Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Players to Watch Tonight (not Named Claude Giroux)

Bill Matz@@Billadelphia1Contributor IIIJanuary 5, 2012

Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Players to Watch Tonight (not Named Claude Giroux)

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    The Winter Classic has come and gone and with the monumentally disappointing loss to the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park now in the rear-view mirror, so too is the huge distraction that can only be described as the NHL's closest single day on their schedule comparable to the Super Bowl.  

    The distraction of the Classic and accompanying media and HBO coverage was detrimental in the short term, at least to one $51 million goaltender. But it may prove beneficial in the long run, as the young Broad Street Bullies deal with the adversities of playing in a major market before the pressures of the unforgiving playoffs begin.  

    But before the playoffs, the Flyers must complete the 45 remaining regular season games, starting tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.  

    The Flyers return to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since being beaten down by the Boston Bruins to the tune to 6-0.  

    There are quite a few storylines to follow as the Fly Guys begin the post-Winter Classic, unofficial second half playoff chase, and it seems tonight's contest with the Chicago Blackhawks is one of those "...and we'll go from there"-type of games where performances tonight will be judged.  The conclusions about the second half of the season will be drawn based on those judgements.  

    With all of that said, there are five particular players I'll be paying close attention to tonight for a few specific reasons.  

    Enough of a build up?  Let us begin.  

Matt Read

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    Jaromir Jagr's "mild, left groin strain" has left a void on Claude Giroux's right side for at least the next seven to 10 days.  

    Speculation after the Winter Classic left many believing James van Riemsdyk would be moved up to the front line in place of the injured Jagr, but Read's 22 points and versatile skill set bumped the 25-year-old, unheralded, undrafted rookie from Bemidji State University over JvR, the second overall selection in the 2007 entry draft (in case you've forgotten).

    How Read responds to playing with the top line and getting big minutes against the opponent's better players will go a long way in determining the future for this rookie sensation.  

    Read has been the jack of all trades so far this season, lining up at basically every position but goalie. 

    But until this point his production has been a bonus for the team and now, given his new role, it is his responsibility to produce.  

    Luckily, Read will be lined up with Claude Giroux and his team-/conference-leading 46 points, as well as Scott Hartnell, whose 35 points are second on the Flyers only to Giroux.  

    Read is in a position to succeed, but his early reaction to his expanded role will be worth noting, especially tonight, in his first game with star line-mates.  

James Van Riemsdyk

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    Talk about disappointing seasons.  

    Part of the logic behind trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter was handing the team's offensive responsibilities to the younger, more highly-touted guns, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.  

    Giroux has lived up to his end of the bargain, as he has been among the league leaders in points scored all season.  

    But JvR, whose improved production was being counted upon as a given based upon the six-year, $25.5 million contract extension he was awarded over the summer, has been far from Giroux-like.  

    The Middletown, New Jersey native has put up only 19 points (9G, 10A), good enough for ninth on the team, trailing two defensemen (Carle-21; Timonen-24), an undrafted rookie (Read-22) and a 40-year-old man (Jagr-31).

    JvR is reportedly battling some injuries, but his lack of production and no-trade clause that kicks in with his new deal at the end of this season has some fans clamoring for the front office to move him while they still can.

    Given the depth at wing, it would make sense for the Flyers to sit JvR down until he is healthy enough to play at the level he displayed in the playoffs, which leads me to believe they are showcasing him and his toughness by announcing he is playing through injuries in order to improve the defense at the trade deadline.  

    What will JvR's role be the rest of the way?  Matt Read has taken the spot vacated by the injured Jagr on the top line and van Riemsdyk found himself playing on the fourth line for a portion of the Winter Classic.

    Be sure to take notice every time No. 21 is on the ice, as he must redefine (or simply re-find) what he does well if he wishes to continue as a top-six forward for the Flyers.  

Brayden Schenn

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    The crown jewel of the deal that sent Captain Morgan to the Los Angeles Kings finally got his name on an NHL stat sheet, scoring his first career goal and first point as a Philadelphia Flyer in Monday's Winter Classic.  

    Brayden Schenn, who has been limited to nine games with the big club thanks to shoulder, foot and head injuries, will now be looking to get on a roll and prove his worth on a playoff roster.  

    Besides the goal, Schenn displayed another one of his hidden-until-recently attributes, winning 75 percent of his faceoffs in Monday's 3-2 defeat.  

    Schenn's advertised prowess in the faceoff circle would be a great weapon for the Flyers, whose best faceoff man is currently Claude Giroux, who is converting only 51 percent of his draws.  

    Also, improved production from Schenn will make the decision to trade JvR much easier on the front office.  If other young forwards prove they can produce, JvR becomes a great trade asset by which the orange and black can improve their under-performing blue line.  

Kimmo Timonen

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    Kimmo Timonen is one of the players I love to watch every single night.  

    Defensively, Timonen is always in position, and on the other end the assistant captain is one of the most patient players with the puck on his stick in the league.  

    No. 44 is a key contributor on the power play and penalty kill and consistently plays 20-plus minutes per night, blocking shots, absorbing forecheckers and simply getting the job done.  

    Against an offensive club like the Chicago Blackhawks, Timonen's role is highlighted more than usual.  

    Timonen and his D partner Braydon Coburn should see plenty of time against Chi-town's top line—Jonathan Toews centering Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg.  

    While Timonen's role, with or without Chris Pronger in the lineup, is already well defined, how the defense holds up against another top contender and how many minutes Timonen will be counted on to play may force the hand of GM Paul Holmgren, who appears to be evaluating the defensemen within the organization before making a substantial acquisition.  

Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky

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    Philadelphia's hammer and sickle goaltending duo have swapped bouts of inconsistency this year, and it seems once again there is a goalie controversy in the City of Brotherly Love.  

    Bryzgalov played poorly in Tampa Bay last Tuesday and was spelled by Bob, whose tremendous performance in last Thursday's 4-2 victory in Pittsburgh earned him the start in the Winter Classic where expectations were not met.  

    At this moment, the Flyers' official website lists both Bob and Bryz as possible starters, meaning no decision has been made, at least not yet publicly.  

    My money is on Bryzgalov, as he seems like a player who needs to play himself out of a slump, and Bob's last performance did not leave anybody supremely confident in the second-year goalie from Russia.  

    A strong performance by Bryzgalov could silence critics, at least in the short term, and take some of the pressure off until playoff time, allowing the 31-year-old time to play himself into a rhythm.