Flyers Faithful asked Dustin Leed from The Fourth Period and The Hockey Guys, Stephen Whyno from Philly Sports Daily, David Strehle from NHL Hot Stove, and our very own Nick D five questions about the ’11 Flyers’ season. We are very grateful that they took the time to share their opinions and predictions with us. Each day of this week, we will run the answers to one of those questions. Today’s question is:
Which players can we expect more out of and which should we expect less out of for the remainder of the season?
Dustin Leed: First off, I think one player who has finally started to turn a corner is James van Riemsdyk. His best hockey has come of late and there is a lot of room for improvement in his game. I still feel like JVR can do some maturing and isn’t fully developed, but all signs point to him continuing his success and coming into his own for the remainder of the season. As far as production is concerned, I’m not sure you’re going to see Mike Richards continue to put up the numbers he has. He is quietly the Flyers leading point getting despite playing with average wingers and he is on pace for 75-plus points. Can he keep up the pace? It’s quite possible – but I don’t think it will happen. He will continue to play his game – I wouldn’t expect less in that regard – but from a production standpoint – yes.
Stephen Whyno: Expect more out of James van Riemsdyk because he’s started to show the talent that made him the second overall pick a few years ago. He got off to a slow start but, if healthy, has speed and power to show off. Expect less of Dan Carcillo, who may not play a whole lot of everyone’s healthy – thanks to the resurgence of the enigmatic Nikolay Zherdev.
David Strehle: I would expect more from Nikolai Zherdev over the last thirty games of the regular season. He seems to be realizing that he will play more and on better scoring lines in direct proportion to his effort and defensive zone commitment. He was a big factor in Philly knocking off the Blackhawks the Sunday before the break, contributing a goal and assist, and was back-checking relentlessly. The more time he gets with the likes of Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, or Mike Richards, and with possibly more time on the power play, Zherdev could hit the 25-30 goal mark by season’s end.
With the way Sergei Bobrovsky has played leading up to the All-Star break, it’s apparent that Peter Laviolette will give him more starts down the stretch in preparation for the postseason. This will directly affect the playing time of Brian Boucher, who with an 11-6-2 mark has contributed far more than expected at this point in the year. Boucher had been the more consistent of the two netminders for a good stretch of games and Laviolette stuck with the hot hand, but it’s clear that Bobrovsky is not only the Flyers’ goaltender of the future, but also of the present. Expect less from Boucher over the last 30 games.
Nick D: I think we can expect more out of everyone, but I would look to their youth mostly as well as their goaltending. I think James van Riemsdyk is starting to understand how he has to play game in and game out to be effective and he’s starting to gain confidence. Gaining confidence when you’re young and big and skilled like JvR is, can be a very scary thing when facing a player and you saw it in a few games this year. Like the second game of the home and home against the New Jersey Devils where JvR just took over the whole game. JvR and Giroux will be relied upon more and more to add secondary and tertiary scoring for the Flyers.
Goalies take time and we’ve seen guys who don’t hit their prime until they’re in their early to mid thirties sometimes. Look at Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas. These guys almost get better with age and I think Boucher deserves a shot at being the go to guy on a good team, so it’s almost like making up for lost time now with Boucher finally getting his feet under him and not being on a complete mess of a team as well as getting some starts due to his play. It’s a true testament to the player when a coach like Laviolette is able to feel confident enough to let him string starts together. We all know that Boucher is capable of getting hot and going cold, but he’s been rock steady for the Flyers this season and I hate when people look at his GAA, his amount of shutouts, or his win loss record and go “it’s just typical Boucher, giving up bad goals” when it’s really not and it hasn’t been since last year. I think he’s obviously capable of getting on a hot streak, but he’s never really been given a shot at being a number one goalie and obviously on this team, he’ll get his starts if he’s playing well. But I don’t think he’s ever been that streaky these past two years, it’s just that he plays much better when he gets more starts as do most goalies. He’ll give up a bad goal here and there, but everyone does. I think we can also expect Sergei Bobrovsky to ramp it back up. If he starts getting more comfortable with the language, there’s really no better mentor than Brian Boucher to study under as someone who has kept his nose to the grindstone at every twist and turn for a young goalie because he was in Bobrovsky’s shoes once upon a time when he had a ton of pressure put on him by the same organization, but I think we can all agree that Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren are very different GMs and I think that we’ll probably be seeing Bobrovsky in a Flyers uniform for quite some time.
One guy we don’t need to talk about but I will anyway because he’s probably gone unnoticed by most casual fans of the team or hockey is Andrej Meszaros. This guy is just unreal. He’s been the Flyers’ best defenseman all season and I can’t see him all the sudden dropping off. Ever since he got back from his concussion he’s been a much bigger force, but I can remember there was a play, I think it was against the Devils in their first meeting of the season, where he got taken off the puck or was slashed or something, and all the sudden he just got mean and nasty and added that grit to his already impressive defensive game. From there on out he has been the Flyers best player by far.