Mixed Bag is an infrequent column that features a collection of opinions and observations about the Flyers.
In the grand scheme of things, two games makes for a small sample size. There’s no reason to make any significant changes at this point or even begin to declare that some things may or may not be working well. These are just general observations and nothing more than that.
So far, Mike Richards has lost 16 of the 29 faceoffs he’s taken, putting him at 44%. Jeff Carter, who was the team’s best faceoff man last season, has only taken 13 faceoffs but has won 61.5% of them. If Richards cannot get above even in draws, it could quickly be construed as a reason why his line may have trouble generating offense. Carter could be moved back to center.
Claude Giroux has been the most consistent center in that department, winning 52.6% of his 19 faceoffs. This statistic could play a part into whether he remains at center or is moved back to the wing this season.
Though he was stellar in the preseason, Nikolay Zherdev has been invisible through the first two games of the season. Are we seeing the Zherdev who has been known to disappear from time-to-time or is this just a coincidence?
If and when Zherdev and Giroux resume their preseason magic, I believe Dan Carcillo will prove to be a better fit on this line and James van Riemsdyk will fit better on the first line. Carcillo can run interference for Giroux and Zherdev to open up the ice for them. Meanwhile, Richards and Carter could benefit by having van Riemsdyk stand in front of the net to deflect shots in, like Mike Knuble and Scott Hartnell did in the past.
While Chris Pronger is injured, who is emerging as the #2 defender? Both Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn look to be improved from last season and stand to have a good year. They are first and second on the team in blocked shots respectively. Coburn barely edges out Carle in ice time but that might be because the team has been shorthanded so many times. Coburn has only seen 33 seconds of power play time so far while Carle is getting solid ice time in all situations. When the season is over, we may look back and discover that Carle was the more versatile of the two defenders but the development of both of these players will prove to be integral to the team’s success.
Paul Holmgren made it a point to improve the team’s defense over the last few seasons through the draft (Bourdon, Marshall, Lehtivuori), free agent signings (Gustafsson, O’Donnell) and trades (Timonen, Coburn, Carle, Pronger). However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Both Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson played well enough to earn a spot on the roster but there was simply no room for them. The situation won’t get much better in the near future either. Sean O’Donnell is the only defender whose contract will expire after this season. The Flyers may have been better off getting nothing but draft picks back in return for Simon Gagne instead of taking on Matt Walker’s contract. This would have opened up a spot for either Gustafsson or Bourdon this season and another slot for the other next season.
The Flyers do not have many options for resolving this logjam either at the moment. If the Flyers do achieve their goal of winning a Stanley Cup this season, I would not be surprised to see Kimmo Timonen moved in the offseason. At that point, he’ll only have two years left on his contract and it would be a worthy risk for a playoff team lacking a solid veteran presence on the blue line. Beyond that, either Carle or Coburn could be moved if the team believes they cannot re-sign both of them when their contracts end after the ’12 season. The other option, of course, is to flip our defensive prospects for offensive prospects.
I know I’m thinking unreasonably far ahead into the future but this could be a long-term ramification of acquiring both Andrej Meszaros and Walker. If Kevin Marshall, Gustafsson, or Bourdon prove to be ready and deserving of a spot this season, then the team might be best off sucking it up and waiving Walker and/or Oskars Bartulis.
The Flyers are most likely carrying eight defenders at the moment because of the injury to Pronger. If Pronger returns and they continue to carry all eight, it would lead me to believe the team is not confident that Pronger will remain healthy. Hopefully they do not rush him. We will need him more down the stretch that we do now.