Sports teams in the city of Philadelphia are dancing on their own right now. The Phillies are on an improbable run that has culminated in them reaching the World Series where they will face the Astros. The Eagles have raced out to a 6-0 record behind star quarterback Jalen Hurts and are the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL.
With all the success the City of Brotherly Love is enjoying, the last franchise that anybody expected to create any positive buzz was the Philadelphia Flyers. However, the Orange and Black have gotten off to a 5-2-0 start this season and sit in third place in Metropolitan Division.
When the brash John Tortorella was tabbed as the team's next head coach this past offseason, it was a decision that was met with strong opposition from many. Was Tortorella the right hire for the franchise? Tortorella did have a Stanley Cup under his belt from the 2003-04 season, when he led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the franchise's first championship.
Since reaching that plateau, he had only reached the conference final on one occasion in stints with the New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets. Since the 2013-14 season, Tortorella's teams have only made it past the opening round of the postseason once. On top of the fact that Tortorella's teams have struggled in recent years, the Flyers didn't exactly have the most favorable roster as the 2022-23 season began.
"We have zero respect in this league. I'm willing to admit that," Tortorella told ESPN's Emily Kaplan earlier this month. "But that's what gets me going. I love this opportunity."
Well, Philadelphia has overachieved in the first month of the NHL season, to say the least. The Flyers began the year on a three-game winning streak with victories over the New Jersey Devils, Canucks and Lightning. Yes, the same Lightning that have reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of the past three seasons.
It wasn't just the fact that the Flyers started off the campaign with three consecutive wins, but rather the fashion in which they achieved them. The Flyers had to come back in each of those three games, including against the Lightning, where they received third-period goals from forwards James van Riemsdyk and Noah Cates en route to a 3-2 regulation win.
While the offense rallying from deficits has been impressive, the biggest positive has been the play of goaltender Carter Hart. The team is yet to lose a game that he has started this season. Hart has compiled a 5-0-0 record to go along with a 2.00 goals-against-average (sixth in the NHL) and a .947 save percentage (fourth in the NHL). In addition, the Flyers have the fourth-lowest goals-against-average (2.43) across the entire league, behind only the Dallas Stars (1.88), Golden Knights (2.00), and Carolina Hurricanes (2.33). Philadelphia's two losses came when backup netminder Felix Sandstrom was in net.
Hart's most dominant performance came on Oct. 22 in a 3-1 Flyers' road win over the Nashville Predators. The 2016 second-round pick was absolutely masterful as he stopped 31 of the 32 shots that he faced, including a robbery of Predators winger Matt Duchene with a marvelous glove save in the second period.
Hartsy doing Hartsy things. #PHIvsNSH | #FueledByPhilly pic.twitter.com/7mHTRlQz5m— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) October 23, 2022
But enough about Hart.
Is the team's production sustainable over the course of an entire season?
While the Flyers have been a feel-good story so far, it feels like -- even though it's still early -- this is the point in the season where a team gets exposed. Let me explain.
Philadelphia was very fortunate to receive a relaxed early season schedule. Entering Friday, the Flyers' opponents have a combined record of 18-26-4 so far this season, which means that they haven't exactly been facing elite competition. Over the next month, the Flyers have to face the current top four teams in the Eastern Conference:
Additionally, the Flyers will also face the Flames, Stars and Blues. The problem is that the Flyers are shorthanded as they enter one of their more grueling stretches of the season.
On Thursday, the team announced that van Riemsdyk was placed on injured reserve due to a broken finger and will likely miss the next month. Van Riemsdyk was tied for third on the team with five points (two goals and three assists) on the season. Additionally, center Sean Couturier and winger Cam Atkinson have yet to play this season. Couturier underwent back surgery last February and was limited to just 29 games during the 2021-22 season. He recently suffered a setback as he attempts to return from back surgery and it's unclear when he could be back. Meanwhile, Atkinson is dealing with an upper-body injury and is out indefinitely.
The Flyers certainly defied expectations in the early going, but the odds look to be stacked against them in the coming weeks. One thing that is certain with a Tortorella-coached team, though, is you're still going to get maximum effort no matter who is out on the ice.