5 Takeaways from Philadelphia Flyers Series vs. New Jersey Devils
After a stunning opening round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers pulled off a shocker of a different variety in round two when they were promptly dismissed in five games by the heavily unheralded New Jersey Devils.
After rattling off an overtime thriller in Game 1, the Flyers quickly succumbed to a deeper, more fundamentally sound and ultimately, more driven Devils squad. The brief five-game series revealed both positive and negative elements for the Orange and Black moving forward.
Here's a look at five key takeaways from Philly's second round debacle versus New Jersey.
James Van Riemsdyk Is a Bust
Like the rest of the Flyers, James van Riemsdyk appeared ready to rock in Game 1 against the Devils. The former No.2 overall pick scored a goal, set up the screen for the game-winner in overtime and registered a game-high five shots.
He played with speed and passion and appeared ready to duplicate his postseason efforts from the year prior when he tallied seven goals in 11 playoff games. Unfortunately, also like the rest of the Flyers, it was all down hill after that.
Through the final four games of the series, JVR tallied just one point (assist) while recording a minus 5 plus/minus rating and just 4 shots on goal. What's worse, his ice time continued to plummet as the series progressed showing head coach Peter Laviolette lost faith in the Middletown, New Jersey native's impact. It's worth noting here that van Riemsdyk ended with a measly 10:46 in season-ending Game 5.
Yes he battled injuries throughout the regular season (JVR missed 39 games during the regular year) but after sitting out much of the Pittsburgh series, van Riemsdyk clearly had jump in Game 1 with the Devils but apparently nothing thereafter.
As the years roll along, it doesn't look like the 2007 NHL Draft is going to go down as one of the deepest in NHL history, but it's becoming all too apparent that selecting JVR with the second overall pick that year was a bust. He hasn't at all lived up to potential and now is saddled with injury concerns. As such, his name will mentioned in trade whispers all summer long.
Jake Voracek Is a Revelation
Speaking of the 2007 Draft, one good thing that does seem to have come out of that is recently acquired forward Jake Voracek. Of course Voracek, the seventh overall pick in '07, was part of that blockbuster trade that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus essentially hitting the reset button for the Flyers.
After a serviceable regular season (18 goals, 31 assists in 78 games), the 22-year-old native of Czechoslovakia excelled in the postseason. Voracek finished third among all Flyers in playoff scoring with 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) in 11 games and was one of Philly's few bright spots in the second round notching three assists in the five games.
Moreover, despite the Flyers being outscored 18-11 in the series, Voracek notched just a minus 1 rating and never played fewer than 15:50 in any of the five games. He plays a physically tough and defensively responsible game rarely seen in European players, which is why Laviolette trusts him in all situations.
Voracek is a pending restricted free agent and certainly one of the top offseason priorities for Philadelphia based on his play this spring.
Claude Giroux Is the Real Deal
Yes, Claude Giroux lost his temper in Game 4 with his late second period run-in with Danius Zubrus, and yes, his subsequent one-game suspension certainly diminished any hopes of a Philadelphia come back in the series. Outside of that one occurrence, Giroux has been the best hockey player planet Earth has seen in the last two months.
It speaks volumes of a player whose season has been over for a week and yet he's still the league's leading scorer by four full points. Giroux closed his ridiculous postseason run with 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in 10 games and has cemented his place as one of, if not the best, player in the game today. Despite Philly's lackluster offensive output in the second round, Giroux still managed to post three points in four games and averaged better than 24 minutes per game in those four games in which he did suit up.
Unfortunately, his legacy from Round 2 will be the Zubrus hit and suspension, but that should merely serve as an educational speed bump on the road of what is sure to be a memorable NHL career for #28.
With Chris Pronger's future hanging in the balance, Flyers fans may have already seen the passing of the torch (and the "C") this spring thanks to the emergence of Giroux.
Brayden Scheen Is a Keeper
While Voracek was garnered as a result of the Carter-to-Columbus trade, the other big maneuver pulled off last summer involved shipping former Flyers captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Wayne Simmonds and highly touted prospect Brayden Schenn. One part of that trade was a total dud in these playoffs (Simmonds) but the other (Schenn) proved to be a revelation.
Everyone has heard for years about how good Schenn was going to be, but those whispers turned to reality this spring. After posting just 18 points in 54 regular season games, the former fifth overall selection tallied half as many points in just 11 playoff tilts. Schenn tallied a goal and two assists in the New Jersey series and saw his ice time increase as the series moved along and the stakes were raised.
What's even more encouraging is Schenn's style of play. Early indications are he's a Flyer through and through. He doesn't shy away from physical contact—he relishes it. Schenn appears to enjoy the role of agitator as well, which is something that will certainly endear him to Philly fans for many years to come.
It also helps that along with that physical snarl, Schenn brings an abundance of skill to the ice.
Philly's Goaltending Situation Is a Nightmare
It wouldn't be a postseason article about the Philadelphia Flyers if we didn't address the goaltending concerns that annually plague the Philly crease.
Previously mentioned were the Carter and Richards deals, which were essentially made to free up salary cap space to sign the number one goaltending free agent from a summer ago, Ilya Bryzgalov.
After an up-and-down regular season, Bryz was a total enigma in the postseason. He was downright dreadful in the Pittsburgh series and while he showed glimpses in the second round, he was never able to outright steal a game against the Devils. That's what franchise goaltenders do and that's what Bryzgalov was brought into Philadelphia to do.
Instead, all the Russian netminder could muster was a rather pedestrian 3.02 goals-against average coupled with an equally mediocre .902 save percentage in five games against New Jersey.
Again, there were moments in round two when Bryzgalov was the best player on the ice, but they were nothing more than fleeting moments before the reality of a nightmarish scenario in goal returned to the City of Brotherly Love. Bryzgalov had never been a playoff dynamo in his days in Phoenix. Those questions remain in Philadelphia along with whether Bryz has the mental fortitude to tend goal in a hockey-crazed market like Philly. Meanwhile, fellow Russian Sergei Bobrovsky waits in the wings with still eight more years remaining on Bryzgalov's massive deal from a summer ago.
For better or for worse, the Flyers are stuck with Bryzgalov. His contract is too long and carries too much money to move. As such, Philly needs to move Bobrovsky to acquire defensive depth and needs to bring in a steady veteran netminder to back up Bryz.
Easier said than done I'm sure, but no matter what the universe has to say about it, Bryzgalov is here to stay.