5 Statistics That Define the Philadelphia Flyers' Season Thus Far
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This is part one of a two-part series featuring the Philadelphia Flyers' 2011-2012 campaign. In this piece, I will review the first part of the Flyers' season with respect to five specific metrics which encapsulate their season thus far. In part two, which I will post during All-Star Weekend, I will make "Five Bold Predictions for the Rest of the Philadelphia Flyers' 2011-2012 Season."
At the All-Star break, the Philadelphia Flyers hold a record of 29-14-5, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They have experienced some of the highest highs and the lowest lows at this juncture, and I will examine their early-season failures and successes.
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71: Points by Rookies
Matt Read accepts congratulations after tallying one of his 15 goals, which is tops among NHL rookies.
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Where would the Flyers be without the superb performances of their rookies? Matt Read leads the rookie race with 15 goals, and Sean Couturier co-leads all rookies (Carl Hagelin, New York Rangers) with a plus-13 rating.
Most scouts believed that Matt Read's diminutive size (5'10", 185 pounds at outset of season) would render him ineffective and irrelevant in the NHL. The Flyers' scouts thought otherwise and signed the undrafted 25-year-old free agent from Bermidji State University to a three-year, entry-level NHL contract.
On June 23, 2011, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren made two cataclysmic moves:
1. Trading then-captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for forward Brayden Schenn, the rights to winger Wayne Simmonds and a second-round draft pick.
Schenn has battled through a series of injuries (shoulder, concussion, leg) and established chemistry on the Flyers' third line with the aforementioned Simmonds and Read. Due to recent injuries to other players, Schenn has been playing on the top unit with All-Stars Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. He now has five points in 20 games.
2. Trading Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the rights to right wing Jakub Voracek and the rights to the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft.
With that draft pick, the Flyers selected two-way center Sean Couturier, whose draft stock plummeted due to an illness in his final year of junior hockey. Forget the points for one moment for Couturier and Read. Who has Peter Laviolette trusted in penalty-kill situations the entire season? Who has Laviolette trusted to preserve a one-goal lead in the waning moments of game? Among others, Couturier and Read have earned the right to play in those situations. Couturier has a plus-13 rating and 19 points on the season.
Defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon has contributed on both ends of the ice, as he has established a comfort zone in 28 games following the potential season-ending injury to captain Chris Pronger. Bourdon is by no means a feared shutdown defender nor a strong power-play threat. He has brought physicality and energy to his game on a nightly basis.
In 11 games with the Flyers, Erik Gustafsson has posted an impressive plus-six mark. He has been a steadying influence on the blue line and plays a simple and positionally-savvy game.
.895: Ilya Bryzgalov's Save Percentage
Ilya Bryzgalov appears dejected after allowing a goal in a shootout loss to the Boston Bruins last Sunday.
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“So either one of the goalies (Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton) we have has to step up in training camp, or we have to make improvements to make sure it happens. But we are NEVER going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through in the last couple of years again.”
These were the fiery words of frustrated Flyers chairman Ed Snider following the Boston Bruins' sweep of the Flyers in the second round of last year's playoffs.
Paul Holmgren and the Flyers' brass made the aforementioned trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, in part, to open the needed cap space in order to sign free-agent netminder Ilya Bryzgalov to an eye-opening nine-year, $51 million pact.
So far, the only thing that Bryzgalov has seemed to master this season is his knowledge of the universe. Bryzgalov emerged as the star of HBO's 24/7 and seemed more concerned about how many galaxies are in the universe than how many goals he was allowing while between the pipes. Widespread speculation has abounded that Bryzgalov, who came from a smaller media market in Phoenix, has been awestruck by the attention and coverage he has received in Philadelphia. His sometimes outspoken personality led the Flyers to institute a gag order of sorts on Mr. Universe, only to retract it because it violated the current collective bargaining agreement.
Bryzgalov will need to re-focus his attention in the second half of the season if the Flyers are going to become a contender.
6: Players to Sustain a Concussion
Flyers' captain Chris Pronger suffered a severe concussion earlier this season.
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The Philadelphia Flyers have suffered more concussions this season than any team in the NHL. The victims have been Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Chris Pronger, James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere. At the All-Star break, the Flyers have lost 64 man-games to injury in all. Read, Schenn, and Giroux have returned from their concussions and not missed additional games.
Arguably, the most significant injury is the concussion of captain Chris Pronger, who had tallied 12 points in 13 games this season. The 6'6", 220-pound veteran has not played since November 19th in Winnipeg. After the game, Pronger complained that the crowd noise caused ringing and general discomfort in his head. In addition to Pronger's points, the Flyers lost their leader, catalyst, power-play coach on the ice and crease-clearer. While the Flyers seem to have organized their defense in Pronger's absence, they lack that crucial physical presence in front of their own net. The Flyers do not expect Pronger to return to the lineup this season, and given the grim reports, his career may be in doubt. Pronger has been placed on long-term injury reserve (LTIR).
Forward Danny Briere suffered a concussion against the New Jersey Devils last Saturday and has missed the last two games heading into the break. Briere's presence in the lineup naturally alleviates pressure from top-line center Claude Giroux, who has been pressing of late. Giroux has only tallied one goal (not counting shootouts) in his last 15 games, and he is a minus-eight in 12 January games. Jaromir Jagr's second bout with a groin injury is also contributing to Giroux's scoring woes. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has indicated that Briere is still out indefinitely.
Briere's injury has also required rookie center Sean Couturier to move to the second line. Couturier has seemed a tad out of sorts in the last couple games. Head coach Peter Laviolette has put Couturier on a power-play unit with fellow rookies Matt Read and Brayden Schenn in the last two games. In both games, the rookie trio had trouble entering the offensive zone with speed and positioning themselves appropriately on the power play. They also seemed to lose an exceptionally high number of loose-puck battles on the power play.
The status of Briere following All-Star weekend may determine whether he can return to the lineup soon, or whether the Flyers may want to consider placing him on LTIR.
1-4-0-1: Flyers' Combined Record Against the Bruins and Rangers
The New York Rangers celebrate at Citizens Bank Park after defeating the Flyers in the 2012 Winter Classic.
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The Flyers opened the season with an impressive victory against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins, in Boston. Since then, they have not beaten the Bruins nor the New York Rangers in four attempts.
With the Rangers riding Vezina Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist, and with the Bruins steamrolling opposing clubs with a combination of high scoring, stifling defense and the goaltending of Tim Thomas, it stands to reason that the Flyers would have to go through at least one, if not both, of these foes in the playoffs in order to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Flyers were sluggish in the first meeting with the Rangers, falling 2-0. In their second meeting, Ilya Bryzgalov allowed a couple soft goals as the Rangers downed the Flyers 4-2. Their third meeting, the Winter Classic, clearly added the most frustration of all. The Flyers led 2-0, courtesy of Brayden Schenn's first NHL goal and Claude Giroux's only tally in January.
Then Mike Rupp took over.
His screened shot on the following shift cut the lead in half. Rupp added fuel to fire by giving the Flyers' bench a Jagr-arian salute, which drew the ire of Claude Giroux, amongst others. HBO's 24/7 showed that the Flyers became almost obsessed with exacting revenge for that act rather than focusing on their game plan. The Flyers led 2-1 after two periods of play, but Mike Rupp tied the game on a short-side shot, which Sergei Bobrovsky should have saved. Brad Richards scored on a rebound to give the Rangers a 3-2 advantage. The game marked the first time all season that the Flyers lost in regulation when leading after two periods of play.
In the Flyers' second meeting against the Bruins, on Black Friday in Philadelphia, the Flyers fell behind early and never got into the game. The Bruins embarrassed the Flyers by a final count of 6-0. Last Sunday in Philadelphia, the Flyers fell to the Bruins but found some solace in the loss. Scott Hartnell tallied a hat trick, the Flyers rallied from an early 1-0 deficit and Brayden Schenn exhibited his skills as a fill-in for Jaromir Jagr on the top line. On the flip side, Ilya Bryzgalov allowed two questionable goals in regulation and went 0-for-2 in shootout save attempts.
The injury-riddled Flyers will not receive any pity or mercy, and they know that. They will need better goaltending and sharper overall play to defeat both the Rangers and Bruins. They will have three more shots at the Rangers and one more shot at the Bruins in the second half of the season.
162: Goals Scored by the Flyers at the All-Star Break
Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux celebrate a goal scored in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
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Scott Hartnell has scored 25 goals, and Claude Giroux has set up 37 goals. When healthy, Jaromir Jagr has provided the ideal complement to the line with 12 goals, including five power-play tallies.
Veterans Danny Briere and Wayne Simmonds have provided 13 goals apiece, and Max Talbot has found the net 12 times, one fewer than his career high. Injured forward James van Riemsdyk has chipped in with 11 goals. The rookies (Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn, Harry Zolnierczyk and Marc-Andre Bourdon) have collectively contributed more than their expected share, with 34 flashing red horns.
Given that the Flyers hold just a three-point advantage (one game in hand on Pittsburgh, three games in hand on Ottawa) over Pittsburgh and Ottawa for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, as well Ilya Bryzgalov's struggles between the pipes, where would the Flyers be if they were not second to the Boston Bruins in goals scored in the Eastern Conference?
Unless Ilya Bryzgalov (or Sergei Bobrovsky for that matter) can yield two goals or less on a consistent basis, the Flyers will need to continue their prolific scoring into the second half of the season.
Goaltending and injuries will lead to important decisions by Flyers' management. Check back during All-Star weekend for my five predictions for the second half of the Flyers' season.
Conclusion and a Look Ahead
Paul Holmgren may be doing this frequently from now until February 27th.
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The Flyers have 34 games to play in the 2011-2012 regular season. They will encounter a myriad of tests, including how they will respond without center Danny Briere as wells as how Ilya Bryzgalov will compete over the course of the rest of the season. Of interest, the Flyers have probably circled games against the Bruins and Rangers, two teams that they need to know they can beat in anticipation of a potential playoff matchup.
General manager Paul Holmgren indicated on Wednesday that he likes his team, and that he is in no rush to make a trade. I think he knows that he needs to upgrade, particularly on the blue line. In addition, the Flyers may need to add top-six scoring, depending upon the severity of Danny Briere's concussion.
As always, the goal in Philadelphia is the re-capture Lord Stanley's Cup.