carried them to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. MoneyPuck, the popular NHL playoff odds model, was the first to recognize the Blues’ surge and put them as the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup before anyone else.
As of the beginning of March? MoneyPuck has the Flyers as the favorites to win the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the first model to do so this season.
Of course, causation does not equal correlation. In fact, knowing the intricacies of how Philadelphia sports works, this has likely instead doomed the Flyers to flaming out in the first round in typical Philly sports heartbreak.
This Flyers team, however, feels different than ones from years past. For starters, the team’s front office is new, with general manager Chuck Fletcher at the helm for his first full season and head coach Alain Vigneault behind the bench. Gone is the Ron Hextall era that brought in players such as Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov. In its place is the fruits of those labors, with notable offseason additions that have complemented the pieces already in place.
Though the Flyers have been more up than they have been down this season, their recent stretch since Feb. 6 — when the team was shellacked 5-0 at the hands of the New Jersey Devils — has been stellar. Currently, the Flyers are on a seven-game winning streak, and since Feb. 6 have gone 10-2, besting the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals twice during that span.
As of Thursday, the Flyers sit at 85 points on the season, just one point back of the Capitals for first in the Metropolitan.
Looking back further, the Flyers have been one of the better teams for most of the season, as Philadelphia has the second-most points (74) since Nov. 1, only two points behind the Boston Bruins.
All the Flyers stars are playing well, from captain Claude Giroux (15 points in 15 games since the beginning of February) to Sean Couturier (15 points in 15 games) and Jakub Voracek (14 points in 15 games). Philadelphia is getting contributions from new acquisitions such as Kevin Hayes (13 points in 15 games) and young stars on the rise like Konecny (18 points in 15 games) during this team’s stretch run of play.
The Flyers power play has been a force to be reckoned with as well since the start of February, as their 14 power play goals in 51 opportunities are tied for the best in the NHL between the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars over that span.
As for goaltending, the Flyers hold the fourth-best goal differential in the NHL this year at a plus-33. While individually, the statistics of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott in net have been below average (the pair hold a combined .904 save percentage this season) defensively the Flyers have been able to hold their own and outscore opponents when needed.
Even the advanced statistics have the Flyers as one of the best teams in recent months. Over at The Athletic, Dom Luszczyszyn’s model has the Flyers grading out in the top 10 — and even the top five — in various metrics since the start of February:
Since February, the team has a 56.6 percent expected goals rate at 5-on-5 (fourth), earns 7.7 expected goals per 60 on the power play (seventh) and allows just 5.3 expected goals against per 60 (second).
Philadelphia also has the third-best home record in the NHL at an astounding 23-5-4 over 32 games played this season. And with 16 games left on their schedule, the Flyers will play nine of those remaining games at the Wells Fargo Center.
Statistical might aside, this season the Flyers have just been… fun. Between Konecny’s antics and Hayes’ goal celebrations and taunts, the Flyers are playing with a swagger to them that we haven’t seen in a long time.
Not only that, but Philadelphia fans are responding in kind. The city is opening its arms again to the Flyers after years of mediocrity and hardship. On the scale of cocky to distraught that Philadelphia fans oscillate between on a daily basis, Philadelphia fans have fully tipped into the confident category. And for good reason.
The 2019-20 NHL season still has one month until its end. The Flyers, in theory, could cool off and enter the postseason playing at a more reasonable pace. However, it’s clear Philadelphia is a playoff hopeful no longer and is instead a playoff contender worth jumping on the bandwagon for.
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