Let’s start with a trivia question:
What do the following hockey players have in common? –
Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Leon Draisaitl, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, Nikita Kucherov, and John Tavares
Aside from being a who’s-who list of NHL superstars, it’s a collection of players who all have fewer goals than Flyers winger Travis Konecny so far this season.
Here’s another list. It’s shorter:
That’s how many NHL players who currently have as long a point streak in the NHL as Konecny (10 games). It’s also how many NHL players have as many points in their last 10 games as TK (20).
That’s right, in the last three weeks, no one, not even Connor McDavid, is scoring at the pace Konecny is scoring.
On Wednesday, he registered his second-career hat trick, leading the Flyers to a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals, the Flyers’ sixth win in their last seven games.
In the process, Konecny is doing some eye-popping things offensively.
Travis Konencny now has a 10-game point streak. It's the 52nd all-time for the @NHLFlyers and irst since Claude Giroux had a 10-game streak in 2017-18.
The franchise record is 18 games by both Bobby Clarke and Eric Lindros.
— Anthony SanFilippo (@AntSanPhilly) January 12, 2023
Empty-net goal hat trick for Konecny. He ties his career-high for goals in a season with 24. Only this time he did it in 36 games.
— Anthony SanFilippo (@AntSanPhilly) January 12, 2023
Travis Konecny (not an All Star) with 24 goals, 0.67 goals per game, three ENGs, and three short-handed goals: pic.twitter.com/ZWYxmKHKcQ
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) January 12, 2023
And if that’s not enough, Konecny became the first Flyer to score a power play, shorthanded, and even strength goal in the same game since Mark Recchi in 2002, and only the fourth Flyer ever (Recchi did it twice, Bobby Clarke and Rick MacLeish).
When assessing his stats so far, keep in mind TK missed six games earlier this season with an injury.
Really, it’s as impressive a run by a Flyers player since Claude Giroux willed the team to the playoffs down the stretch in 2017-18 and was snubbed as a finalist for the Hart Trophy, finishing 4th.
An offensive renaissance under a defensive-minded coach like John Tortorella was mostly unexpected. But like many of his young teammates, TK has thrived under Torts, just more so on the scoresheet than anyone else.
Why is it happening? What finally clicked for him? What turned him into such a lethal scoring machine?
How about some one-on-one time with one of the most clutch players to ever don a Flyers jersey – Danny Briere.
Briere, now the special assistant to the general manager – and if the fanbase had their druthers, the words “special assistant to the” would be dropped from his title – has been working with Konecny for more than a year now.
Torts brought it up after the game Wednesday:
“I saw the type of shape he was in at camp. I’ve watched him from afar – he’s a pretty good player. I think what he’s done here – and he’s done a little extra work – I think Danny Briere had a little bit to do with him also. In talking to Danny, they sat down quite a bit as far as playing on the inside. He was on the outside a lot and his stats weren’t there where he wanted them to be. I think he put the time in. I think Danny as an ex-player helped him and showed him some stuff. The most important thing, he puts his uniform on and has got to run with it. I think he’s done a really good job.”
What does that mean? Playing on the inside? Well, if you ever watched Briere play, you know he and TK are of a similar stature, but what made Briere special was he never let his size – or lack thereof, deter him from getting to the areas of the ice where you have the best chance of scoring a goal.
He was always determined to get to the net, to outsmart defensemen, and to pepper the goalie. And he would do whatever it took to get there, even earning a reputation in the sport, not so much publicly, of being a bit of a dirty player, hellbent on getting results.
Konecny needed to do the same.
“This started last year and into this year,” Konecny said. “It is more when I get rid of the puck, where I funnel into rather than playing the outside. Instead of taking shots on the outside, maybe making plays and not wasting a shot. There is more detail, but too long to talk about. It’s been great (though). That’s stuff I had never really looked at before and to have the opportunity to see it on a video really helped me out.”
Torts thinks he can keep it up for the rest of the season. Maybe not the 2-point per game pace he’s been on in the past few weeks, but with a level of consistency befitting one of the top scorers in the league:
“I think that he has a strong belief that he can make it happen. There are some people that are helping him too. I think he’s full of confidence. The thing about TK is he screws up a lot but it doesn’t bother him. He just goes out and takes his next shift. That’s a huge attribute for a player. We took the video on the bench off the bench because we want them to just worry about their next shift. I think it’s a major problem with us, understanding momentums of the game. You can’t understand momentums of the game if you’re looking at the iPad all the time. We took them off and aren’t even going to use them, so that they watch the game and see what’s next. TK does that within his game all the time and he’s one of the ones that looks at that damn thing all the time. I think he just has the proper mindset that he’s not afraid to make a mistake. Like he makes a goofy play at the end of the powerplay slapping the puck back to the blue line, we’re up by a goal, they’re gonna go for a shorty and he one-touches the puck. It blows up on him and it’s almost a clearing pass. It’s the last thing we want done there, but I have to admit, he’s not afraid to do that stuff. I think that’s the proper mindset. We need to teach him about situations, but we don’t want him to lose that mindset.”
That’s a heck of an answer by the coach. And he’s right. TK does make mistakes, but unlike many other players, he doesn’t let it bother him. He just goes out the next shift and plays with the same level of determination and awareness.
What is often forgotten by viewers of the sport is that hockey is a game of mistakes. The teams that win take advantage of their opponent’s miscues more than the those that don’t win. It’s quite simple really.
So, when you have a player doing what Konecny’s doing – climbing into the Top 10 in the NHL in goals and Top 25 in points – you accept mistakes here and there because you know he’s going to make up for them and end up being on the plus side of the ledger at the end of the day.
And his goals are coming at key times and in important situations.
Take each goal Wednesday.
His first goal came on the heels of Washington tying the game in the final minute of a first period completely dominated by the Flyers. What looked like a situation that was going to take the air out of their balloon was immediately re-pumped up by Konecny, scoring mere seconds later and re-establishing that lead at the end of the period:
CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP. #WSHvsPHI | #FueledByPhilly pic.twitter.com/puiwUk4AVb
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 12, 2023
The work in the corner to get the puck free and then immediately going to the front of the net in hopes of getting a chance to put one on goal before the horn is a scorer’s mentality.
Nice pass from Joel Farabee to set him up (and a back hug after the goal from Noah Cates a la Jack and Rose in Titanic to celebrate), but this one is mostly TK – and it was a momentum swinging goal:
“It was an important goal. My thinking is we just want to get out of there without getting scored on. I think it’s a play that needs to be stopped. We don’t, but we answer right away. So, we end up leaving the period with a lead anyway. A lot of important situations throughout the game, that was one of them early.” – John Tortorella
“Yeah, I mean the goal right at the end of the first, that hurt.” – Washington coach Peter Lavio;ette
His second goal came shorthanded, at a time the Capitals were just starting to make their push to get back into the game in the third period:
TK goals this season: 23
TK shorthanded goals: 3
He deserves your #NHLAllStarVote: https://t.co/OUtpLL0Tlf#WSHvsPHI | #FueledByPhilly pic.twitter.com/0sme6yYTZn
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 12, 2023
There’s a lot to like about this play. Ivan Provorov anticipates along the wall nicely. But Scott Laughton and TK have become the new Mike Richards and Simon Gagne on the penalty kill. The Flyers now lead the NHL in shorthanded goals this season with nine. Konecny has three of them – and never played the PK prior to this season.
I asked Torts about anticipating these plays, and he gave a great answer about it (the first part was an answer to a previous question but it led nicely into mine):
“It’s a great read by Laughts because the player is on his backhand at the blue line when it’s rimmed around the board. When a player’s on his backhand, that’s the goal. It’s a goal. Shawsy (assistant coach Brad Shaw) shows it all the time to the team. (Laughton) goes, and once he goes, everyone else goes. Provy makes a great read on the wall. Laughts pinches the guy up, comes down the wall. Provy gets the puck, and there we go on a 2-on-1. You know, Laughts and TK seem to have some chemistry. They end up scoring a goal, but it starts really with at that defensive read and everyone moving together.”
Can you talk about those reads? It seems like the team really anticipates well when they’re feeling confident.
“Every athlete does. When you’re getting some puck luck and you’re getting some success, especially the offensive guys, it just seems to come easier to you. The key part of the National Hockey League is to ride the wave as long as you can in momentum as far as how we’re playing. There’s going to be a time where we’re getting kicked again, and we’re going to try and stay away from it as long as we can. When we do, how quickly do you get out of that? That’s the key in trying to get where you want to be after a regular season is how long you can keep the momentum on your side. When you lose it, how quickly you can get it back. We’ll see what happens.”
Konecny’s third goal was an empty-netter, but it was a power play goal, and it lifted the Flyers to victory.
They are now seven points out of a playoff spot, and a lot of people are getting excited – but pump the brakes. The team they are chasing, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have two games in hand, so that seven can turn to 11 real quickly. Also, they have four other teams they would need to leapfrog in the process, two of which (Buffalo and Detroit) have three games in hand on the Flyers.
But they’re feeling good about themselves. They played a pretty strong game against Washington. Owen Tippett scored one goal, could have scored a couple more and drew three tripping penalties with his speed. He now has 13 goals this season and is really starting to look like a keeper.
Laughton had a goal, his 10th, and two assists and now has 23 points this season. He’s another guy who is on pace to shatter career highs in goals assists and points this season, his 10th in the NHL (and he’s still only 28). But more importantly, he’s grown into the de facto leader of this team. He’s going to eventually get the captaincy – and deservedly so.
Carter Hart was good when he had to be. The fourth line continues to give the Flyers good, solid minutes. There’s a lot to like from what you’ve seen in the past few weeks.
But don’t fall for fool’s gold either. Even Torts had a warning about this:
“Like I say, they’re able to listen to the radio again. I was talking to you guys and you could hear them out on the rink during the pregame skate. It’s a noisy group. When it’s a noisy group, they feel good about themselves. They should. All the brow beating and the negative vibe – and quite honestly, rightfully so – it can wear you down. I think when you’re on a little bit of a run you should feel good. You got to find ways to feel good about yourself. They deserve it.
“(But there’s a) fine line now – feel good, but make sure you stay not too far away from that line as far as what you’re doing to get some results. Hopefully we can stay about it here…. I still think we still have things to do. When you can call your team ‘this’, whatever that identity is, whatever word you want to use, it needs to be consistent. Consistent isn’t two weeks. Consistent quite honestly isn’t regular season. Consistent is when you get to playoffs and you’re doing it there.
“So, listen, I’m happy with some of the progression of the players. I think they’re feeling really good offensively. I think they’re allowing themselves to play offensively. We’ve lost a little stiffness defensively. I think we need to improve on, but as I said, as each day goes by here and they get some results in this little pocket, hopefully they can rely on it when they get to a little jam. You’re not getting me to talk about who we are yet because we just haven’t done it long enough.”
Well, one guy has, and likely will continue to do so – thanks to the mentorship of one of his bosses.
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