The Philadelphia Flyers began their season awfully slow and have struggled to play consistent, fundamental hockey all year, but it's still too early to count them out.
There is hope.
As the team enters its second half of this abbreviated season, the Flyers still have many issues to iron out before being labeled a contender. Specifically playing more complete, thorough games and improving on defense.
That being said, here are five reasons the Flyers should not be dismissed.
Flyers fans can call off the search warrant and investigation team, Claude Giroux has finally found his way home.
Maybe it was the pressure of the Flyers captaincy or the injuries suffered by key teammates. Either way, G was lost on the ice and fans were worried about their young star.
But he's returned.
Giroux has scored at least one point in eight of his last nine games and is currently on a six-game point streak. The Flyers captain has challenged his teammates to step up their play, showing true leadership skills, while personally backing up his own words.
This Flyers team will go as far as Giroux will lead them. His teammates are responsive and ready to follow their chosen leader. If he can remain hot and set an example for the organization, the Flyers could be a force closing out the season.
What more can you say about the return of Scott Hartnell?
Philadelphia was lifeless and searching for an identity, and Hartsy was able to awaken the dormant beast. The All-Star forward has played in three games since his return from a broken foot and totaled three points.
He was also slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in his initial return to the ice, so we all know the injury did not change his mentality.
But the most important element Hartnell brings to the team is his game-changing ability. His personality and drive can dictate the theme of any game, allowing the Flyers to play their rough, hard-nosed style of hockey at home or on the road.
Remember when the Flyers were struggling to capitalize on the power play and downright awful on the penalty kill?
Seems like eons ago.
Early in the season, many others, including myself, wrote numerous articles expressing ways the team could improve on special-teams play or show any signs of life during the man-advantage.
Currently, Philadelphia is ranked eighth on the power play and 11th on the penalty kill. Specifically, in the month of February, the Flyers were able to kill off 55-60 (91.7 percent) of their opponent's power-play attempts
This major issue appears to have been solved and should help the team's fight for a playoff spot.
Several Philadelphia Flyers forwards have been playing lights-out hockey in the month of February.
Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo and Jake Voracek have elevated their play to another level, and the Flyers are reaping the benefits. With Matt Read being out for at least another five weeks, these forwards must continue their offensive dominance.
Simmonds might be playing the best all-around hockey for the club. He's fighting, scoring, checking, passing and doing everything else in between. He's a man possessed on the ice.
Schenn has blossomed into a legitimate offensive threat. After posting a total of two points in the month of January, he erupted for 16 points in February.
Rinaldo appears to have matured overnight. The hot-headed forward, who usually opts to drop the gloves over walking away, is a much more disciplined hockey player—though he still likes to talk a good game. He is currently fifth in the league for hits and a true Broad Street Bully.
Lastly, Voracek has been the Flyers' MVP this season. Like Schenn, he started the season slow with three points in January, but ended February with 21 points. He leads the team in points, goals and assists and is playing the best hockey oh his career.
Making a playoff run will be much easier if these players can continue their sensational play.
Before the trade, Gagne was scoreless, losing ice time and unhappy with the Kings. In his Philly debut on Wednesday, the longtime fan favorite scored his first goal while playing 16 minutes of total ice time.
But his lengthy postseason experience may come second in importance to his veteran leadership. Philly's young and talented forward Sean Couturier may benefit the most from this trade. If Couts can learn from Gagne—the way Giroux learned from Jagr—it could help take his game to the next level.
Everyone knows Gagne was not a long-term solution, but during this abbreviated season, a short-term plan might be all that's needed to push the Flyers over the hump.