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.