Philadelphia Flyers: 7 Reasons the All-Star Break Came at the Perfect Time
The NHL, with the exception of an NBC Sports' national game tonight between Detroit and Montreal, wrapped up its unofficial first half of the season Tuesday, the final full night of action before a week long All-Star break.
The Philadelphia Flyers have much to consider during this week of inaction following their shootout victory over the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers (tied with the Washington Capitals; although they would all be tied with New Jersey for fourth place in the Atlantic division with 55 points a piece).
Sure, the season has started off well. The Flyers are second in the Atlantic Division and fourth overall (third most points) in the Eastern Conference with a 29-14-5 record through the first 48 games.
63 points before the All-Star break is a solid output considering the roster turnover in the offseason, but the Flyers are 1-4-1 against the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers—their main competition in the Eastern Conference, a record that does not bode well for any potential playoff match-up.
The stretch drive begins in seven days, however, as the post-break sprint to the playoffs begins next Tuesday, when the Flyers host the Winnipeg Jets in their first game back.
Considering the "real season" is just about to begin, here are the seven reasons the All-Star break has come at the perfect time for the Philadelphia Flyers.
With team captain and anchor to the defense Chris Pronger already sidelined indefinitely with a mysterious brain injury, Danny Briere and James van Riemsdyk are the latest Fly Guys to fall victim to the concussion epidemic.
This week-long intermission in between games gives Briere (30 points) and JvR (22 points), two key cogs to the offense, the necessary recovery time without the pressure to return to the ice immediately.
Looking back on HBO's 24/7 with Laviolette and the rest of the team's encouraging, yet pressure-filled sentiments for Claude Giroux to return to the lineup shortly after suffering a concussion, a week away from such pressures will allow the players a greater ability to assess their own health and make decisions that will both benefit themselves and the team.
In the Flyers' first 17 games this season, Claude Giroux scored goals at a torrid pace—netting 11 in that span.
The 31 games since then have not been nearly as productive, with G having missed 4 games with a concussion and only scoring seven goals since his two goal outing on November 14th in Carolina (the 17th game of the season).
While Giroux's play-making is still landing him assists and keeping him on a pace with the highest scorers in the league, the Flyers are counting on their 24-year-old phenom to get back to his MVP goal-scoring pace if they are going to legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup.
Coach Laviolette has urged the young superstar to play loose and have fun, and it seems the All-Star game is the perfect opportunity for Giroux to do just that.
Skating with and against the league's top players, Giroux will realize he belongs where he is, and the jovial, try-to-make-a-beautiful-play atmosphere of the All-Star Game could be just what the doctor ordered to get No. 28 back in the groove.
The All-Star break is the last stop before the NHL's February 27th trade deadline and it will serve as a period of reflection for the front office.
This past summer's overhaul can be labeled a success as Max Talbot, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek all continue to grow into their roles in Lavy's system—all the while the team fights for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
But some issues still need sorting.
Is JvR worth the no-trade clause that begins next season? Is Sergei Bobrovsky more valuable as a backup or trade bait? How possible is signing Matt Carle to an extension, and would that money be put to better use elsewhere?
And finally, will any of these pieces land the Flyers the defenseman they need to bolster their blueline in the absence of Chris Pronger, and the lackluster performances by all other veteran D-men not named Timonen?
With a week to assess the current injuries and the trade climate, with the deadline now 33 days away, expect the front office to come out swinging following the break.
And if there's one thing that gets this town excited, it's trade rumors.
Kimmo Timonen is in the midst of another stellar season on the Philly blueline.
Timonen's 29 assists rank him second on the Flyers (Giroux 37), third among all D-men (Brian Campbell 32, Erik Carlsson 40) and is the ninth highest total in the NHL overall.
Kimmo's +13 rating is second behind Scott Hartnell (+18) on the Flyers, and the ninth highest total among the league's defensemen.
In almost 22 minutes of ice-time per game Timonen kills penalties, quarterbacks the power play, blocks shots, takes hits to make plays, and leads by example in every aspect of team play.
No. 44's efforts have been rewarded with his fourth career selection to the All-Star game—his second as a Flyer.
But at 36-years-old and seemingly no help from the rest of the D or goaltenders, and no Chris Pronger to defer a few big minutes to, the possibility of the "Fly Guys" riding their one star blueliner down to empty by the playoffs is once again looming.
Although Timonen, a 13-year veteran, has elected to play in the mid-winter classic, this time of rest and recovery should still benefit him.
The All-Star game will be a fine scrimmage for Timonen to keep his timing and sharpness, while the time off (and the less-than-competitive nature of the All-Star game) will be a welcomed recovery period for the 5'10", 194 pound Finn.
The Flyers have accumulated 38 points in the standings over their first 27 road games. Their 18-7-2 record away from Philadelphia is the best traveling record in the NHL.
Unfortunately, the Wells Fargo Center has not been the same advantage it has been in years passed.
Philly's 11-7-3 record at the Center (plus one game in Citizens Bank Park) is second worst in the East, in front of only the lowly Montreal Canadiens, who currently sit eight seeds and 18 points behind the Flyers in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Flyers have been bullied on Broad Street all season long.
As a fan I am hoping this break serves as a reset for some of the more disturbing trends in the season so far, most notably their home town performances (reducing defensive zone turnovers wouldn't hurt, either).
Lavy can sit down and assess what has made his young team so successful on the road and figure out how to apply that strategy to games in the City of Brotherly Love.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Flyers host the 10th place Winnipeg Jets (50 points) who, despite their struggles, have defeated the Flyers twice in two games by a combined score of 15-12, including a seesaw 9-8 contest in Philadelphia on October 27.
Beating a team who has caused the Flyers fits, especially at the Wells Fargo Center to begin the playoff sprint, would be evidence the Fly Guys are progressing as a team, as well as aiding the fans in turning the Big Joint back into the most feared building in hockey (and I don't want to hear complaints about the building, as the 76ers have an 8-1 record in the same "sterile, family friendly shopping mall" of a home arena).
Sunday's loss to the Boston Bruins, as frustrating, heart-wrenching, and mind-numbing as it may have been, could be seen as a building block for the future of the franchise.
Playing without Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, JvR, Andreas Lilja, Chris Pronger, and in front of an empty net (don't worry, I'll get to Bryz), the Flyers took the defending Stanley Cup Champions through overtime before eventually losing in a shootout.
The Flyers dressed eight rookies Sunday: Marc-Andre Bourdon, Sean Couturier, Erik Gustafsson, Ben Holmstrom, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Tom Sestito and Harry Zolnierczyk. Oh, and Zac Rinaldo was scratched.
The Flyers have counted on rookies in big spots this season, and for their efforts Couturier (+13 - leads all rookies) and Read (15 goals - leads all rookies) have been selected to participate in the All-Star festivities.
As bright as the future may seem I know Flyers' fans are concerned with winning this year, every year, no excuses- we have all heard a lifetime's worth of them in the city.
But the "rookie wall" can be a very real cliff that many young players not used to playing amassed minutes in so many games against such tough competition see their production swan dive late in the season, when their teams need them most.
Over Couturier's three years in the QMJHL with Drummondville, he never played more than 82 games in a season.
Matt Read was playing less than 40 games a year at Bemidji State.
This All-Star break will serve two purposes for the Flyers' youngsters. First, even for the two Flyers involved in the All-Star weekend activities, it will be a much needed break heading into the toughest stretch of their careers.
Secondly, the All-Stars will get a chance to realize their accomplishments and rub shoulders with hockey's biggest names. They will not only know what it takes to get to that elite level, but also get a chance to observe and learn from the players who stay there. Then, when that dreaded "rookie wall" is lurking up on them they will have the confidence to continue doing what got them in a position to have such great on-ice responsibilities their first year in the league in the first place.
The best part is Couturier and Read will be able to pass the knowledge they absorb onto Harry Z, Schenn, and the rest of the group.
And with Schenn beginning to find his legs and his confidence, the rookies will continue to challenge each other, both directly and indirectly, an internal competition that can only benefit the team.
I have attempted to stay positive with Ilya Bryzgalov, making myself believe his struggles were akin to Pedro Cerrano "just lying in the weeds," thinking, of course, he would come out of his slump at some point.
It has reached the point where poor performances are the norm from the $51 Million Master of the Universe, and a solid performance is like every other "elite" goalie's flop- the statistical anomaly that proves the "any given game" cliché more than it actually speaks to the netminder's performance.
Forget being the starting goaltender for a Stanley Cup contending team, Bryzgalov does not look like he belongs in the NHL right now.
But maybe this break is just what the orange and black cosmonaut needs to get his head straight (he's got a nine year deal with a no movement clause, I am forcing myself to resign to Bryz being the Flyers' goalie for the foreseeable future).
He certainly is not an All-Star, and that should sting him.
Bryzgalov was brought to Philly to backstop the Flyers to the Stanley Cup, and finally finish the puzzle that had been missing pieces for most of the last 35 years.
But alas, the most complimentary thing I can say about Bryzgalov is that his name is fun to write in cursive (the "y-z-g" is an interesting combination, give it a try).
After seeing Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya's backup, outperform him in the final game before the break, the only possible positive outcome is Bryz's shame and humiliation motivate him to become the goalie who finished second in Vezina Trophy voting last season.
And if this little time off doesn't do that for Bryzgalov, then at least this week without watching or hearing him will keep Flyers' fans from tearing their hair out over yet another bust between the pipes.