NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
It has been a weird year so far for the Philadelphia Flyers. Which is probably the most normal thing about them. This is always a weird team that never seems to make much sense in its results, and when you look at where they are entering Sunday’s game against the Washington Capitals (12 p.m. ET, NBC) you can see how it has been a bit of a strange journey.
The results have been solid. They are 7-3-2 on the season, they have points in five of their past six games (4-1-1), and they look to be solidly in a playoff spot in a very tough East Division.
But they have done that with minimal (or zero) contributions from players that you would expect to be driving that success.
[Watch Live: Flyers vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET on NBC]
For the Flyers to be good this season you would have thought that Carter Hart would be locking down the crease and playing like a franchise goalie. So far, he has not.
You would expect Sean Couturier to be making a major impact as one of the league’s best two-way players. But he has only played 20 minutes of hockey this season due to injury (he could return for Sunday’s game).
You might expect big years from Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere on defense to help revitalize that unit. That has not at all been the case for a number of reasons (Provorov hasn’t been great; Gostisbehere has played six games).
Instead, it’s been an offense led by mostly by James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes that is driving their early success.
The duo enters Sunday’s game tied for the team lead in goals (six, also tied with second-year standout Joel Farabee) and as the top-two point producers. van Riemsdyk is one of the top scorers in the entire NHL. It has been a great development for the Flyers because those two have been two of the team’s biggest and most expensive additions in recent years and they need to get value from them.
Hayes signed a seven-year, $50 million contract before the 2019-20 season, while van Riemsdyk signed a five-year, $35 million deal before the 2018-19 season.
Paying those two more than $7 million a year (each) seemed like bold, risky moves at the time. Maybe even a little reckless given their ages and previous levels of production. But they have been game-changers (and so far, season-changers) for the Flyers.
van Riemsdyk has been especially significant recently. Entering Sunday’s game he is riding a six-game point streak that has seen him tally 11 points and been on the ice for 60 percent of the Flyers goals during a stretch where they are 4-1-1. The only player on the team that has more than five points during that stretch is Claude Giroux (seven), and he has played 30 more minutes than van Riemsdyk.
It is not realistic to expect him to maintain that pace all season because for as good as he is and has been in his career, he is probably not quite that good. But he has still been a player that Flyers have been able to count on for 25-30 goals over an 82-game season, while being prone to occasional hot streaks where he takes his game to another level.
The Flyers just happened to get one of those stretches early in the season here when they needed it most and it is helping to keep them in the race for the top spot in a division with several Stanley Cup contenders.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.