Philadelphia Flyers: Grading Their Performance for the First Half of the Season
The Philadelphia Flyers will be playing their league-leading 28th game of the abbreviated season and are well into their second half of a grueling schedule.
After a nightmare start to the season, Philly leveled off its play but is still far from early-season expectations.
The first half of the season played out like a Dorney Park roller coaster, full of climbs, drops, stops and starts. And with only 21 games remaining, it will be extremely difficult to make up ground in the Eastern Conference, especially since every team has a game in hand on them.
Offense, defense, special teams, goaltending and coaching were evaluated and graded on performance from start though the season's midpoint.
Here are the grades for the Philadelphia Flyers first half of the season.
A bright spot for the Flyers has been the improved play of their offense, specifically their forwards.
In January, Philly averaged two goals a game, but take away a seven-goal game against the Florida Panthers, and the team averaged only one goal per contest. The offense was flat and out of sync.
Additionally, all-star forward Scott Hartnell suffered a broken foot in the third game of the season and missed a month of action. Wayne Simmonds also missed a couple games due to a concussion.
But February was a different month, and the Flyers’ forwards elevated their play. Simmonds turned in two Gordie Howe hat tricks in one week and established himself as the best all-around player for the team.
Youngsters Brayden Schenn and Matt Read, who missed some time to injury, consistently played solid hockey each night—creating scoring opportunities and netting a couple goals themselves.
Captain Claude Giroux suffered a severe slump early on but reclaimed his elite status when Hartnell returned to the ice. His electric play has helped the Flyers battle in many games this season, yet he still has much to prove in his first year as the team's leader.
Zac Rinaldo has blossomed into a more disciplined player, now drawing more penalties than committing them. He has truly developed into a nice role player for the Flyers.
The Flyers MVP has been Jake Voracek, who leads the team in goals, assists and obviously points. Every time he touches the puck, good things happen. Voracek finished with 27 points through the team's first 24 games.
The Orange and Black entered the season extremely deep at forward and, despite their slow start, have proven their worth on the ice. Philly must now maintain its 11th ranked goals per game average, while understanding the importance of playing a full, 60-minute game each night.
And unlike the forward position, Philadelphia began the season with many questions regarding defensive depth.
Veteran Kimmo Timonen is the defensive leader but has noticeably lost a step on the ice—causing him to commit more penalties and being caught out of position. The 37-year-old blueliner, who is still an effective player, has racked up 26 penalty minutes through the first 24 games. Last season, he had only 12 total minutes in the box after the same amount of games played.
Newcomer and youngster Luke Schenn has played exceptional in some areas but horrible in others. The massive defender is currently fourth in the league with 103 hits but has suffered from untimely turnovers in the Flyers zone—leading to opponent's scoring chances and pressure on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Braydon Coburn has been a turnover machine, as he currently ranks fourth in the NHL with 30 giveaways on the season. This stat must drastically improve for the sake of the team.
Unfortunately, the Flyers' most versatile defenseman, Andrej Meszaros, played only four games in the first half due to a shoulder injury in January. Mez will be heavily counted on as the season rolls along.
Philly lacked cohesiveness and chemistry on defense, specifically in the first half of the season. Different line combinations, injuries and mental mistakes played a major role in the team's disappointing season.
If the Flyers have any chance of making the playoffs, the team's defense must play smarter hockey and give Bryzgalov a fighting shot.
Philadelphia's special teams play was downright awful in the month of January.
At the time, the biggest question marks surrounding the team were: Can they score on the man advantage and can they kill the power play?
In February, the team answered both questions.
Philly would go on to kill 63-69 penalties (91.3%) and are currently ranked 11th on the kill.
The Flyers would also capitalize on their own power plays beginning in February, converting 17-62 attempts (27.4%), as the team currently ranks fifth in the NHL on the man advantage.
Voracek leads the team with seven power-play goals, and Timonen leads with 23 power-play assists. Giroux has been solid all season serving on both the kill and man advantage.
The team completely turned its season around on special teams and appeared to iron out all early-season issues. Philadelphia must continue to dominate this area of its game to extend the season into the playoffs.
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Ilya Bryzgalov has been a bit of an anomaly this season, and this time it's not due to his personality.
The Flyers goaltender began the season extremely hot and was the team's most consistent player early in the first half of the season. Even during Philly's rough patch in January, Bryz carried a strong .924 save percentage for the month.
As the season progressed, the Flyers defense grew worse, and Bryzgalov felt the heat. His save percentage dropped to .892 for the month of February, along with his confidence. He was pulled from two games and visibly upset.
Recently, the outspoken goalie bluntly stated the Flyers were not good and not where they want to be at this point in the season.
He was correct.
Bryz has played consistent hockey throughout the season, while clocking the most time in net for all goalies in the NHL. He's played better than last season but not by much and with limited help.
The Flyers two backup goalies, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher have played sparingly throughout the season, contributing very little.
If this team wants to contend for the playoffs, the defense will have to bail out Bryz from time to time, but ultimately the Flyers goalie must play the best hockey of his career during crunch time, especially with questionable reserves behind him.
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Coach Peter Laviolette isn't to fully blame for the Flyers' mediocre first half, but he isn't off the hook either.
The fiery and passionate coach, known for preparing his club for each game, has come up empty in this department. Whether it was the opening of a game, beginning of any period or final minutes of the third, the Flyers just seemed unprepared.
Preparation is crucial, especially during a 48-game season.
Lavy will always use his patented, early timeout to fire up the troops, but that magic can only work so much.
The Flyers have also struggled with penalties and have led the NHL in this category for much of the season. Everyone knows the Broad Street Bullies will never back down from a fight, but too many men on the ice penalties and boarding calls are unacceptable at this point in the season.
Line changes have also been an issue with slow shifts or confusion on the bench, leading to odd-man rushes and penalties. This issue is a direct reflection of coach Laviolette and his assistants' failure to execute simple fundamentals.
Now Lavy does have some factors going against him this season, as well. According to Quant Hockey, the Flyers have the second oldest team in the NHL—even with a plethora of young forwards.
Injuries have also played a key role in shuffling around line combinations and impeding cohesion among players.
Lavy's job isn't on the chopping block, but he must prepare his assistants and players to begin playing smarter hockey and finish the season strong.