The Philadelphia Flyers could not have started the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season any worse.
Losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres over the weekend have put the Flyers in a quick 0-2 hole in the Atlantic division standings, and there are plenty of problems for the coaches and players to sort out this week.
After not playing a game in 265 days, the Flyers played two in less than 24 hours this weekend, and fatigue was certainly a factor in the third period of the Sabres loss. In a shortened season, fatigue is always going to be an issue, so the Flyers have to get used to dealing with this.
Let's look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the Flyers' first two games of the new season.
The new Flyers captain has been the team's best forward thus far. He has scored two goals (one in each game) and has set up tons of chances for his teammates with his creativity, passing and brilliant vision.
Nearly every time Giroux steps onto the ice, the Flyers create at least one or two scoring chances, and Giroux's playmaking is main reason why. He has great hands, impressive speed and appears to be in great shape to start the season—and playing overseas during the lockout probably helped.
Not too many Flyers players have played up to expectations through two games, but Giroux has been fantastic. He's already proven why winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP is a very real possibility for him this season.
It's going to be very difficult for Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren to send rookie center Scott Laughton back to junior hockey, because he has excelled on the team's third line through two games.
After he plays five games, the team will have to make a decision on his future. Laughton will either stay in the NHL or go back to the CHL, as he is too young to play in the AHL.
Whenever Laughton is on the ice, the Flyers seem to play with a bit more energy. His physical play is contagious, and he's also spent time on the penalty kill.
He has also created scoring chances with his passing skills, vision and as a net-front presence deflecting shots and creating traffic in front of the opposing goaltender.
With Danny Briere unable to start the season because of a wrist injury, Laughton has given the Flyers some important depth at center. Defensive forwards are very important to a physical team like the Flyers, which is why it's not a surprise that he has fit in so well.
When a rookie provides your team with good depth at the most important forward position, is able to kill penalties, excels at both ends of the ice and isn't a liability, you have to keep him on the NHL roster.
Holmgren should send Eric Wellwood to the AHL instead of having Laughton go back to the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. There's no reason to get rid of young guys who work hard and have something to prove.
Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed six goals in two games to start the season, which is a familiar problem for the Flyers.
Bryzgalov was terrible last season, and after the opening weekend's games, it's going to be hard for Flyers fans to still believe that the veteran goaltender will have a bounce-back year.
With that said, it would be unfair to put the entirety of the blame for the Flyers' struggles on Bryzgalov.
The defensemen in front of him have not played well, and he has been forced to bail his team out on the penalty kill way too often. No goalie is going to look good when his defense plays terrible and takes stupid penalties.
However, Bryzgalov has to play better. He cannot give up juicy rebounds that opposing players are able to pounce on. Cody Hodgson's power-play goal late in the third period in the Sabres loss was one Bryzgalov should have saved.
Soft goals deflate teams and ruin their confidence, especially one that is struggling defensively like the Flyers.
Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann did not play well on opening weekend. He hasn't been a factor offensively—which isn't a real surprise since he's never scored more than 12 points in a single season—but his two-way performance has been well below expectations thus far.
He hasn't been able to keep up with speedy forwards, and he hasn't won enough puck battles along the boards and in his own zone.
To be fair, Grossmann has been roughed up a bit in the first two games and looked like he was playing through pain several times. But his play must improve, as he's an important part of the blue line as a top-four defenseman.
Special teams is an area of great concern for head coach Peter Laviolette because his squad cannot struggle in this area of the game when the quality of the goaltending is subpar.
The Flyers are 1-9 on the power play through two games and have failed to score on their three chances with the man advantage in the third period.
The penalty kill has been even worse over the first two games. Philadelphia has killed just four of the nine penalties it has taken thus far and has allowed the most power-play goals in the league.
Since the Flyers play in a division that includes several talented and deep offenses, the penalty killing unit must improve or Philadelphia could be fighting for a playoff spot in the final week of the season.
It's a bit early to fairly grade the James van Riemsdyk-for-Luke Schenn trade made in June, but thus far, the young defenseman has been terrible in his brief Flyers career.
Schenn took three penalties in the Sabres loss, and the Buffalo power play scored on two of them, including the game-winner in the third period.
That penalty occurred because Schenn was unable to match the speed of Sabres forward Marcus Foligno and ended up tripping him.
Schenn was criticized in Toronto for not playing well in his own zone and giving the puck away too easily. His defensive performance to start this season has been awful, and he also has zero points.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, they will have to play Schenn a decent amount of minutes because they don't have enough talent or depth on the blue line to bench him. With that said, Schenn has to be quicker and stronger in his own end or the Flyers defense will continue to struggle.
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