As the Philadelphia Flyers head into late January, their biggest concern remains their defense.
Entering the season, goaltending was the biggest question mark according to most experts. Early in the new campaign, the Flyers struggled to put pucks in the net. Both of those issues have been more or less resolved.
But the inconsistent play of the Philadelphia blueliners remains a problem that needs to be resolved as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the trade deadline.
It's not that the Flyers lack talent on defense. On paper, there are enough players with the talent and ability to create a balanced group of defensemen who can both move the puck and be physical.
Unfortunately, it hasn't always worked out that way. Player by player, the defensemen on the Flyers' roster have failed to live up to expectations. The unit as a whole has struggled as well.
Mark Streit was acquired last summer to add offense, quarterback the power play and give the team another experienced leader. His offensive production has been a bit below expectations, but the big issue for Streit has been his tendency to cough up the puck in his own zone. Ideally, he needs to improve his production on the power play as well.
Luke Schenn is a physical defenseman. He leads all Flyers blueliners with 148 hits and sometimes makes his presence felt, but makes too many glaring errors in his own zone that often lead to quality scoring chances for the opposition.
Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn have also been inconsistent on their own end and their mistakes sometimes end up in the back of the Flyers' net.
Veteran Kimmo Timonen remains the team's number one defenseman, even though he is clearly past his prime at the age of 38. His plus-six rating is tops among Philadelphia's d-men and he still moves the puck better than anybody else on the roster.
Nicklas Grossmann has been the most steady defender in his zone, but adds very little offense. Erik Gustafsson has played well at times as well, but is now out of the lineup with a sprained knee.
Overall, the biggest issue is a lack of consistency up and down the lineup. It shows in the team's play on a game-to-game basis. The Flyers often start slow and have to come back to win hockey games, something the team needs to work on down the stretch.
But the blue line is the biggest concern for this team. Craig Berube is a defense-first coach and he knows that teams don't get far in the playoffs without playing sound defense. The Flyers have 31 games left to figure out how to right this ship if they want to play deep into the spring.
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