It's been a very rough start to the 2013-14 NHL season for the Philadelphia Flyers. After 18 games, the Flyers are 7-10-1 and ahead of only the Columbus Blue Jackets in the mediocre Metropolitan Division.
Still, Philadelphia did enjoy three straight wins over the Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins. While three straight victories is nice, the more important question is are the Flyers legitimately showing signs of improvement, or will the club continue to flounder?
There are signs that the team is showing some improvement. Obviously, the key becomes sustaining these improvements for longer than three games. But there are several reasons to be hopeful.
First, the Flyers scored more than three goals in consecutive games for the first time this season. Philadelphia tallied four times against Edmonton and five times against Ottawa. Not bad for a team that scored more than three goals only once in their first 15 games. In fact, the Flyers are no longer last in the NHL in goals-per-game. OK, they're 29th out of 30 teams, and the only team they're ahead of right now is the Buffalo Sabres, but it's still progress.
More importantly, some of the players who started the season with frustrating offensive slumps have started to show signs of life. Claude Giroux finally scored his first goal of the season and had three points in the last three games. Vincent Lecavalier scored two goals and added an assist while Jakub Voracek scored twice and totaled four points. Scott Hartnell, Mark Streit and Matt Read each scored two points during the winning streak.
Sure, it's only three games, but these are the players the Flyers are relying on to carry their offense and for the first time all season, it seems like they are playing well at the same time. For the Flyers to win consistently, of course, they need these players to produce on a consistent basis, but at least this is a start.
The Flyers have also gotten solid goaltending for most of the season from the duo of Steve Mason and Ray Emery. That has continued despite the improved offensive production against Edmonton and Ottawa. Mason recorded a shutout against Ottawa and yielded only two goals to an Edmonton club full of talented offensive players. Emery came up big against the Penguins, making 30 saves to earn a win over the Flyers' intrastate rivals.
More importantly, however, the Flyers played strong team defense, permitting a total of 50 shots over the first two games while taking their offensive production up a notch. Against Pittsburgh, the Flyers allowed 31 shots but minimized the Penguins' quality chances.
Special teams were also improving. The Flyers held the opposition to two goals on nine power play chances in the three games. While those stats are good but not great, the penalty kill came up big in the clutch. They killed off a huge penalty to Sean Couturier in the third period against the Penguins while clinging to a one-goal lead.
Meanwhile, the power play went 3-for-9 and produced the game winner against Pittsburgh.
The players are noticing a difference in the team's play. "We got back to the basics," forward Matt Read told Darren Desaulniers of The Canadian Press. "The first month we tried to do things when we didn't have them and now we're just keeping things simple by getting pucks deep and getting pucks out when we have to and winning puck battles along the boards. Those little things turn into victories."
The Flyers are fortunate that nobody is running away with the Metropolitan Division. If they continue to play well, they can quickly get back into the thick of the playoff hunt. Now the key is to take a three-game winning streak and play that way consistently.