This season, the Philadelphia Flyers have scored the most goals of any team in the NHL.
However, the team has only had one line that has been untouchable for head coach Peter Laviolette. The team’s second line, which features Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere and Ville Leino has maintained their stellar performance from last year’s playoff run.
Although, recently it seems like Laviolette has found another line to keep.
When the Flyers hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, Laviolette’s plan was simple. Sidney Crosby came into the game having registered a point in 18 straight contests. The Penguins came into the game with a 12-game winning streak. In order to stop the Penguins, the Flyers would have to do their best to slow down the red-hot Crosby if they wanted to win.
Laviolette decided to move Claude Giroux on the first line with Mike Richards and Andreas Nodl, which gave the team their best defensive line combination. The line played well together and Crosby was held without a shot on goal. Although Crosby still managed to register two points — both came on the man advantage — the line did their job and it helped the Flyers end the Penguins winning streak with a 3-2 victory.
With the new first line combination, Laviolette had to shake up the third line as well. He decided to give Nikolay Zherdev an opportunity with James van Riemsdyk and Jeff Carter.
Zherdev has been in and out of Laviolette’s good graces all season. He was a healthy scratch in the team’s 2-1 victory last Saturday in Boston as Daniel Carcillo returned from injury. However, with Jody Shelley serving a two-game suspension, Laviolette had little choice but to activate Zherdev. The move paid off. Zherdev scored a pretty goal against Pittsburgh in his first game back off an assist from van Riemsdyk.
When the team played in Montreal the next night, the line remained the same. In a back and forth game, it was the newly formed third line that made all the difference for the Flyers. Zherdev notched a goal and an assist and finished the game with a +2 rating.
Carter and van Riemsdyk also benefitted from their new line’s chemistry. Carter finished the game with one goal and two assists and van Riemsdyk notched two goals, including the game winner. Both players finished with a plus-three on the score sheet. Their energy really stood out, as the rest of the team looked a bit sluggish due to the playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road.
There has never been any doubt in Philadelphia that the line mates are offensively talented, as all three players were drafted in the top eleven in their respective NHL drafts. But, they aren’t without their stigmas.
Zherdev has always been viewed as an enigma across the league. When General Manager Paul Holmgren signed the winger to a one-year deal worth $2 million in the offseason, many in Philadelphia scratched their heads. His inability to consistently take care of the puck and play defensive has always disturbed those that watch him. Despite the offensive talent that oozes out of the winger, consistency remains his problem.
Many Flyers fans expected van Riemsdyk to perform as a genuine superstar because of his lofty draft status. It’s easy to forget that the young forward still has some growing up to do. He can’t win out on talent alone anymore, and he’s fallen into long slumps as a result.
Carter scores in bunches, and when he does the results are usually positive for the Flyers. When those bunches aren’t coming for Carter, his high shot counts often frustrate Flyers fans.
Usually Carter sticks to wrist shots, but in the last two games, he’s spent much more time around the net. Van Riemsdyk is finding space to roam around the ice, which speaks to the talent that Zherdev and Carter possess. They have created such great opportunities on the ice that Laviolette has even ditched his usual power play units and given the line a shot. It paid off in Montreal when Zherdev scored on the man advantage, which isn’t something the Flyers have done much of lately.
There is no debating that the Flyers are one of the deepest and offensively talented teams in the NHL. They have five double-digit goal scorers and four more forwards with more than six goals. Everyone has been chipping in, and as a direct result the Flyers have the most points in the league through 33 games. However, having a stable third line with the likes of Zherdev, Carter and van Riemsdyk should pay dividends for the team moving forward.
Laviolette seems to find a way to make everything he touches with the Flyers turn to gold. Even if he inadvertently touches it.