Flyers rise from ashes of early season mire

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Flyers have found their game since starting slow – image by Lewis Bleiman

PHILADELPHIA, Pa – To say that the Philadelphia Flyers got off to a slow start to their season would be like saying the Obamacare rollout started off with just a few “glitches”. The Flyers got off to their worst start in team history.

Fortunately for the Flyers there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it doesn’t appear to be a train. The Flyers are finally over the .500 mark at 21-17-4 (46 points) and currently sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference. At the beginning of the season, the Flyers were looking like a team headed for one of the top picks in the NHL Entry Draft but now look like contenders for a playoff spot.

Players who are normally goal scorers were anything but at the beginning of the season are all of a sudden doing so on a regular basis such as: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Vincent Lecavalier. As of January 1st the Flyers were 18th in offense, 16th in defense and the power play, and 10th on the penalty kill.

The blueline is anchored by two players over 35 in Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit with 38-year old Hall Gill coming off the bench. Erik Gustafsson is tied with Timonen and Scott Hartnell in Plus/Minus with a +4. Overall the defense has looked slow but steady but will need at least one more piece in order to compete come playoff time.

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Steve Mason has backstopped the Flyers resurgence – image by Lewis Bleiman

The offense has been inconsistent but has come a long way since the beginning of the season. If they can continue their upwards trend the Flyers could becoming a dangerous team, especially with the Flyers finally getting the kind of goaltending that has been missing for so many years.

Steve Mason and Ray Emery have been a solid 1-2 punch in the net. Mason is having his best season since his rookie season of 2008-09 when he had a 2.29 GAA and a .916 save percentage. This season he has a 2.37 GAA and a .922 save percentage and will most likely be named the starter come playoff time. Emery has a 3.03 GAA and a .890 save percentage but despite his playoff experience Mason has clearly had the better season and will get the nod in net.

The Flyers’ turnaround might not have been possible had the team not fired Peter Laviolette just three games into the season, one never knows how things might have turned out had he stayed but with the promotion of assistant Head Coach Craig “Chief” Berube to Head Coach the Flyers have gone 6 games over .500. They say 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing but so far so good for the orange and blank.

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Coach Craig Berube – image by Lewis Bleiman

Still, the Flyers need to continue to get scoring from more than one line and add some speed to their blueline. Adding top defensive prospect Samuel Morin to their playoff roster might be one possibility once his junior season is done with the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL). On offense, Scott Laughton is having another terrific season in the OHL with Oshawa scoring at almost a goal-a-game pace.

Because of their salary cap situation, look for the Flyers to stay in-house for playoff help. Still, GM Paul Holmgren has been known to make a trade or two so don’t be surprised if he pulls the trigger on a trade that will not only help is cap issue but add another first round pick in this year’s draft since the Flyers want to make some bold moves come draft day especially considering that that draft is in Philadelphia in June.

The Flyers are flying high these days. They can thank the Chief for righting a sinking ship. Still, the season is far from over. Now it is up to the players to make Holmgren’s decision look like a genius by not only making the playoffs but by going deep into June.

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