When the Philadelphia Flyers opened their '08-'09 campaign, it looked like the Flyers were in for a long season. However, with the emergence of superstar Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards, the Flyers turned early struggles into a successful end of 2008.
However, there's always a sore spot when the Flyers are involved. They have been injury plagued throughout the entire season. They opened without the services of defenseman Randy Jones (hip surgery) and Derian Hatcher (knee surgery).
Luckily, the impressive play of rookie Luca Sbisa and the acquisition of Andrew Alberts from Boston stabilized the Philadelphia blue line.
Then Paul Holmgren made yet another key move when he brought Matt Carle to Philadelphia in exchange for Steve Downie. Carle offers more then just depth, he gives the Flyers a shooting threat on the powerplay and a consistent defenseman.
Then, perennial All-Star Danny Briere went down with a torn stomach muscle in a 6-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 24, which kept him out of action for six games. Then, due to a nagging groin injury, Briere missed nine games in the month of November.
Upon his return on Dec. 2, Briere left the game due to the same groin injury that has caused him to miss the Flyers' last 13 games and will continue to cause him to miss action until Jan. 6 at the earliest, when the Flyers will face the Washington Capitals.
If things weren't bad enough, concussion-prone Simon Gagne suffered a strained shoulder during the Flyers' 3-2 victory over the Canucks on Tuesday. Although it is not a serious injury, it is one that the Flyers need to be careful with. Also, Gagne's history of multiple concussions should worry Flyers fans especially since Gagne hasn't played an entire season since 2006.
Say what you want about the Flyers' front office, but GM Paul Holmgren has done a great job building not only a talented nucleus, but a capable farm system and reserve unit.
Youngsters Claude Giroux, Andreas Nodl, Josh Gratton, and Jon Kalinski have provided energy and consistency in the absence of key starters.
As happy as I am with the play of the youngsters, if the Flyers want to compete, they need to get healthy. They cannot compete with the likes of the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh Penguins in a seven-game series if they're not healthy.
I'm sure everyone would love to see Danny Briere and Simon Gagne come back better then ever, but the Flyers have to proceed with caution and make sure we have our superstars available in the playoffs, when they need them the most.
In 2009, I see both Danny Briere and Simon Gagne returning and contributing to a talented and well rounded team. Also, former captain Derian Hatcher will provide a spark down the stretch and give the Flyers a gutsy performance similar to the one he gave in the playoffs last season and thus solidifying a defensive core which already includes the likes of Kimmo Timmonen, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Randy Jones.
A stable defense coupled with balanced scoring and a hot goalie wins playoff games. The Flyers have all three.
- Stable Defense- Kimmo Timmonen is one of the best defensemen in the league. He's extremely underrated but he does all the little things right. He's an extraordinary player who can shut down the top line of the opposing team. He is also the quarterback of one of the most potent powerplays in the NHL and he has a great hockey mind. When paired with Braydon Coburn, they give the Flyers a defensive duo that is capable of shutting down opposing scorers.
- Balanced Scoring- Not only do the Flyers have the leading scorer in the NHL Jeff Carter, they have a plethora of players who will surpass 20 goals and some will flirt with 30. Jeoffry Lupul, Scott Hartnell, and Scottie Upshall will each reach 20 goals. I anticipate Mike Knuble and Danny Briere(barring injuries) will tally between 25 and 30 while Simon Gagne and Mike Richards will surpass 30. Not to mention Jeff Carter who's on pace to tally 50.
- Hot Goaltender- Last postseason, Martin Biron proved he had what it takes to be a starting goalie. His performance against the Capitals and Canadians rivaled any great postseason performance. He also has the safety net of Antero Nittymaki, who is an extremely capable backup.
I truly believe if all these factors favor the Flyers in 2009, they will be a force in the 2009 playoffs and will compete with any team for Lord Stanley's Cup.