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 had a few “glitches.” The Flyers got off to their worst start in team history while Obamacare, well, let’s just say it has fallen and can’t get up.
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 7th 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 2014 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, producing on a regular basis, including Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Vincent Lecavalier. As of Jan. 5, the Flyers are 17th in goals per game, 16th in goals against per game, 17th on the power play, and 9th on the penalty kill.
The blue line is anchored by two players over 35, Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit, with 38-year-old Hal Gill coming off the bench. Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell are tied in plus/minus with a team-high plus-five, with defenseman Erik Gustafsson at plus-four. Overall the defense has looked slow but steady yet will need at least one more piece in order to compete come playoff time.
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 withfinally 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 in 2008-09 when he had a 2.29 GAA and a .916 save percentage. This season, as of Jan. 5, he allows 2.39 goals against per game and has a .922 save percentage and will most likely be named the starter come playoff time. Emery allows 3.03 goals against per game and has a .890 save percentage, but despite Emery’s 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 would have turned out had he stayed, but with the promotion of assistant coach Craig “Chief” Berube to head coach the Flyers have gone six games over .500 at one point. They say 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing but so far so good for the orange and black.
Still, the Flyers need to continue to get scoring from more than one line and add some speed to their blue line. Adding top defensive prospect Samuel Morin to their playoff roster might be one possibility once his junior season is done with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic. One offensive prospect, Scott Laughton is having another terrific season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, scoring at almost a goal-a-game pace.
Because of their tight salary cap situation, look for the Flyers to stay in house for playoff help. Still, General Manager 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 his cap issue but add another first round pick in this year’s draft. The Flyers will want to make some bold moves come draft day, especially considering that this draft will take place 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 going deep into June.