Philadelphia Flyers | Tortorella’s message has been heard

(Philadelphia) Before his job interview in spring 2022, John Tortorella did his homework. If he hoped to become head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, he needed to see that team play.


It didn’t take him long to realize what he thought was wrong.

“I don’t want to criticize those who came before me,” he warned Tuesday morning after his team’s training session. A rare polite expression for this one who hates white gloves. What did he see? Poor defensive play, almost in disarray.

“We needed to better protect our goalkeeper and better understand our coverage,” he summarizes.

Last season, his first at the helm of the Flyers, he put his men to work. “Every damn day,” this aspect of the game was emphasized, “we did it, we did it, and we did it again. »

It is clear that these efforts have paid off. To almost everyone’s surprise, halfway through the season, the Flyers are in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Even though they were promised the end of the classification.

PHOTO DERIK HAMILTON, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Carter Hart and Travis Konecny

And what was the club’s great weakness suddenly turned it into a success. At five on five, the Philadelphians have so far managed to effectively limit the opposing team’s shots and scoring chances. Without being a strong point of the circuit, the defensive machinery does a completely honest job. A simple clue? The current differential of +4, a spectacular improvement over recent years (-38, -87 and -55, respectively, from 2020-2021 to 2022-2023), and a notable performance for a rebuilding organization.

PHLY Sports reporter Charlie O’Connor recently illustrated the metamorphosis the defense has undergone under Tortorella and his assistant Brad Shaw. These, according to him, have transformed Rasmus Ristolainen “into a defender capable of dictating the game”; Nick Seeler as a reliability monster who “eats up minutes on a top 4 » ; Sean Walker, whose salary the Kings wanted to get rid of, in an “above-average second right pair”; and Travis Sanheim “as the best version of himself yet.” That’s saying something.

Without forgetting Cam York, “who started last season in the American League and who today plays in the first pair,” recalls general director Daniel Brière. The latter also praises the brilliance of his goalkeepers Carter Hart and Samuel Ersson.

PHOTO DERIK HAMILTON, ASSOCIATED ARCHIVES PRESS

Sean Couturier

Everyone got on board. “Torts” has certain defensive expectations: if you don’t play the right way, you simply won’t play. The boys have no choice but to contribute.

Sean Couturier

“It’s fun to watch,” says Carter Hart. The guys are doing a good job in front of the net, getting the sticks out of the shooting lanes. We have a lot of talented players that can make plays and cause things. »

The goalkeeper is especially surprised by the “bravery” of the defenders in front of him, like rarely before. “He shows how much they care about the team. »

Renaissance

Another element that must not be neglected and that the general director mentions among the success factors: the return of Sean Couturier.

Two back surgeries cost the center back most of the 2021-2022 season and all of 2022-2023. At 31 years old, finally healthy, he did not want to “be simply a player who comes back from an injury to finish his career and contract it.”

“I wanted to get back to the level I was at, if not better,” he explained Tuesday in the Flyers locker room. I think I still have many good years ahead of me. »

Although he feels his hands are “not there yet,” the former Selke Trophy winner has visibly regained most of his bearings. He is his club’s most used forward (almost 20 minutes per game), and has accumulated 27 points in 38 games while maintaining a rating of +9.

True to form, Tortorella didn’t hold back in admitting that Couturier wasn’t his favorite last year. When he found out about him it was because he was complaining about not being able to play. However, today the coach feels “a different respect” for his veteran. He is impressed by the “intangible” elements of his game: “I am very happy,” concluded the driver.

Still, defensive success has waned a bit recently and results have suffered: as evidenced by the 2-4-3 record over the last nine games.

“We were a little more disorganized,” says Tortorella, who wants his flock to reinforce the game in their territory. This return to basics will represent a good time for newcomer Jamie Drysdale to familiarize himself with the Flyers’ preferred zone coverage.

The important thing, above all, is not to take anything for granted.

“The most difficult part of the season is approaching,” Sean Couturier predicted. The more the year progresses, the more big clubs emerge. It’s time to show what kind of team we are. »

It will start this Wednesday night, at home, against the Canadian.

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