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Flyers Notebook: Mid-term grades

Posted by Eric Fisher On January 8

The Flyers enter their “bye” week with an uneven body of work. They have endured a 10-game losing streak, but have put together a few winning streaks.

Their roller-coaster first half of the season leaves the Flyers with a 19-15-8 record. They are one point out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Hurricanes and Islanders with 46 points. The Hurricanes have played one less game than the Flyers. The Islanders have played one more. The Flyers have two games in hand on the Penguins, who occupy the eighth and final playoff position.

With an up-and-down season, it’s not surprising that the Flyers cover a wide spectrum as I hand out my mid-term grades. (all statistics through Sunday’s games.)

Sean Couturier: A+ Couturier, averaging a point per game, has already set career highs in goals (23) and points (42), eclipsing both of his old marks before the season reached its midpoint. His 23 goals rank fourth in the NHL. Couturier’s offensive production hasn’t come at the expense of his defense. He leads the Flyers with a plus-14 plus/minus ranking and often gets matched against the opposition’s best center.

Claude Giroux: A+ Enjoying his best season in several years, Giroux is tied for second in the NHL with 52 points. His 38 assists rank second in the NHL behind teammate Jakub Voracek. Giroux has already matched last year’s goal total (14) and unselfishly moved to wing this season.

Jakub Voracek: A His 43 assists, the most in the NHL, have already surpassed Voracek’s total from last season. He has excelled regardless of whom head coach Dave Hakstol has put on his line.

Ivan Provorov: A- At 20 years old, Provorov is already the Flyers’ best defenseman. He excels at both end of the ice, taking a more assertive roll on offense (8 goals, 12 assists) than he did last season.

Robert Hagg: A- Hagg isn’t flashy, but he is a steady and consistent force, a notable achievement for a rookie. When the Flyers were playing a trio of rookie defensemen, Hagg was clearly the best of the bunch. His is second only to Couturier among the Flyers in plus/minus rating (plus-12)., which is particularly impressive because he only has 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists).

Shayne Gostisbehere: B+ With nine goals and 23 assists, Gostisbehere (left) ranks third among defensemen in the NHL in scoring. Eighteen of his points have come on the power play, where he works at the blue line with Jakub Voracek. There is still room for improvement in the defensive zone, but Gostisbehere is light years ahead of where he was last season (minus-21), when he found himself as a healthy scratch at times.

Brian Elliott: B The veteran goalie hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been steady and dependable, just as advertised. Elliott (16-10-7) recently completed a stretch of 16 straight starts. His record is 16-10-7 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

Wayne Simmonds: B Half of Simmonds’ 14 goals have come on the power play. He is slightly behind last year’s pace, when he scored a team-high 31 goals. Although Simmons has played all 42 games, his production and effectiveness were hindered for a stretch by an injury.

Michale Raffl: B The versatile winger is plus-9 despite having just 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists), which is a testament to his fine all-around play.

Scott Laughton: B Seven goals from a fourth-line center midway through the season is pretty darn good. Laughton’s improvement is why the Flyers left Pierre-Edouard Bellemare exposed in the June expansion draft.

Andrew MacDonald: B- He takes a lot of crap from fans, and he’ll never be worth his $5  million salary cap hit ($5.25 million base salary this season), but MacDonald provides a steadying veteran presence on the blue line. The Flyers missed him badly during their 10-game losing streak.

Radko Gudas: B- The veteran defenseman provides a physical presence, but he must be careful not to cross the line. His 10-game suspension for slashing the Jets’ Matthieu Perrault left the Flyers bereft of a veteran presence on the blue line.

Brandon Manning: B- For a player who some thought was on the bubble in terms of making the team, Manning has provided a veteran presence, especially when Andrew MacDonald was injured and Radko Gudas was suspended. With four goals and five assists in 27 games, Manning has added a little offense to his game.

Valtteri Filppula: B- The veteran center hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been great. With Filppula slated to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers trade him to a Stanley Cup contender at the trade deadline.

Jordan Weal: C+ He hasn’t been bad, but, after the impact Weal made after being called up late last season, five goals and seven assists has to be considered a mild disappointment.

Michal Neuvirth: C+ The 2.48 goals-against average is pretty good. The 3-5-1 record is not. An injury and Brian Elliott’s fine play has limited Neuvirth to 10 games. Instead of sharing the load, Neuvirth is clearly the backup goalie.

Travis Konecny: C The second-year forward (5 goals, 10 assists)has started to pick up his game recently after being put on the first line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux.

Nolan Patrick: C- The second overall pick in the NHL Draft this year, Patrick (2 goals, 6 assists) has been underwhelming thus far. But we must keep in mind that he’s only 19 years old and had a limited offseason training program while recovering from an injury. Patrick shows flashes of having terrific vision on the ice. Flyers fans need to be patient.

Travis Sanheim: C- The rookie defenseman generates more offensive opportunities than his one goal and four assists seem to indicate. But he also makes at least one costly mistake every game, which is why he’s a healthy scratch now that Brandon Manning is healthy.

Dale Weise: C- The veteran forward has four goals and two assists. The Flyers need more production from Weise, who should be effective as a third- or fourth-line wing.

Jori Lehtera: D The veteran acquired in the Brayden Schenn trade doesn’t have a goal in 24 games and often finds himself a healthy scratch. Thankfully, center Morgan Frost, selected with the first-round draft pick acquired in the Schenn trade, is tearing it up in juniors.

COACH

Dave Hakstol: C+ Give Hakstol credit for moving Claude Giroux to wing and putting Sean Couturier on the top line at center. But Hakstol should receive some of the blame for the 10-game winning streak. If we’re going to partially blame Hakstol for the 10-game losing streak, we should also give him credit for remaining on an even keel during the losing streak and refusing to panice. It is disturbing that the Flyers frequently fall behind early in games..

GENERAL MANAGER

Ron Hextall: B- This is a bit of a tricky grade. Hextall deserves credit for drafting Ivan Provorov. On the other hand, Hextall draft picks Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Nolan Patrick have struggled. But those young players should get better as time moves on. Let’s give Hextall credit for resisting howls to trade Sean Couturier last season. Veteran forwards Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera haven’t added much for the Flyers.

*****

IRON MAN: Brian Elliott’s streak of consecutive starts ended Sunday when Michal Neuvirth made 30 saves during a 4-1 victory over the visiting Sabres.

*****

HART OF GOLD: Carter Hart, selected by the Flyers in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft (48th overall) was named player of the game for making 35 saves as Canada defeated Sweden, 3-1, in the World Junior Championships. Hart posted a .930 save percentage, allowing 11 goals in seven games.

When can you expect to see Hart in a Flyers uniform? Both Brian Elliott an dMichael Neuvirth will be unrestricted free agents after next season, so the 2019-20 season would be a good time for Hart to arrive in the NHL.

*****

HIT MAN: Tyrell Goulbourne made two nice checks on his first NHL shift, with the second hit creating a scoring opportunity that Scott Laughton cashed in from the inside of the left circle. The Flyers hope that Goulbourne’s spirit and physical play will help the fourth line and energize the team.

*****

ON SIDNEY’S HEELS: Sean Couturier is tied for 16th in the NHL in points (through Sunday’s gameS), one point behind the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, two points behind the Kings’ Anze Kopitar and three points behind the Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin. That’s some pretty elite company.

*****

BREAK TIME: The Flyers will take a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s game at New Jersey (7 p.m.), which follows five days off. They will visit the Rangers on Tues., Jan 16 before returning home on Jan. 18 to face the Maple Leafs. The Flyers will retire Eric Lindros’ No. 88 before the Leafs game.

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