It feels as though only a few days have passed since puck drop was saved, but the 2013 NHL season is in full swing. Over 14 percent of the regular season has come and gone before fans can even locate their jerseys from the back of the closet. So it’s time to add some structure to a season that seems frantically devoid of any at all, with a particular emphasis on the ‘frantic’.
Going forward, my goal is for this column is to become a week-by-week breakdown of what has elapsed and what lies ahead. In between, I hope to figure out what the Flyers are doing right and where they might be able to improve. Unfortunately for this group of Flyers, there is plenty of room for the latter.
Since last Wednesday, this team has already seemingly experienced a season’s worth of ups and downs. Without the services of Scott Hartnell and Brayden Schenn due to injury and suspension respectively, the Flyers were able to overcome adversity and put their first victory on the standings board against a key Atlantic division foe in the New York Rangers. But the enjoyment would quickly be lost to bad news, as Andrej Meszaros suffered a shoulder injury and is expected to miss a month.
How do the Flyers respond to this key subtraction? They shellac the listless Florida Panthers and put up seven goals in a trouncing. The offense finally comes alive, piling up 19 shots in the first two periods from all over the ice, generating scoring chances galore by shooting from the point and crashing the net. They also go 2-for-7 on the power play, seemingly turning a corner in every offensive facet of the game. The defense is of no concern.
But it goes all downhill from here. With tired legs, the Flyers show little jump in a 5-1 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Michael Leighton is less-than-stellar, not necessarily at fault for any goals allowed, but also lackluster and rusty at best. The power play struggles, yielding all momentum early on. Meanwhile, Claude Giroux fails to register a shot on goal. They follow it up with a 2-1 loss to the Rangers in MSG that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. In Philadelphia, a 2-2 record after a slow start won’t bring about fewer questions.
A lot of the momentum seems to be getting lost with poor performances from the power play. To me, the Flyers power play has become one of the most predictable units in the league due to its notorious tendency to wait for the perfect shot. It’s one thing to be picky; it’s entirely different when you seek strictly perfection.
They need to pass with more conviction and do less telegraphing. Keep it simple and quick, so the defender doesn’t have time to settle down and lock in on a particular man. Furthermore, if the two players manning the high boards move in closer towards the center of the ice, the puck can get to its destination a bit quicker, possibly opening the door to more one-timer opportunities and quick passing plays from one side of the ice to the other in a tic-tac-toe manner. Quick passes get the defense and the goalie moving, not allowing them a chance to settle in and make a play. The thing is, none of this works if you don’t start shooting the puck.
They play like a team with high-end offensive skill, but it’s yet to be established this season. While they are obviously missing a triggerman (or two), it is not an excuse to come up empty at this stage in the game. The Flyers need to stop focusing on the pretty plays and start getting pucks to the net with more consistency. When they did this in Florida, they were treated to a 6-goal victory. Elsewhere this season, they haven’t generated much down the center of the ice.
Last night, there is a reason Danny Briere looked to be in the middle of every chance against the Rangers. In a stat that’s being tossed around like a pigskin, he and his tiny frame crashed the net and racked up 10 shots on goal. 10! The rest of the team? 17 combined. If one of your smallest players coming off an injury can be such a pest down low with such consistency, there is no excuse for his bigger teammates to not do the same, regardless of disparity in talent level.
There is a lot to like outside of the offensive game. After a bit of a rough start, Luke Schenn has been stellar on the blue line for the Flyers. He is averaging over seven hits a game, but he has been able to keep his timing in check and rarely gets too out of position. Furthermore, he has made some great decisions with the puck in his own zone while contributing on the offensive side of the ice as well. He’s on pace for a career high in shots, which might help contribute to a career high in goals.
In addition to Schenn, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the tremendous start to the season for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Everyone’s biggest fear coming into the season has suddenly become their biggest rock, holding down the blue-and-red fort with a level of play that can best be described as ‘locked in’. Bryzgalov’s rebound control has been tremendous, and his body language in the crease oozes self-control. He has made the routine stops and then some, doing more than enough to overcome the occasional early-season mental lapse with one highlight reel save after another.
Simply put, the one-time buyout candidate would easily be the team’s MVP in my eyes if the season were to suddenly end today.
Lying ahead for the Flyers is a chance to make up some ground. They host two Southeastern foes in the Panthers and Hurricanes before traveling to Canada for a clash with the Maple Leafs and then the Jets. Winnipeg represents the current cream of the crop, sitting in 7th place in the Eastern Conference at 3-2-1, but these are teams that the Flyers should be able to defeat. If they can’t do so, a short season might soon become a much longer one for those associated with the Orange and Black.
Until next week, find me on twitter!