The Flyers are the most interesting team nobody's talking about

Expectations were non-existent for the Philadelphia Flyers entering 2023-24, but the team is holding its own.

Coming into 2023-24 the most interesting thing about the Philadelphia Flyers seemed likely to be the performance of top prospect Matvei Michkov — an 18-year-old playing on another continent.

While Michkov remains fascinating, the NHL squad that drafted him has been extremely compelling as well. The Flyers' 3-2-1 record doesn't jump off the page, but a quick look under the hood reveals that Philadelphia is on to something.

The Flyers have looked good out of the gate. (Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Flyers have looked good out of the gate. (Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Flyers have been a very strong 5v5 team all season long, ranking in the top half of the NHL in shot share (4th, 54.77%), expected goal rate (6th, 54.11%), scoring chance rate (15th, 51.56%), and high-danger chance rate (12th, 53.85%).

Although those numbers aren't all elite, each is well above expectations for a team coming off a 75-point campaign that was seen as one of the NHL's weakest entering 2023-24.

Those numbers have also been accumulated despite Philadelphia playing a tough schedule that's included games against three opponents that topped 105 points last season — the Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers.

Philadelphia is one of just two teams to get within a single goal of Vegas, with the other team being the Stars — and the Flyers managed to take Dallas to overtime on the road.

If the Flyers had been able to get anything out of a league-worst power play that's converted on just 5% of its opportunities they might've pulled off a shocking result or two.

A major driving force behind Philadelphia's surprisingly strong start has been the return of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson. Both players missed all of last season due to injury, and with a combined age of 64, it was unclear what they'd offer upon their returns.

So far the results have been more than solid for the veterans.

Atkinson has provided needed scoring punch for a team that finished 29th in the NHL in scoring last season (2.68 goals/game), and he's also one of just 10 players with multiple game winners so far this season.

While Couturier hasn't lit the lamp outside of a stellar penalty-shot goal, his contribution has been even more of a game-changer for the Flyers.

There have been no training wheels on the 30-year-old as he's been playing 20:33 minutes per night, starting in the defensive zone 55.2% of the time at even strength and anchoring the team's top penalty-killing unit alongside Noah Cates.

Couturier's ability to slot right back in and immediately perform the duties of a two-way top-line center gives the Flyers a defensive spine and the ability to match up with other teams' best lines without fear of being caved in.

The 2021 Selke Trophy winner has only been on the ice for a single goal against in more than 13 minutes of short-handed time, and his line alongside Atkinson and Tippett is consistently slanting the ice with a 59.94% expected goal rate at 5v5.

It's easy to forget how impactful Couturier can be despite putting up point totals that are more workmanlike than spectacular by the standards of a top center. There are other players who stand out more in specific facets, but the veteran lacks holes in his game.

Via NHL Edge
Via NHL Edge

The Flyers always knew that bringing back two-thirds of a top line had the potential to make a significant difference for the team, but they have to be thrilled with what they've seen so far. Add in what looks like a solid bounce-back from goaltender Carter Hart after an approximately average 2022-23 (.907 SV%), and Philadelphia is in business.

Exactly how far these positive developments get the Flyers is hard to say, but they are playing fundamentally sound hockey in front of talented goaltender performing up to his capabilities.

That could easily change, and the Eastern Conference is a treacherous place low on teams that are bottoming out. It would be aggressive to project this team to shock the world and make the playoffs.

Philadelphia is clearly showing signs of life, though. The Flyers deserve credit for looking like more than the trade market yard sale they seemed to be entering 2023-24.