After an unexpected 0-3-3 start—in which the team itself admitted there was some complacency following a run to the Conference Finals last season—the Philadelphia Flyers reach the midway point of the 2008-09 season back in the thick of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Flyers rifled off four straight wins following their sluggish start and through 43 games this season own an overall record of 23-11-9. Entering Wednesday’s action, Philadelphia’s 55 points placed the team second in the Atlantic Division standings and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers hit their stride in mid-November when they posted a season-high six-game winning streak, which included four one-goal victories. Philly carried that momentum into December winning seven of its first nine games, which again included four victories by just a single goal. The Flyers are 12-3-9 in one-goal games this season and haven’t lost a one-goal decision in regulation since a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning back on Nov. 8.
Philadelphia has relied on a young, potent offense and success on its home ice to climb back into contention in the East. The Flyers are fifth in the NHL in goals scored with 142 and own the East’s third-highest win total at home with 14 victories at the Wachovia Center.
With the season’s second half still left to be played and many of the year’s most important matches still remaining, here’s a look at some of Philly’s most impressive (and disappointing) performances of the first half.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER (Forward): Jeff Carter
It’s hard now to imagine there was a time this past offseason when there was serious debate about which restricted free agent center the Flyers would resign. While R.J. Umberger (traded to Columbus on draft day) has proved a valuable asset to the Blue Jackets organization, Carter has emerged this season as one of the NHL’s true snipers.
Entering Wednesday, Carter led the entire NHL in goals with 29 and was pacing all Flyers in scoring with 47 points. Through 43 games, Carter had already matched his career-high for goals in a single season and was just six points shy of matching his career-best in points.
Carter’s 9 power play goals are tied for seventh in the league and his production there has helped the Flyers post the league’s second-best man advantage, at just under 27 percent. The London, Ontario native’s production has had a direct impact on the Flyers success this season as Philadelphia is 16-2-6 this year when Carter lights the lamp.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER (Defenseman): Kimmo Timonen
There are few blueliners who are as consistent year in and year out as Timonen. The Finnish defender does it all for Philadelphia. He’s missed just one game to this point in the season and his 28 points lead all Philly rearguards.
Timonen logs better than 25 minutes of ice-time for the Flyers and his 80 blocked shots is first on the roster. Timonen has also been a big part of that prolific Philly power play mentioned above. He’s currently second in the NHL with 18 power-play assists and has tallied 20 points this season while skating a man up.
MOST SURPRISING PERFORMANCE: Simon Gagne
There were few who thought after Gagne missed 57 games with a concussion last season that he could bounce back to the 40-goal scorer he was following the lockout. And while Gagne may not quite hit that 40-goal plateau this season he’s giving it his best shot.
Entering Wednesday’s action, Gagne had amassed 18 goals and 42 points and trailed only Carter and Mike Richards in team scoring. More importantly, Gagne had yet to miss a game this season (knock on wood with me Philly) and despite a recent seven-game goal-scoring drought, the winger was still on pace to register 34 goals this season.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PERFORMANCE: Danny Briere
When healthy, Briere has been a point-per-game producer this season. The problem is the second-year Flyer has managed to suit up in just 9 games so far. That’s hardly the kind of attendance record Philadelphia was looking for in handing Briere $6.5 million per year.
After missing the last 20 games with a groin injury, Briere seems set to rejoin the club within a week and his return should help an offense that’s managed just 12 goals in its last 6 games.