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Second Half Flyers Need Atkinson and Laughton to Maintain Playoff Push

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

As the Philadelphia Flyers come out of the Christmas break and head out west to play the Vancouver Canucks, Seattle Kraken, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers with Disney on Ice occupying the Wells Fargo Center, there are 2 players in particular that the club desperately needs to get going in the second half of the season.

The Flyers have stunned the hockey world with their 18-11-4 record after most pundits had the club languishing in the basement of the NHL standings. As of Thursday morning, they are 3rd in the Metropolitan Division behind just the New York Islanders by 1 point and the New York Rangers by 9. The Flyers are also tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 5th in the Eastern Conference and 11th in the NHL.

All this success has come with the club sitting 24th in the league in scoring with just 2.97 goals per game. They are tied for 5th in shots on goal at 32.9 per game but own a paltry 9% shooting percentage that has them 27th in the league. Their 32nd-ranked power play has kept their offense at bay and one only wonders where they would be if they potted a few extra goals with their man advantage.

The scoring has been inconsistent but their defense and goaltending has been outstanding for most of the season as they sit 9th in goals allowed, 5th in shots allowed, and own the 5th-best penalty kill in the league.

While Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, and Owen Tippett each having produced over 20 points apiece, the offense desperately needs more consistent efforts from most players, but none more than Cam Atkinson and Scott Laughton.

Atkinson has 8 goals and 17 points in 33 games this season after having to sit out the entire 2022-23 campaign with an injury. He busted out of the gates with 6 goals and 9 points in his first 10 games but has since succumbed to 2 goals and 8 points in the next 23 games, which includes a current 18-game drought without a goal.

Laughton, on the other hand, was coming off a career-year where he scored 18 goals and 43 points in 78 games while averaging 18:17 TOI per game. With Couturier and Atkinson on the mend, John Tortorella leaned on the electric Laughton for most of the season and he did not disappoint – so much so that the club reportedly rejected a few trades in the summer that could have netted them first or second round picks.

This season, he has just 3 goals and 15 points in 33 games while averaging a second short of less than 3 minutes of ice time per game compared to last year. The Flyers don’t need to lean on him as much as they did last year, and Laughton has occupied a spot in the bottom-6 while retaining his aggressive penalty killing role from last year.

Laughton went the first 10 games of the season without a goal, then went another 12 games after scoring his first of the season, and then had 8 goalless games sandwiched in between goals #2 and #3. He is averaging a career-high 2.3 shots per game but on the flip side owns a career-low 3.9% shooting clip – his lowest since his rookie season when he scored 2 goals in 31 games.

For his career, he is a 9.4% shooter and over the last 4 seasons he owns an 11.5% success rate, almost 3 times higher than what he is currently shooting this year. Similarly to Konecny when he struggled in 2021-22 with a 7.3% shooting rate when his career averages dictated almost 13%.

The goals will eventually come for the two veterans but it’s a matter of when. The upcoming road trip is going to be a huge test and it starts in Vancouver. The Canucks are currently the second-best team in the league standings-wise and have scored a league-best 3.86 goals per game on just 28 shots per game (29th in the league) but have the best shooting percentage in the league at 13.8%.

The Flyers currently lack a true top-end scorer, and even players like Konecny have stumbled ever so slightly with the team’s leading scorer having not registered a goal in his last 6 games. Their defensive game, strong forechecking, and aggressive nature has allowed them to steal a lot of low scoring affairs, which was something that Flyers teams of yesteryears past could never claim.

Even on their current 20-game run that has the club steamrolling through the league at 13-4-3 in that span, they have only averaged 3.15 goals per game, which at best would have them in the middle of the pack. 2.97 goals per game won’t be enough if they truly push for the playoffs and it also puts a lot of stress on the defensemen and goaltenders to be more stout.

The power play seems to be a lost cause at this point but it’s truly been the biggest hindrance in their overall offensive game. The 11 clubs ahead of them in the standings all own a power play that has clicked at above 20%, except for the Winnipeg Jets who are at 18.11% – still 8% better than Philadelphia. You have 5 teams above 24% and the Eastern Conference leading Rangers with an absurd 31.07%.

You give the Flyers even just 5 more power play goals and they would have a few more wins under their belt – which further points to how well they’ve played while down a man or on even-strength.

Atkinson and Tortorella have talked about the former’s struggles with the latter never mincing his words. Atkinson was demoted in a December game against the New Jersey Devils – alongside Laughton:

“He hasn’t played well enough,” Tortorella said. “The reason why Cam has been such a good player in this league is because you just notice his energy and quickness all the time. That has been inconsistent, it has been a struggle. I’m sure not scoring goals has weighed on him.

“I think he needs to be a big part of this. If we want to stay competitive, I think he needs to be a big part of it, so we’re trying to figure that out.”

When Atkisnon was asked if it could possibly be rust from not playing in well over a calendar year:

“Honestly, I don’t think about that,” he said. “I’m not going to use any excuse. I just have to play with more energy. I feel good, I feel good enough. Just have to have more fun and smile a little bit more. There’s no reason for me not to, especially not playing all of last year. I just have to get back to that.”

Tortorella reiterated the same message:

“Every goal scorer’s energy raises when they score a goal,” Tortorella said. “I want to find him more, I want to see him each shift. ‘There he is.’ Whether it be a mistake or not, I just want to see the energy. I don’t think it has been there.

“It could be that he had that year off. He doesn’t know, we just talked this morning about this, he doesn’t know. But I know him well enough, he’s going to try to figure this out. And he knows me well enough that it’s not forever; I’ve been very patient. We’re just trying to work through it and trying to find a way to get him going.”

At the very least, Tortorella has firsthand knowledge of Atkinson from his days in Columbus to prove that this could just be an outlier. Every player goes through ebbs and flows during a regular season as we saw last year with Joel Farabee and his 26-game drought, or even this year with Tyson Foerster, who struggled to find the back of the net in the early going.

The Flyers need to score more goals to keep their foot on the pedal and to remain in the dogfight in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. Atkinson and Laughton are the energy guys, the motors, the players you notice on a shift by shift basis. It’s been missing this season but fortunately their teammates have had their backs.

During Atkinson’s 18-game drought, Laughton has only added 2 goals and 6 points – with a goal and an assist in his most recent game – but the Flyers have gone 11-4-3. They are a team that is currently built to counteract their low scoring ways but at some point in the doldrums of a long 82-game season it catches up to every team.

The second half of the season basically starts tonight for the Flyers and if they have any inkling of making a playoff push and sustaining their hot start, Atkinson and Laughton need to return to form as soon as possible to help the Couturiers, the Konecnys, the Farabees, and the Tippetts of the team who have been keeping things afloat.

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