Things have started to turn around in Philadelphia.
After opening the season with just one win in their first eight outings, the Flyers have won 12 of 22 games since. Philly captured nine wins in a 15-game month of November, which included a run of seven consecutive games earning at least one standings point.
Even still, things are far from fixed in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Flyers are currently sixth in the terribly mediocre Metropolitan Division and 12th in the 16-team Eastern Conference. As such, much still needs to change if Philadelphia hopes to avoid missing out on postseason play for just the third time in the last 20 years.
Here's a look at one improvement each of the Flyers' lines must make.
The trio of Giroux, Hartnell and Voracek is certainly capable of producing offense. Unfortunately, through Philadelphia’s first 30 games, they haven’t converted at the clip the Flyers are used to.
Moving forward, that line must convert more of its offensive opportunities if Philly is to have any chance of returning to the playoffs.
Through a combined 86 games to date, Giroux, Hartnell and Voracek have combined for just 15 goals. Hartnell leads the trio with six tallies while Giroux checks in with five conversions and Voracek just four markers.
Meanwhile, Philly’s top line accounts for three of the club’s top four shot producers having registered 228 shots through just over a third of the 2013-14 season. Giroux leads the Orange and Black with 83 shots on goal while Hartnell and Voracek are second and fourth with 75 and 70 shots respectively.
That means Philadelphia’s most imposing offensive unit is connecting on just 6.6 percent of its scoring chances. In a division featuring top lines that boast the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Eric Staal, John Tavares and Rick Nash, that simply isn’t good enough.
Philadelphia’s captain averaged a goal every 3.05 games over the last two seasons but is lighting the lamp in just one out of every six games this year. Meanwhile, coming off a career-high 22 goals in last season’s lockout-shortened campaign, Voracek is connecting in just one out of every 7.5 outings this year.
Teams go as their stars go and Philly’s top line stars must get going.
Philadelphia’s second line was starting to develop some really nice chemistry between Vincent Lecavalier, Schenn and Simmonds but the Orange and Black were dealt a crushing blow earlier this week when it was learned that Lecavalier would miss the next three to four weeks with a lower back injury.
The challenge for the team’s second unit now is to maintain that solid production without one of the club’s key offensive contributors.
Despite missing eight of Philly’s opening 30 games, the 33-year-old Lecavalier is still fifth on the roster in scoring and tied for the team lead with nine goals. Now Schenn, Simmonds and 25-year-old Austrian rookie Michael Raffl must attempt to provide sparks of offense without him.
Schenn and Simmonds have both had solid starts to the season contributing 16 and 15 points respectively and have managed two goals, eight assists and 10 points in eight contests without Lecavalier. Meanwhile, Raffl, who has produced a goal and four points in 18 games this season (three points of which came in eight Lecavalier-less outings) will be thrown into the mix on Philly’s secondary unit.
The Flyers are a dismal 2-5-1 without Lecavalier this season and have been outscored 27-17 without the veteran power forward in the lineup. Philadelphia will face the remainder of 2013 without his services and must find a way to continue to produce second-line offense despite his absence in order to stay in the mix in the East.
Philadelphia’s most balanced line, the trio of Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Steve Downie have done everything the club has asked of them.
In fact, the only improvement to suggest for a line that accomplishes its task night after night after night is to simply continue filling the role its filled so admirably to date.
Philly’s third line is the perfect checking line that’s incredibly difficult for the opposition to play against while still contributing offensively.
Couturier, Read and Downie have combined for a plus-seven rating on a roster that featured only six plus skaters heading into Wednesday’s showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks. Couturier leads all Flyers with a plus-six rating while Downie is tied for second at plus-three.
Meanwhile, the well-balanced trio has produced a combined 15 goals and 38 points in 74 games with all but six of those points coming at even strength. Read is tied for the team lead with nine goals while Couturier is tied for second among all Flyers with 10 assists.
Having allowed just 78 goals against to date, Philadelphia has allowed the fifth-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference and the Couturier, Downie and Read line has been a huge part of that defensive success. The objective now is to ensure their solid play continues through season’s end.
The role of a fourth line is to provide energy while being difficult for the opposition to play against. Philadelphia’s trio of Jay Rosehill, Adam Hall and Zac Rinaldo has done the former but not the latter.
The Flyers’ fourth line has combined for 132 minutes in penalties and 153 hits in just 79 games. The standout within the unit is Rinaldo who leads all Philly skaters with 81 penalty minutes and is tied for seventh among all NHLers with 100 hits.
Unfortunately, a line that is tasked with keeping the opposition off the scoreboard has produced a minus-14 rating through just over a third of the 2013-14 campaign. Rinaldo boasts one the lowest plus-minus ratings on the team at minus-six while Rosehill and Hall are both minus-four.
That line needs to continue to play with the kind of energy that’s produced the penalty minute and hit totals they’ve accumulated to date but has to find a way to surrender fewer goals against. Having compiled just two goals and four points this year, this unit can’t rely on its offensive abilities to outscore the lines its matched up against. Instead, Rinaldo, Rosehill and Hall have to find a way to shut down their opponents.
If not, the minuses will continue to pile up for this trio.