PHILADELPHIA – If you were told before the season that the Flyers would be third in the 30-team NHL in scoring, that they would have three players among the league’s top-10 scorers, and that rookie left winger Travis Konecny would be even better than expected, well, you would have guessed they would be off to a great start.
Instead, they are just 6-6-1 and wondering what in the world happened to their perceived strength – the goaltending duo of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth.
Second-year coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall have both tried to deflect the blame from their goalies.
“There’s more to it than that,” Hakstol said after Neuvirth allowed two bad third-period goals in Saturday’s 5-4 loss in Montreal.
The Flyers outshot the Canadiens, 38-17, but lost because Montreal’s Carey Price thoroughly outplayed Neuvirth.
“There’s nobody here that’s going to point fingers at the goalies, or the D, or just the forwards,” Hextall said the other day. “It’s the whole group on the ice.”
Mason carried the Flyers to a playoff berth with an outstanding second half (2.28 goals-against average, .921 save percentage) last season, while Neuvith had a career season (2.27, .924) and was spectacular in the playoffs.
With both in the final year of their contracts, there was reason to believe they would carry over their success and make goaltending the Flyers’ best position.
It still could happen, but 13 games into the season, their inconsistent play has negated the Flyers’ offensive emergence (3.46 goals per game).
The Flyers entered Sunday next-to-last in the NHL, allowing 3.69 goals per game.
Neuvirth was given a chance to become the No. 1 goalie by getting the last four starts, but he didn’t seize the opportunity. Overall, he has a 3.57 goals-against average – 1.30 higher than last season – and an .859 save percentage.
That means Mason (3.46, .878) will likely now get “his chance to show he has No. 1 stuff, starting Tuesday against Detroit at the Wells Fargo Center.
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, like Hextall, said the whole team needs to take responsibility for the defensive deficiencies.
In the loss in Montreal (10-1-1), however, the Flyers spent most of the game in the Canadiens’ end. The Canadians had few scoring chances, but capitalized when they did.
“If we play like we played tonight,” captain Claude Giroux said after the loss, “we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
The good news: If the goalies come around and the offense isn’t a mirage, the Flyers could assert themselves in the Metropolitan Division standings. Despite their goalies’ struggles, they have won three of their last four games, and in their only loss in that span, they dominated so-far-powerful Montreal in all aspects except goaltending.