Just over a week ago there were many Flyer fans in panic mode; their beloved orange and black had just lost four straight games, bringing the division to a six-team deadlock, and clouding the clubs future before a crucial West coast swing. Now, with the Olympic break on hand, the team is singing a whole different tune.
Winners of four straight (5 of 6), including today’s 2-1 win over Calgary, the Flyers head into their forced hiatus with a solid grip on a playoff position. Steve Mason’s new contract jitters appear to be a thing of the past, while backup Ray Emery came up with a stellar 32-save performance against a pesky Flames team this afternoon. The offense is clicking, the defense is battling, and organization is on the upswing. The only thing slowing this red-hot team down now is current, forced hiatus.
While five Philadelphia Flyers (Timonen, Meszaros, Raffl, Voracek, and Streit) head off to Sochi, the rest of the guys will take some time off for some much needed rest and relaxation. So while the professionals take care of business on and off the ice, here is a breakdown of how our boys in orange and black have done over the first few months:
- Steve Mason: While many casual observers will tell you that #35 has had an up and down campaign, those who have watched every one of Mason’s starts would point to his questionable defense as the reason for his fluctuating statistics. Over the entirety of the season no player has been more important to Philadelphia. His statistics (23-14-5, 2.49 GAA, .918SV%, 3 SO’s) are impressive, but become all the more awe inspiring when considering the defense he plays behind every night. With a new 3-year extension “Mase” should provide the stability this organization has been looking for since Ron Hextall was in his prime. “A-“
- Ray Emery: When Emery re-upped for his second tour of duty in Philadelphia he was coming off an amazing Cup-winning campaign with arguably the best team in hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks. So no one realistically expected him to replicate the 17-1 record he recorded in 12-13, but they also didn’t expect him to struggle so much early on. The Flyers defense is nowhere close to as talented as Chicago’s so that is certainly a contributing factor, but overall, early on, Emery just wasn’t good enough. But lately the 10-year vet has turned it around and provided a calming influence. His stats (6-9-1, 3.03GAA, .897SV%) still aren’t up to snuff, but he’s certainly getting better. And he’s a solid insurance policy in case (god forbid) anything happens to Mason. “C”
- Kimmo Timonen: Much like the rest of the Flyers blueliner’s, Timonen’s season has not been all that he has wanted. Close to 39-years of age, it’s obvious the longtime vet isn’t what he used to be; he can no longer chase down quicker opponents or fight through injuries that used to roll right off his back. But with age comes experience and savvy; and you’d be hard-pressed to find many defenders who understand the game as well as this old Finn. This may very well be Timonen’s last NHL season, but he’s the type of player who could will himself through 3 or 4 more campaign’s, whether his legs are working or not. “B-“
- Braydon Coburn: Since the departure of Matt Carle, via free agency, Coburn has easily filled in as the fanbase’s de-facto whipping boy. Standing 6’5”, with a cannon shot, and legs like a gazelle, far too much is expected Coburn. Sure he makes his fair share of turnovers, finds himself out of position too often, and even deflects the puck in his own net sometimes (several times this season), he’s still an unsung hero on a 30-win hockey club. Coburns outlet passes are crisp, his puck-carrying is usually impressive, and without his recovery speed the Flyers might not currently be in playoff position. So with a player like this, you have to take the the good with bad. And 29 other GM’s would agree. “B”
- Nicklas Grossmann: There’s nothing, and I mean NOTHING, flashy about this big Swedes game. With Grossmann it’s all about keeping his man in front of him and then forcefully forcing him into the boards. He’s a crease-clearing, shot-blocking, body-checking machine. And that’s it. If you expect more, you’re expecting too much. And that’s where I think Flyers fans get disappointed in the 6’4” Grossmann. He’ll take the occasional penalty, make a mistake here or there, but it’s all about simplicity with this guy. And I see no problem with having him as a key cog in the Flyers top-6. “B-“
- Erik Gustafsson: When it comes to “Gus” there are two main problems: health and confidence. When he’s playing with both he looks like a young Kimmo Timonen. When he’s on the shelf or self-conscious he’s more like Bruno Gervais. Luckily for the Flyers brass and this young man, 2014 has been solid campaign. In 26 games so far this season he leads the club with a +/- of 11 and has 10 points. He’s shown speed, quick decision-making, and a physicality that truly rounds out his game. Gustafsson’s development has been a godsend on this defense-needy roster. “A-“
- Luke Schenn: For most Flyers fans it’s painful to look up north and see James VanRiemsdyk thriving in Toronto (as they were traded for eachother), but there’s still hope in Schenn’s game. Despite looking stellar at the end of last season, Schenn entered the 13-14 season in a major funk. He looked out of place, slow, and indecisive. But over the past month or so, the other Schenn has started to come around. At just 24 years or age there’s still time for #22 to become an important cog in Philadelphia system. Don’t give up on this kid just yet. “C-“
- Andrej Meszaros: On the surface Meszaros’ stats look impressive (especially considering the time he’s sat out), but he’s truly a one-dimensional defender anymore. Before his series of injuries, Mez was a physical two-way force. Since his return he’s been an offensive shell of himself. 16 points in 35 games is stellar for a defenseman, the issue is that defense is no longer one of Meszaros’ interests. He’s been abysmal around his own crease and can easily be pushed around by stronger competition. With an expiring contract, GM Paul Holmgren should be actively pursuing a trade partner for this blueliner. “C+”
- Mark Streit: Along with Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit was one of the Flyers main off-season acquisitions. The Former Islanders captain was billed an offensive-defender with a penchant for defensive mistakes- and that billing fits him to a T. Streit started off the season terribly. He wasn’t producing points while simultaneously giving up plenty. But recently his play has been a revelation. He’s now up to 8 goals and 21 assists in 59 games, leading all Philly defenders. He’s still prone to the occasional mistake, but the Swiss blueliner is now a key cog, especially on the 2nd Power Play unit. “B”
Next post we’ll take a closer look at the main strength of this team, the forward corps.