Philadelphia Flyers Looking Like Legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IMarch 17, 2014

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 16:  Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates his goal during the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 16, 2014 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers are looking like one of the best teams in the NHL after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back games this past weekend.

After winning just one of their first eight games and firing their head coach, many people thought this season would end up being a rebuilding year for Claude Giroux and the boys.

However, the Flyers put a thunderous stamp on an impressive stretch of games with their big wins over their intrastate rivals.

They were 7-2-1 heading into the home-and-home contests against Pittsburgh, with wins over the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks

On Saturday, the Flyers went out and absolutely dominated Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Penguins from start to finish. On Sunday, it may not have been quite as easy, but Philadelphia still went into Pittsburgh and faced an assuredly hungry Penguins squad, matching every effort and just holding on for a win.

Just last weekend, we were discussing what was making the Flyers one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, but this weekend took things to a whole new level.

Heading into an incredibly tough stretch of games, Craig Berube has his players performing at an elite level and they really look like a club which has a shot to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

The NHL is so much fun because it is incredibly wide-open. There are a couple teams at the top, but it is amazing how many other squads are all fighting for the remaining playoff spots and still routinely taking down whoever is at the top.

Philadelphia has begun to emerge from that group of competitors and proven that it can outplay the league's best for a full 60 minutes.

It played with a sense of urgency, and every line was firing on all cylinders. Its special teams units were spectacular, scoring on three of the team's seven power plays and shutting out Pittsburgh on all nine of its power plays.

The Flyers completely outmuscled the Penguins all weekend and Pittsburgh simply could not keep up with the rough stuff while maintaining its focus.

A big reason for Philadelphia's success was Giroux, who really set the tone with his two-way play. He had two assists in each game and dished out at least one big hit.

While Giroux was spectacular throughout the weekend and deserves all the praise he gets, the games were really won from a teamwide contribution.

Wayne Simmonds was mentioned in that article from last week, but he deserves further recognition after two phenomenal games. He was battling in front of the net and along the boards all weekend, scoring two goals on Sunday while adding another assist.

It's hard to quantify his contributions, but the fact that he has 21 goals this season is a testament to his hard work around the net. He also has an incredible 12 power-play goals, which is tied for third-most in the league.

Simmonds has solidified his status as one of the premier power forwards in the NHL and is a major reason that the Flyers are contenders.

Sean Couturier also deserves more recognitioneven after being praised last week. He was given the task of shutting down both Crosby and Malkin, and was absolutely exceptional in each game.

Neither Crosby nor Malkin registered a point in either game, which is insane. I have no confirmation of it, but I'm sure that very rarely happens. 

Couturier was incredibly a plus-four over both games and had two assists on Saturday. He was also the biggest reason that the Penguins' top-ranked power play didn't score a single goal all weekend.

Mar 15, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) tries to skate around Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) during the first period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There's no denying it at this point: Couturier is the best young two-way forward in the league and one of the best 21-and-under players in general.

With that said, Matt Read was the star of the weekend. One of the most underappreciated players in the entire league, he stepped up to the plate big-time.

He scored three goals, two of them coming short-handed. His work on the penalty kill alongside Couturier was also outstanding and he was all over the ice on every shift.

On a roster loaded with talented forwards, Read can often get buried. However, he is a true gamer and two-way player who is now tied with Jakub Voracek for the third-most goals on the team.

The Flyers defense also held up commendably this weekend and its play is really what will determine the fate of this team.

When they play well like they did this weekend, the Flyers are a real threat. The trade for Andrew MacDonald seems to be a really good one, as he has been a solid contributor.

He is responsible in his own end and doesn't do anything flashy, but also doesn't make any mistakes and can throw his weight around when he needs to. 

Mark Streit and Kimmo Timonen were also instrumental in both victories, manning the points on the power play and helping to keep the pressure on Pittsburgh by getting the puck up the ice efficiently.

Luke Schenn also added an assist in each game, which was really encouraging to see. He has been overmatched at times this season, but if he's playing well, then that only strengthens the blue line.

Philadelphia really looks like a dangerous team when it plays to its fullest potential, which is exactly what has been happening over this recent 9-2-1 stretch.

The Flyers are getting great production from Giroux and the top line, their two-way forwards have been effective, the defense has been solid and Steve Mason cannot be overlooked either. He has been very good all year and especially lately.

Mason was dominant throughout the first game of the weekend and made the shutout look easy. Sunday was much tougher, but he helped Philadelphia stave off some third-period waves from Pittsburgh. He's a big reason the Flyers will be a tough out in the playoffs.

These were the two biggest wins of the year for the Flyers, but they have a heck of a road ahead of them. Between March 17 and April 5, they have two upcoming matchups with the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins, and also face the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, among others.

Nevertheless, Philadelphia sent a message to the rest of the league this weekend: It's coming for the Cup.  


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