(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 watch that team play.

It didn’t take him long to figure out 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. A rare polite expression for this hater of white gloves. What did he see? Deficient defensive play, almost in disarray.

“We needed to better protect our goalie and better understand our coverages,” he summarizes.

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

It is clear that these efforts have borne fruit. To almost everyone’s surprise, at mid-campaign, the Flyers are in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Even though they were promised the bottom of the rankings.

And what was the club’s great weakness suddenly made it successful. At five against five, the Philadelphians have so far managed to effectively limit the opposing shots and scoring chances. Without being a strength of the circuit, the defensive machine does a completely honest job. A simple clue? The current differential of 4, a spectacular improvement compared to recent years (- 38, – 87 and – 55, respectively, from 2020-2021 to 2022-2023), and a remarkable performance for an organization in reconstruction.

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

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

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

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

Another element which should certainly not be neglected, and which the CEO named among the success factors: the return of Sean Couturier.

Two back surgeries cost the center most of the 2021-22 season and all of 2022-23. At 31, finally healthy, he didn’t want to “just be a player coming back from injury to finish out his career and his contract.”

“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 like his hands “aren’t quite there yet,” this former Selke Trophy winner has clearly regained most of his bearings. He is the most used forward on his club (almost 20 minutes per game), and he has amassed 27 points in 38 games while maintaining a differential of -9.

Regardless, defensive success has slipped a bit recently, and the results have been reflected: evidenced by the 2-4-3 record over the last nine games.

“We were a little more messy,” noted Tortorella, who wants his flock to tighten up their game in their territory. This return to basics will represent a good time for newcomer Jamie Drysdale to familiarize himself with the zone coverage favored by the Flyers.

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

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

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