An Early Picture of the Flyers Lineup

Could French import P.E. Bellemare be the next Raffl?

Could French winger P.E. Bellemare be the next Michael Raffl?

At first glance it may appear to casual observers as if Flyers rookie General Manager Ron Hextall has done little to alter the club during his inaugural summer at the helm.  After all, this is a franchise famous for their affinity towards splashy, headline-grabbing moves.  But even though things were uncharacteristically quiet on Broad Street this off-season that doesn’t necessarily mean the Flyers won’t be different in 2014-2015.  Of course, change doesn’t always guarantee success.

The most noteworthy modification for the orange and black happened in the front office where longtime GM Paul Holmgren was “promoted” to team President, while Ron Hextall assumed control of all hockey related decisions.  This reshuffling of the company deck was probably done for two reasons: the first of which was so that owner Ed Snider could save face by not having to fire a true company man in Holmgren- 9 years as a Flyer forward, 5 seasons as Flyers coach, and 14 more as a team executive.  And the second, and most important factor, was so that another organization would not poach Hextall away.  After all, the Flyers new GM is one of the brightest young executives in the game.

In a short time since the change the organizational philosophy has shifted dramatically.  Whereas Holmgren focused primarily on quick fixes with big-name acquisitions, Hextall has made it abundantly clear that the Philadelphia Flyers will now approach the future with a renewed focus on prospect development.  Unlike his predecessors, the former Philadelphia goaltender has refused to deal away blue chip prospects or high draft picks for established veterans.  This cautious, more deliberate direction is the reason behind the least-eventful summer in recent memory.  Though a lack of cap space has also handcuffed the Flyers, to a degree.

Kimmo Timonen's hockey career appears over following the discovery of multiple blood clots.

Kimmo Timonen’s hockey career appears over following the discovery of multiple blood clots.

Unfortunately, the organization begins this new era with the unenviable task of supplanting two longtime stalwarts.  Acquired in the same trade with Nashville prior to the 07-08 season, both winger Scott Hartnell (trade) and defender Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) find themselves unceremoniously on the outs.  The longtime fan favorites and close friends will not be easily replaced.   The Flyers also said goodbye to the likes of Erik Gustafsson (D), Hal Gill (D), and Adam Hall (F).

In their stead the team made several  low-profile acquisitions.  First, in the Hartnell trade, the Flyers recouped a player who originally began his career with this organization: R.J. Umberger.  Though slightly less productive than Hartnell, the 32-year old forward is more mobile and far more versatile.  Umberger can play all three forward positions, kill penalties, and contribute on the power-play.  As a last minute replacement for Timonen, following his surprise health scare, Hextall tapped 24-year old former Ranger standout, Michael Del Zotto.  Del Zotto, though coming off two sub-par campaigns, has potential upside as a puck-moving, offensive defenseman.  Brought in beyond those two was veteran rearguard Nick Schultz (Columbus), rough-and-tumble center Ryan White (Montreal), and, intriguingly, french import Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

And since Ron Hextall has made it clear that the future of the franchise starts with the farm system, it should come as no surprise that several prospects have a shot at the opening night roster.  Even if those shots are quite long.  At the top of the list is 2012 first-rounder, center Scott Laughton.  At 20 years of age, and following his third straight highly productive season with the Oshawa Generals, Laughton will either win a spot with the Flyers or report to the Phantoms for seasoning in the AHL.

So where do these changes leave the Flyers roster for the upcoming season?  Let’s first take a look into the potential forward arrangements:

1st line: (LW) Michael Raffl, (C) Claude Giroux. (RW) Jakub Voracek– The combination of Giroux and Voracek has been the clubs most dangerous for two seasons now.  And before his departure, Hartnell was often found on the lines left side.  With Hartnell now serving the division rival Blue Jackets, one of the main candidates to fill the vacancy is Raffl.  The 25-year old Austrian didn’t show a ton of offensive pop in his rookie campaign (9 goals) but he was also adjusting to the North American game and has exceptional defensive instincts.  Playing alongside two elite setup-men, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Raffl could step up and produce 18-20 goals while still maintaining his important defensive role.

2nd line: (LW) Brayden Schenn, (C) Vincent Lecavalier, (RW) Wayne Simmonds– This is where things start to get tricky for head coach Craig Berube.  Last season Lecavalier’s poor play outside of the center spot proved that he must be in the middle to come anywhere close to living up to his paycheck.  Unfortunately, Berube demands defensive accountability, which isn’t Vinny’s strong suit.  It’s probable this line gets switched around a lot throughout the season but for now this is an okay bet.  Schenn finally reached the 20-goal plateau a season ago, but he left plenty of room for improvement.  Simmonds was an absolute warrior (29 goals, 6o pts) a season ago and should produce similar numbers, no matter the line.  Dealing Lecavalier would be ideal but as long as he’s in orange and black he should be given a look in the top-6.

3rd line: (LW) R.J. Umberger, (C) Sean Couturier, (RW) Matt Read–  Read and Couturier have proven to be one of the top two-way duos in the entire NHL.  Add in Umberger, who has a similar skill set, and the Flyers could have one of the best shutdown lines around.  Couturier, just 21, is already a Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) candidate.  If his offensive game catches up he could be the next Patrice Bergeron.  Read can be penciled in for 20+ goals and plenty of PK/PP time.  Umberger may be used on the 1st or 2nd line, because of his versatility, but he projects as an excellent option for this trio.

4th line: (LW) P.E. Bellemare, (C) Ryan White, (RW) Zac Rinaldo– Berube and Hextall have a lot of choices for the 4th line.  It will be tempting to give Laughton the center job but he’d be better served playing more than 8-10 minutes a night.  That leaves White as the leading candidate.  He’s an irritating presence, a good hitter, and a solid face-off man.  At right wing, Rinaldo should be the guy.  Two seasons ago he was a disruptive ball of energy who managed to draw more penalties than he took.  This past season he fell into his old, undisciplined ways and it made him far less effective.  If he wants to continue being the Flyers main pest he must return to his 12-13 form.  Like I said above, Bellemare is a real wildcard.  He’s 29-years old, has never played in North America, and doesn’t do anything exceptionally well.  However, he’s a solid two-way winger with good speed and above-average offensive upside.  If he doesn’t win the job it could go to someone like Jay Rosehill, an old-school, goon-type.  But that’s hardly ideal.

As complicated as the forward picture may look, it might be just as difficult to figure out the defensive pairings.  Losing a presence like Timonen, along with having only one right-handed shot (L. Schenn), leaves some questions for Berube to answer.  In order for the Flyers to be successful their weak D-corps must be assisted by the forwards and probably bailed out by goaltender Steve Mason.  Anyway, here’s a potential look at the Flyers top-six defenders:

1st PairingAndrew MacDonald- Brayden Coburn– Without Timonen, Coburn is arguably the Flyers top shutdown defenseman.  And that’s hardly a  comforting thought.  Coburn has an exceptional size-speed combination but he’s never been able to be a complete package.  He’s extremely streaky and sometimes makes mind-numbing decisions under pressure.  Still, he’s the best they have.  Despite the advanced stats community berating MacDonald as one of the league’s worst, he is an above-average blueliner.  He turns the puck over too much but he brings necessary mobility to the blueline.  He can play both PP and PK minutes, however the more he’s on the ice the more he can be exposed.  This clearly isn’t an ideal shutdown pairing but Berube has been quoted as liking these two together.

2nd PairingMark Streit- Nick Grossmann– Streit was probably the only Flyers blueliner who lived up to his paycheck a season ago.  He can be a defensive liability but he is their best offensive defender and will take over for Timonen as the #1 PP quarterback.  The Swiss-born Streit should post similar numbers (10 goals, 44pts) to a year ago and help to fill the leadership void.  Opposite Streit will most likely be Grossmann, who is literally his opposite.  Grossmann is a hulking (6’4” 230) defensive presence with poor mobility and little offensive game.  Still the big Swede is the clubs best crease-clearer, a heavy hitter, and a quality shot blocker.  Since Berube likes to go with one puck mover and one stay-at-home player on each pairing, Streit and Grossmann are a solid tandem.

3rd PairingMichael Del Zotto- Luke Schenn– During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season it appeared as if Luke Schenn had finally started living up to his billing as a top-five draft selection.  However, last season he regressed and went back to making the same tentative mistakes that cost him during his Toronto days.  With limited mobility he must be far more consistent with his positioning.  When he’s in the right spot he usually makes the right play.  Schenn is a hitting machine and he must use that skill to help clear the front of the net far more than he has in the past.  Opposite Schenn is Michael Del Zotto, a former Rangers first round pick who has either been very good or very bad during his five NHL seasons.  MDZ isn’t a great skater but he is easily an upgrade on Timonen’s mobility (or lack-thereof) and brings impressive offensive instincts.  New York and Nashville stopped using Del Zotto on the PP, which severely reduced his productivity.  The Flyers will (hopefully) not make the same mistake, as he is easily the team’s 2nd most dangerous offensive blueliner.  He should get every opportunity to run the point on the 2nd PP unit.  Most NHL defenders don’t usually develop consistency until they’re 26-28 and both of these players are still just 24.  There’s a good amount of upside on this bottom pairing.  Veteran pickup Nick Schultz can step in if needed.

Steve Mason was the Flyers rock during this past season.

Steve Mason was the Flyers rock during this past season.

Unlike the rest of the club the goaltending picture is completely clear.  Steve Mason proved that he has what it takes to start 60+ games for this team, which is a luxury not seen consistently in this town for many years.  Behind Mason is Ray Emery.  Here is an in-depth evaluation of the Flyers net presence:

StarterSteve Mason (33-18-7, 2.50GAA, .917sv%)–  When Mason was first acquired at the end of the 12-13 season there were snickers from fans around the league.  After all, this was a player who had followed up his Calder Trophy winning season with 3+ miserable years in Columbus.  But since his arrival in Philadelphia it’s been a renaissance for the 26-year old.  For someone who stands 6’4″, Mason has remarkable athleticism.  He carried his teammates for long stretches last season and almost stole the Rangers series by himself.  In order for this team to be legitimate contenders they need an even better season from ‘Mase’.

BackupRay Emery (9-12-2, 2.96GAA, .903sv%)– ‘Razor’ is a mid-level NHL backup with deteriorating physical skills.  For spot starts he is a respectable option but if Emery is needed for an extended stretch the Flyers are cooked.  At 32, and with a history of serious hip issues, Emery has lost almost all of his lateral quickness.  If teams get him moving post-to-post he’s very beatable.  If Emery is injured or can’t live up to the job requirements, Hextall will look to longtime European vet Rob Zepp or 20-year old, top prospect Anthony Stolarz for relief.

Flyers End Two Game Skid

Lecavalier bounced back in a big way after his 4th line demotion.

Lecavalier bounced back in a big way after his 4th line demotion.

Following two sub-par efforts against the LA Kings and the New York Rangers the Flyers entered Friday’s match-up badly in need of two points to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference.  Their opponent, the suddenly inept Toronto Maple Leafs, entered the game having lost six straight contests.  The Leafs, tied for the final wildcard spot in the East, had a lot to prove.  But it was the orange and black who appeared to be the more desperate team.  Behind solid efforts from Vinny Lecavalier, Claude Giroux, and Steve Mason the Flyers pulled out an important 4-2 win.  The victory kept the team within one point of the 2nd place Rangers while still having two games in hand.

Here’s a closer look at the action:

  • After spending most of the season on the 2nd line alongside Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, head coach Craig Berube decided Vinny Lecavalier needed a wakeup call.  So the longtime vet was returned to his natural center position, only on the 4th line.  Vinny was clearly upset with the move but he managed to channel that anger into one of his best performances in months.  Alongside linemates Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall, Lecavalier was a constantly attacking the Leafs porous defense.  Although the 4th line did not manage any points 5-on-5, Vinny put in a rocket one-timer on a 5-on-3 Powerplay for his 16th goal of the season (and the Flyers opening goal).  It’s unclear whether Berube will use this game as somewhat of springboard and put the 14-year vet back on the 2nd line or keep him in his natural center spot on the 4th.  The Flyers need another big effort Sunday afternoon when they take on the deep and dangerous Boston Bruins.
  • Steve Mason managed 32 saves on 34 shots and frequently bailed the Flyers defense out.  His yearlong numbers may not reflect it but Mason may be the teams most consistent performer.  He will enter Sunday’s matinee with a record of 31-17-6 with a 2.53 GAA and .916sv% (with 4 shutouts).
  • Claude Giroux continued his tear as he notched 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists).  The Flyers first line (Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek) was the only one that remained unchanged last night and that was clearly a good decision.  Giroux now has 78 points (25 goals, 53 assists) after managing just 7 in the seasons first 16 games.
  • Zac Rinaldo had an especially good game.  In 11:32 of ice time the diminutive but deadly forward drew a pair of Leafs penalties, registered five hits, and won multiple puck battles.  Those outside of Philadelphia may not understand the value of the pugnacious Rinaldo, but he’s clearly an important piece of the puzzle.
  • Former Flyer James Van Riemsdyk scored another goal against his former team.  Just 4 seconds into the the 2nd period, JVR took a Tyler Bozak pass, carried the puck into the left face-off dot in the Flyers zone, and launched a quick shot over the shoulder of Steve Mason.  The talented power forward now has 29 goals and 29 assists this season.  He actually tied an NHL record for the fastest goal from the start of a period.
  • Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf continued his horrendous campaign.  He was seemingly on the ice for every nice offensive play the Flyers made last night.  It’s amazing how far his stock has fallen over the past two seasons, especially for a player wearing the “C” and making $7+ million.  It appears as if 28-year old could be trade bait this summer, though I don’t know what team would trade for that contract (the Flyers?).
  • Scott Hartnell continued his bounce back campaign with an important Powerplay deflection in the 2nd period.  There have been many who have chastised GM Paul Holmgren for giving Hartnell a long-term contract following last season’s debacle, but he’s clearly regained his chemistry with Giroux and Voracek.  Hartnell, 31, now has 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in 2013-14.
  • Though he hasn’t produced many points since his recall, winger Tye McGinn continues to outplay the injured Steve Downie.  McGinn, who is younger and cheaper, provides the same sandpaper in his game while also bringing more offensive ability.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Downie become a healthy scratch when he finally recovers from his last concussion.  McGinn took Lecavalier’s place alongside Simmonds and Schenn last night.

With the important victory the Flyers now stand with a record of 39-27-7 (85 points) and hold the third spot in the Metropolitan division.  That is somewhat misleading however as the 2nd place Rangers only have 86 points with two more games played.  Up next, the Flyers will need to bring their “A” game to knock off the Eastern Conference leading Bruins on Sunday.  The game starts at 12:30 and will be televised nationally on NBC.

 

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+”

 

Will the Hotstreak Continue?

simmonds scoring

Wayne Simmonds has been a major catalyst for the Flyers turnaround.

Just half-way through the season and this year’s Flyers campaign has been an absolute roller-coaster ride.  There was was the 1-7 start; the firing of Head Coach Peter Laviolette; and the7-0 and 7-2 embarrassments against Washington and Chicago, respectively.  But despite a series of events that would make a lesser team fold, this club has persevered.

Claude Giroux, dreadful enough the first two months to keep him off the Canadian Olympic squad, has risen like a phoenix and put the team on his back.  Jake Voracek, who couldn’t get out of his own way, is now one of the most dangerous puck-possession players in the NHL.  And Wayne Simmonds who had just 5 goals at the end of November, all of a sudden has 14.  It’s been a season of turnarounds, but the Flyers are hoping their current trends don’t reverse.

We’ve seen Sean Couturier blossom, Matt Read continue his consistent play, and Steve Downie prove that he’s more than just a goon.  Hartnell has gone from fan favorite to scapegoat and back again.  Kimmo Timonen was too old.  Vinny Lecavalier was par fast his prime.  Mark Streit the same.  And yet, we see a successful hockey team; nay, a thriving group of guys who were too old, too slow, and washed up to succeed in Philadelphia, where thin-skinned athletes go to die.

All we heard coming in was that Steve Mason couldn’t survive in Columbus, how is he going to survive the gauntlet that is the Philadelphia media?  Well let’s take a quick look at his statistics: 18-10-4, 2.35 GAA, .922sv%…  Those are not the numbers of a struggling netminder, searching for some way keep the puck out; no, those are the results of a man, once washed up (much like these Flyers), making a return to stardom.  Mason’s career success is a microcosm of the entire Philadelphia season: down in the dumps, nowhere to go, and out of the ashes an unlikely re-emergence.  These are the 2013-14 Flyers.

Since that 7-2 thrashing at the hands of the defending Cup Champ Chicago Blackhawks, the orange and black are 10-2-1, second in the Metropolitan division, and beating on all takers.

Is it a fluke?  Is this the team that couldn’t score 3 goals for more than a month?  Or are we seeing the birth of a legitimate contender?  They say to make a playoff run what you need is a hot goalie… check.  Someone who’s won it before… check (albeit a much younger Lecavalier).  And obviously the talent… many believe it’s there; we’ve seen it in wins against the Pens, Detroit, Phoenix, and Vancouver.  But we’ve also seen the demons in games like in Chicago, against the Caps, and just recently in Columbus.

We’ve seen the absolute best and the unadulterated worst from the 2013-2014 Flyers, but they have found a way to fight through inconsistency. When guys go down to injury, it’s next in line and they step up.  It’s a mantra of “rolling with the punches” that is getting them through this season.

The Flyers currently stand at second place in a packed Metropolitan division and it remains to be seen whether they can hold on to that precarious position.  They seem to have the luck, the talent, and, most certainly, the perseverance to overcome such obstacles.  Win or lose, Saturday’s match-up against a hot Lightning squad should provide a solid barometer for where the Flyers stand in the NHL landscape.

Third Line Leads Huge Comeback in Detroit

The Flyers 3rd line, led by Couturier, dominated the Wings on Wednesday night.

The Flyers 3rd line, led by Couturier, dominated the Wings on Wednesday night.

When you think about the Flyers success (or lack-thereof) in Detroit over the past two decades, it should come as no surprise that things looked pretty bleak when the good guys trailed 3-1 late in the second period.  After all, this organization had pulled off just one victory at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit over the past 24 years; and the Flyers haven’t exactly been comeback kings this season.  But Matt Read managed to cut the Red Wing lead to just one (3-2) with a late second period goal, and the orange and black never looked back.  The Flyers came out firing in the third and were able to pull out their most unlikely victory of the season, 6-3.

Let’s take a closer look at this surprisingly high-scoring affair:

  • The number of penalties called were completely disproportionate, but it was actually the Flyers who managed to take advantage of their few opportunities.  Philly finished 3-3 on the PP, while Detroit only managed to go 1-7.
  • The “third line”, if we can still call them that, had an absolute monster game.  Sean Couturier led the way with two goals and two assists;  Read finished with a goal and two assists;  meanwhile, Steve Downie finished with a goal and an assist.  But, quite possibly, the best part about this line is the way they play the two-way game.  All three forwards are defensively responsible, especially Couturier (whom Pierre McGuire compared to Patrice Bergeron during the broadcast).  It’s easy to see that Berube trusts these guys to shut-down the oppositions most dangerous players when it matters most.  And the offensive production is just gravy.
  •   Wayne Simmonds continues his strong play but still can’t seem to get out of his scoring funk.  He came out pointless once again despite being one of the Flyers most active and dangerous forwards.  Sooner (hopefully) or later the puck will start going in the net for the hard-working power forward.
  • It was nice to see Claude Giroux continue to fire the puck, especially when on the PP, as he managed to net the game-tying goal.  For those who’ve seen my past post’s, one of my biggest complaints about this squad has been their aversion to take the best available shots, but that wasn’t the case tonight.
  • Much-maligned first-line wingers, Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek, both had a productive game.  Hartnell managed to score on one of his vintage one-timer’s from Giroux on the PP; while Voracek was noticeably active, despite being held off the score-sheet.
  • Steve Mason wasn’t his usual dominant self, but he still came up with some huge saves when the team needed him most.  There were plenty of close calls, but #35 still hasn’t allowed more than 3 goals as a Flyer (knock on wood) and we certainly hope that trend continues.
  • I’m not going to complain about the officiating, as the Flyers certainly deserved most of the penalty calls, but there seemed to be some inconsistencies when it came to the play of the Red Wings.  Maybe it’s just my “homer vision”, but I thought Detroit got away with quite a lot.
  • This was just the Flyers second win at Joe Louis arena since 1989.
  • The orange and black now find themselves tied with the Rangers for 3rd in the Metropolitan division with 28 points, and trail Washington for 2nd by just two points.

The Flyers will look to continue climbing up the standings on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) in Dallas against a dangerous Stars squad. Tune in.