After the Philadelphia Flyers started the 2013-14 season 4-10-1 and fired their coach, a lot of people wrote them off as contenders. But with Craig Berube at the helm, things have been different in Philadelphia.
It took a little time, but the Flyers have been one of the best teams in the entire league over the past couple of months and are playing their best hockey now, with the playoffs just weeks away.
The orange and black are on a heck of a run right now, going 8-2-1 since January 28. They had a huge home-and-home series with Washington and won each hard-fought battle.
Philadelphia went 4-1 on a tough 10-game West Coast road trip, and also had a decisive victory over the New York Rangers after coming out flat against the San Jose Sharks in the first game since the Olympic break.
But if you go even further back, the Flyers still have an impressive streak going. Since December 12, they are 20-9-4 with multiple three-plus game winning streaks.
What has contributed to this turnaround? There is not just one or two factors, but a myriad of reasons which have come together as the season has progressed.
Arguably the most important is the re-emergence of Claude Giroux as a top-five player in the league. He was pitiful at the start of the season but has been arguably the best player in the league over the past couple months.
It's hard to say why, but Giroux didn't score his first goal of the season until 16 games in. He had just 18 points in the first two months of the season, spanning 26 games.
That makes it all the more amazing that Giroux is now tied for ninth in the league in points and is just three points back of being tied for fourth most.
Since November 30, Giroux has been one of the highest scorers in the league with 47 points.
That's exactly as many as Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel and more than Tyler Seguin (43), Ryan Getzlaf (40), Alex Ovechkin (39) and Patrick Kane (37), who are all barely above Giroux on the season-long stat sheet for now (except for Crosby, who is miles ahead of everyone with 84 points).
A big part of Giroux's turnaround is due to his performance on the power play, where he has the fourth-most points in the league.
But he's also looked a lot more commanding and confident out on the ice and is making plays like his old self—while also stepping up his physical and defensive games as well.
Wayne Simmonds is another big reason for the Flyers' turnaround. He has 14 goals in the past 31 games and has been putting in really productive minutes even when he isn't scoring goals.
His scrappy style of play gives Philadelphia an edge and he brings a relentless energy every shift. It's not often you see a player with 30-goal potential banging all night in front of the net and challenging other teams' heavyweights to fights, but that's who Simmonds is and the Flyers are a better team for it.
Mark Streit has been the Flyers' best offensive player on a really slow and offensively inept blue line. He isn't flashy, but handles the puck well, is clutch on the power play and had an impressive 18 total points in December and January, which really helped the team get on the right track.
Sean Couturier and Matt Read also deserve a lot of credit, even though much of their contributions go unrecognized.
Couturier's work as a two-way center has been outstanding and the 21-year-old has proven capable of being a true No. 2 center. His 32 points in 64 games is pretty solid for a guy with as much defensive responsibility as he has.
Read also doesn't get much attention, but he has been arguably the Flyers' best defensive winger while managing to score 31 points in 57 games. This chart at somekindofninja.com illustrates how well both forwards have performed in difficult two-way roles.
Lastly, Steve Mason has to be applauded for his season-long effort in net. A good case can be made for him as the team's MVP and if he leads the Flyers into the playoffs then he really would deserve such an award.
Mason has been steady all season and is ninth in the league in both GAA and save percentage for goalies with at least 46 starts (Mason has 48 starts).
His 26-15-6 record is stellar but doesn't accurately reflect how big of an impact he's had this season. Just last night against Toronto, for instance, Mason made a number of ridiculous saves to keep it close but the Flyers couldn't manage to pull out a win.
The Flyers have simply been playing better team hockey, but some of these standout players have been the catalysts in the team's resurgence.
They're getting more shots at the net, look confident with the puck and are playing much more cohesively in their own end while maintaining a level of physicality and intensity that was absent in the first month of the season.
Outsiders may scoff at the brawl against the Capitals and dismiss it as "typical Philly," but fans love seeing teams fight for each other and it's especially encouraging when that leads to wins (two in a row in this instance).
Craig Berube's system is clearly working and players are settling into their roles while continuing to learn how to play together. It seems as if things have come together at the perfect time.
They are still a young team and big changes on defense which started at the trade deadline will continue into the offseason.
But as long as they keep the core of this roster together, there's no reason to think the Flyers can't play like this more consistently and be a Cup contender in the coming years.
As for this year? If they keep up this hot streak, I won't be the only one thinking back to 2010.
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