Olympic Break Report Card: Part II

Wayne Simmonds has been an absolute star this season.

Wayne Simmonds has been an absolute star this season.

Forwards:

  • Claude Giroux:  Much like the Flyers early season start, Giroux began the 2013-14 campaign with infuriating inconsistency.  But since December 11th no player in the NHL has put up more points.  He’s provided clutch goals, improved his defensive lapses (especially since Berube took over behind the bench), and continued his domination as a special teams performer (PP & PK).  In 59 games so far the Flyers captain has managed 57 points; a vast improvement from the team-wide scoring drought that was once led by Giroux.  If he continues his torrid pace of the past few months there’s a good possibility he can carry this club back to its rightful place in the playoffs. “B”
  • Wayne Simmonds: If there’s a player that embodies “Flyers Hockey” it’s #17.  The man is a relentless power forward who is as quick to drop the gloves as put the puck in the net.  He’s become an integral part of the leadership in the locker-room- as indicated by the “A” found on his chest in Kimmo Timonen’s absence.  And his relentless forecheck and ability to protect the puck down low has been a boon to his linemates, Brayden Schenn and Vicent Lecavalier.  Overall, Simmonds is heading towards a career year (59 games, 18 G 24 A, 85 PIM) and his “fight for every inch” approach is an excellent example for the other young guys on the squad.  Simmonds 6-year extension signed last season, while ridiculed at the time by the uninformed, looks like an unbelievable bargain going forward ($3.975mil/yr).  “A”
  • Jake Voracek:  Much was expected of Voracek following the lockout shortened season in which he propelled himself amongst the NHL’s elite playmakers.  But, much like Giroux, things did not start out the way Jake or Flyers management would’ve wanted.  There is still inconsistency in his game, but when Voracek is moving his feet there are few who are more dangerous in the world.  Down from his almost PPG pace of a season ago, Voracek’s stats are slowly getting back to respectable levels (59 games, 15 G 25 A).  With the Voracek-Giroux-Hartnell line re-uniting, and clicking, it’s only a matter of time before this excessively talented winger breaks out. “B-“
  • Scott Hartnell:  It’s been amazing to watch the transformation of the relationship between the fanbase and Hartnell over the past several years; during his career-high 37-goal, All-Star campaign, the red-headed power forward could do no wrong.  But then a series of events, including breaking his foot, leading to poor production, coupled with an expensive new contract ($4.75mil/yr), led to many Flyer faithful turning their back on this former fan favorite.  People need to understand that Hartnell will never again approach the 40-goal mark, but if you look at his production objectively (based on his past career) it’s easy to see that he’s having a very respectable campaign.  Also, with Hartnell, it goes beyond goals.  The guy is a great teammate, leader, and community organizer.  He’s a charitable individual, although his opponents probably wouldn’t describe him as such.  Following last seasons debacle (32 games, 8 G 3 A), “Scotty” has bounced back nicely (55 games, 15 G 22 A).  Once again it’s those folks who expect too much from this important cog who seem to be disappointed with his play.  If you expect his regular 20+ goals and 150 PIM’s then #19 is right on target.  “B+”
  • Brayden Schenn: Since his arrival in Philadelphia there has been a faction of Flyers fans who could just never welcome the former 5th overall pick.  Afterall, he was the key piece of Mike Richards trade and many expected the 20-year old to fill those shoes right away.  But as most hockey experts will tell you, players develop at their own paces.  Now, Schenn’s first two campaigns weren’t unproductive, but the sting of the King’s Cup victory with Richards at the helm made thing’s that much harder on the young forward.  This season, however, the 22-year old kid has finally started to show the promise we all expected on a more consistent basis.  He’s played a majority of the season alongside Wayne Simmonds and they’ve been somewhat of a dynamic-duo.  Throw in the experience of a Vinny Lecavalier and things can only improve for this Schenn brother.  With 15 goals and 17 assists, Schenn has already surpassed his career highs, and at 22, the sky is the limit.  “B-“
  • Sean Couturier: The stats don’t jump out at you- 9 goals, 19 assists- but Couturier’s game goes far beyond his offensive production.  This is a 21-year old kid who has been frustrating the oppositions best players, night-in and night-out, since entering the league as a 19-year old rookie.  Just ask Evgeni Malkin, one of the best in the world, the kind of impact “Coots” can have on your game.  He’s already an ace penalty killer, can log Power Play minutes, and just makes smart decisions in all three zones.  And playing alongside a smart player like Matt Read only improves the kids game.  Much like Schenn, the sky is the limit for Couturier. “B+”
  • Matt Read:  This guy is one of the most cerebral players I’ve ever seen in a Flyers uniform.  Not only does he have dynamic speed and offensive instincts but it’s almost as if he never makes the wrong decision.  He’s easily been one of Paul Holmgren’s greatest pickup, and it was as a college free agent out of Bemidji State.  Like Couturier, Read kills penalties, puts in PP time, and goes all out in all three zones.  And with 15 goals and 11 assists he’s on pace for his typical offensive production.  “A-“
  • Vincent Lecavalier:  I must admit I was adamant during the off-season that this was an excellent pickup but Lecavalier has yet to live up to his contract.  Now it’s important to note that before he suffered a severe back issue he was essentially the Flyers only offensive weapon.  But since his return, he’s been slow to re-adapt to the speed of the game.  Over the past week-plus he’s started to show some of the burst that was clearly missing when he immediately returned from IR.  His stats (46 games, 12 G 11 A) still aren’t up to snuff but the Olympic break should do wonders for his back and 33-year old legs.  Expect a much more productive second half from this wily vet.  “C-“
  • Steve Downie:  When Downie was first acquired from Colorado for Max Talbot he brought Couturier and Read back to life.  He was a catalyst and appeared to have turned a corner in his controversial career.  But maybe that was simply a mirage, because after his first month in Philly, Downie reverted back to his thug-like ways.  He found himself taking needless penalties and unable to keep his temper under control.  And on top of that, his offensive game appeared to disappear.  Now he’s been in and out of Craig Berube’s doghouse.  Lately, however, he’s shown a little more self-control and has worked his way back onto a line with Couturier and Read.  He’s a free agent after this season and unless he turns things around quickly his days in orange and black are numbered.  “D+”
  • Adam Hall:  Rarely do fourth-line journeymen become such integral parts in a hockey team, but Adam Hall has proven (atleast in my mind) that he deserves another short-term contract extension.  First off, on a team that’s pretty terrible in the face-off dot, Hall has a godsend.  He’s winning well over 60% of his draws and has become the go-to guy on important defensive zone draws.  He kills penalties, hits like a rock, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves.  He’s even contributed a few important goals in the offensive end.  He’s a man who knows his role and does it very well.  “A-“
  • Zac Rinaldo:  Almost all Flyers fans love Rinaldo; ALL opposing fans hate him.  But that just shows the man is doing his job to a T.  In my humble opinion, there’s no one in the entire NHL who, pound for pound, can hit like Rinaldo.  If your head is down you’re in for a devastating shot from this little fireball.  And the proof is in the pudding on how important this kid is to this organization- when he was out injured, the Flyers were lifeless and couldn’t win a game.  As soon as he returns, BAM, the orange and black start playing with energy again and win 5 out of 6.  He draws penalties, is responsible defensively, hits, fights, and even kills the occasional penalty.  No matter what opposing fans say, Rinaldo is part of this club’s present and future.  “B”
  • Michael Raffl:  To me, Raffl is poor man’s Matt Read.  He doesn’t have the offensive  acumen of  Read but he’s still got some skill.  He’s unbelievably responsible in his own zone, kills penalties, and even helped to reignite Giroux and Voracek when they were slumping.  He needs a  little work on his finishing ability, but 15-20 goals isn’t out of the question in the near future for this talented youngster.  Much like Read, he was an under the radar pick by Holmgren, but I think it’s safe to say the 24-year old Austrian will be receiving a contract extension this summer. “B+”

Coaching:  There were plenty in the NHL community (and Philly) who felt as if Peter Laviolette should’ve lost his job after last season’s debacle.  But Holmgren and Snider decided to give him one more chance.  Unfortunately, it was the wrong decision.  “Lavy” is a very good coach but it seems that after 3 or 4 seasons his message goes stale.  Enter Craig Berube; “Chief”.  The former Flyer tough guy who’s top-10 all-time in penalty minutes.  And although he doesn’t want his club playing undisciplined hockey, Berube’s playing style appears to have rubbed off on this club- as evidenced by their NHL in penalty minutes.  But Berube has also done a solid job of instilling a clearer defensive approach to the game.  No longer do we see the constant attack mentality of Laviolette; it’s now more of a “take what they give you” offense.  And it’s certainly turned this team around.  The defense, though average, is now a legitimate, team-wide priority.  Goaltender Steve Mason isn’t left out to dry nearly as much as Bryzgalov was (not that Bryz was anything but average anyway).  And there’s an emphasis on the forwards doing their part on the back-check.

The Flyers have turned it around under Berube and now hold playoff position in a tight Metropolitan division.  That, in itself, is quite an accomplishment considering the 1-7 start.  Berube is a prime candidate for coach of the year and if the orange and black end up in the playoffs he’d deserve it. “B+”

 

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