The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Before the season began, many pundits and hockey publications predicted the Flyers would be drinking from Lord Stanley's Cup come June, putting an end to the 35-year drought. They are the chosen ones, or so they tell us.
Not at all satisfied with a first-round playoff exit at the hands of their hated cross-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins, general manager Paul Holmgren was very busy in the offseason.
He remade the team in his image, bringing in perennial All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger and the in-your-face Ian Laperriere. Between the pipes, the much-maligned Ray Emery was lured back from Russia with the temptation of a starting job for a Cup contender at a very reasonable $1.5 million.
Holmgren needed to shed some salary and open up some roster spots for all of this to happen.
Gone are Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul, Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, and Mike Knuble.
Enter Pronger, Emery, Laperriere, Blair Betts, James Van Riemsdyk, Brian Boucher, and Mika Pyorala. That's a whole lot of turnover in one year.
So, what can we say about the Flyers after 10 games?
How about "consistency is seriously encouraged?"
For those who aren't aware, that statement is a play on a note that Stevens pinned up in the dressing room during training camp proclaiming that "lateness" was "seriously discouraged." That's almost like saying "winning" is "mostly appreciated."
It is a strange message by itself; it is even more bizarre in training camp, when the coach can really set the tone for the rookies and camp hopefuls. This tone says "Mixing Red Bull with alcohol is dangerous." Everyone knows it, but no one really believes it.
After a promising 3-0-0 start, the Flyers have gone 2-4-1. The two wins are sandwiched between three-game and two-game losing streaks. They just do not seem able to put together a consistent effort game in and game out.
The numbers so far:
Games played: 10.
Goals for: 33 (T-12th).
Goals against: 31 (10th).
Home record: 3-2-1.
Away record: 2-2-0.
A goaltender with something to prove, he started the season with a bang by blanking the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-0, in his first regular season game for the Flyers.
Since then, he has started all but one of the Flyers' first 10 games and has shown flashes of brilliance. He's made the kinds of saves that you expect of a high-level goaltender as well as those timely and jaw-dropping saves that mark the difference between a contender and a pretender.
His numbers are quite pedestrian, but that is more reflective on the team in front of him rather than Emery himself. He has been hung out to dry on a number of occasions, and has bailed his teammates out more often than not.
That's not to say there aren't a few goals Emery would like to have back, but he hasn't let in any cheap goals.
Know this: If the Flyers falter this year, it will not be because Emery is not a capable goaltender. If he keeps his head on straight, he can lead this team far.
Games played: 9.
GAA: 2.62 (15th, min. 3 GP).
Save %: .906 (22nd, min. 3 GP).
There's nothing he can't do on the ice. He scores, runs the powerplay, kills penalties, can thread a beautiful pass through a crowd of opposing players, he hits and fights to get his team and the crowd riled up, and he stands up for teammates.
He is one of the most complete players in the NHL, and the Flyers made the right move in locking him up long term.
His numbers so far this year put him on pace for 49 goals and 90 points. The only negative stat is his faceoff percentage (47.3 percent), which simply has to be better for a top center in the NHL.
Off the ice, however, there have been some interesting grumbles lately about his reported silent treatment toward the media.
Unhappy about the way some personal issues were aired in public—read: the alleged "partying" attitude of some of the players—he resorted to one-word answers.
Regardless of who's right or who's wrong on the issue, there are certainly more professional ways for a captain to handle the media. He could have addressed those concerns head-on and put them to rest.
By using the silent treatment, Richards only brought more attention to himself and to the issue.
As a side note, if the issue was brought up by Holmgren over the summer, then it is a legitimate line of questioning.
Games played: 10.
Goals: 6 (20th).
Assists: 5 (77th).
Points: 11 (30th).
PP Points: 7.
Faceoff %: 47.3%.
James van Riemsdyk
JVR has been a pleasant surprise. If he's not the real deal, he certainly has fooled a lot of people.
Many were concerned when JVR chose to go the college route and not turn professional right away. There was some pressure for him to do so last year, but he refused.
The decision does not seem to have affected his development, as he has been one of the team's top forwards on most nights. He is creating lots of chances, and gets himself in the right position to score.
Stevens has also been impressed enough with his game to put him out on the powerplay and in the late stages of a game.
JVR and defenseman Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers are the only rookies averaging a point per game.
Van Riemsdyk is on track for roughly 80 points. Chances are he will not sustain that pace throughout his first season in the NHL, but if he ranges somewhere between 50-60 points, it should be considered a very successful rookie campaign.
The only real criticism about his game is that he doesn't yet use his body to his advantage. At 6'3" and 205 pounds, JVR is a big boy not unlike a John Leclair or an Eric Lindros.
Let's hope that as he matures as a player, he will become more comfortable with the game and use the full gamut of tools and assets at his disposal.
Van Riemsdyk's numbers:
Games played: 8
Assists:7 (4th among rookies).
Points: 8 (4th among rookies).
PP Points: 2.
Currently ranked sixth, the team has carried over its success on the penalty kill from last year.
They killed off a lengthy three-on-five versus the Capitals on Tuesday night because of their ability to close off passing and shooting lanes. It also helps when your goaltender is sharp, and Emery has responded for the most part this season.
Once Betts returns to the lineup—the expectation is this Saturday against the Hurricanes—the penalty kill should only improve while at the same time providing some welcome relief for Richards, Jeff Carter, and other top line players who see a lot of PK minutes.
Overall: 84.4 (6th).
Home: 84% (11th).
Road: 85% (9th).
Much like the penalty kill, the Flyers continue to have success with the man advantage.
They are the league's seventh-ranked powerplay, clicking at a rate of 26.5 percent, and have a plethora of skilled players on both units.
In Chris Pronger, the Flyers also have that booming shot from the point they have been so sorely lacking.
Matt Carle has also regained the offensive touch that showed so much promise when he accumulated 42 points during his breakout season in San Jose. With nine points (one goal, eight assists), he leads all Flyers defensemen. He is also the team's plus/minus leader at plus seven.
It's hard to argue with that kind of success, but—and there's always a but—the powerplay looks disorganized on many occasions.
Tuesday night against the Capitals, the Flyers went 2-for-5 on the powerplay, and appeared dominant with the extra man. They were able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone and get several shots through to Jose Theodore.
However, they went 0-for-4 against San Jose last Sunday and were unable to create any sort of semblance of pressure on any of their chances. That has been the case in other games this season.
Of course, there will be days when they are just not clicking. That's par for the course. But even on those occasions, they should at least look organized.
Overall: 26.5% (7th).
Home: 26.5% (8th).
Road: 26.7% (6th).
Other Things So Far that Would Fall in the 'A' Range
His numbers don't yet reflect his hard work on the ice. He has incredible vision and has been throwing his weight around this year. He is also defensively responsible. It's just a matter of time before the statistics follow.
He only played three games before dislocating his shoulder against Washington on Oct. 6, but his expected return this weekend will give the Flyers a boost on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle.
This category doesn't necessarily mean "bad," only not as good as it could or should be. Think of it as mediocre.
Despite 10 points in 10 games, Carter has been a passenger on most nights.
Of the four forward lines, Carter's has probably been intact the longest. Flanked by Briere and Hartnell the majority of the time, the line has seen limited success, but never seems to dominate. In fact, all three of them are minus five, the worst among forwards.
After a breakout 46-goal campaign last year, many thought that Carter had arrived as a force in the NHL. So far, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Yes, he has 10 points, but he has only four goals and is mired in a six-game scoring drought.
Despite leading the team in shots, many of those are from the outside and not of the "dangerous" variety. In fact, too often he shoots from a very wide angle along the boards, missing the net and creating an odd-man rush the other way. This is something that has carried over from previous seasons.
Carter also doesn't utilize his linemates the way a traditional centerman would, such as Richards. He is more often looking to receive the puck rather than create plays.
Finally, Carter is a perimeter player. He doesn't drive to the net to create his own chances. Ostensibly, that was supposed to be Hartnell's role on the line, but it has yet to materialize.
Games played: 10.
Goals: 4 (43rd).
Points: 10 (39th).
Faceoff %: 50%.
Other Things that Would Fall in the 'B' to 'C' Range:
Danny Syvret, Mika Pyorala
Both are easily pushed off the puck and have not really gotten involved in the play.
In Syvret's case, he is saved somewhat by a solid shot from the point, but his diminutive stature causes him to be pushed around.
As for Pyorala, he's almost invisible. He doesn't do anything particularly poorly, but doesn't do anything good enough to get noticed either. He's a third/fourth line player at best and he's finally being slotted there.
Separation between the forwards and defense have been an issue for the past two years, and there are still remnants of it present this year.
This causes unnecessary turnovers, undue pressure on the two defenders when facing aggressive forecheckers, and senseless icing calls. It is better with Pronger in the lineup, but is still something that warrants attention.
They just need to keep it simple and they should be OK.
Now here's what everyone's been waiting for.
The Flyers were the most penalized team in the NHL last year (17.5 PIM/game, 30th), and if not for a very successful penalty kill (83 percent, sixth), it's easy to conceive an extra four regular season losses which would have kept them out of the playoffs.
This story of being heavily penalized has been going ever since Stevens has been behind the bench. The last full year under Ken Hitchcock, in 2005-'06, the Flyers ranked 10th. The following year, Hitchcock was replaced by Stevens after just eight games. Care to guess where they ranked? They dropped to 26th (15.9 PIM/game).
2005-'06 (Hitchcock): 14.6 PIM/game (10th).
2006-'07 (Stevens): 15.9 (26th).
2007-'08 (Stevens): 17.9 (28th).
2008-'09 (Stevens): 17.5 (30th).
2009-'10 (Stevens): 16.6 (23rd).
There is a slight improvement so far this year, but it is still far off the league's least penalized team, Nashville, at nine PIM/game.
Let's face it: with this personnel, we would never win the team equivalent of the Lady Byng if it existed.
That being said, we still need to cut down on the number of lazy penalties.
If there is a silver lining, it is that the Flyers have been offensively dangerous while killing penalties. They led the league last year with 17 shorthanded goals. But that's almost like saying it's OK to shed a point to your opponent as long as they're a Western Conference team.
There was no better example of the importance of faceoffs than Tuesday night against the Capitals.
Carter won the draw, and the puck made its way to Braydon Coburn, who unleashed a point shot, giving the Flyers a 2-0 lead. Faceoffs lead to puck possession and, let's face it, you need the puck to win in hockey. It's true.
The Flyers currently rank 28th with a 46.7 percent efficiency rate in the faceoff circle. There is no excuse for guys like Richards, Carter, Giroux, Briere, and Betts to pull up the rear in this category. No question, this needs to improve.
Lack of Grit and Hitting
This is extremely surprising considering it was one of the main issues Holmgren said he wanted to address.
He wanted a grittier team, which is why he brought in guys like Laperriere, Emery, and Pronger. He wanted a hungrier team focused on puck pursuit.
That hasn't materialized. The Flyers rank 27th in hits (160). The Rangers are first with 343. Care to guess who's second? Why, the reigning Stanley Cup champions! The team that Flyers fans love to hate and call "soft" and other not-so-endearing terms.
Being aggressive doesn't have to mean a parade to the penalty box. In fact, it should not. It should mean finishing all your checks. Make the opponent think twice before going into that corner to retrieve the puck. He should expect to get hit every single time.
How often do you see Carter just circle by or Coburn give the player a love tap? These guys need to show their teeth a lot more.
Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn
What on earth is going on with these two?
Coburn is in a contract year, and Timonen has a wealth of experience as a defender. Yet, somehow, they are a combined -19 (Timonen -10, Coburn -9) and Timonen was on the ice for all four Washington goals on Tuesday night.
Timonen has had some X-rays done on his feet, which leads to speculation that he is injured. Couple that with the fact that the Flyers have placed Randy Jones on re-entry waivers, and one becomes suspicious indeed.
It may be just a move to bring up a more experienced defender while we have the cap space due to Simon Gagne being place on LTIR, so we needn't draw conclusions.
In the long run, Timonen will be OK. He should bounce back in time. Whether he needs healing or a new partner remains to be seen.
Coburn, however, is a different story. He did not have a great season last year and seemed to lack confidence in his own end.
For such a big player, he plays rather "soft" by not utilizing his body to its full advantage in order to gain position or to make the big hits.
What was such a promising young player has become an enigma. The jury is out on Coburn.
Fow now, this pairing is atrocious and needs to be split up, period.
Other Elements that Would Fall under the 'D' or 'F' Rating
Scott Hartnell, constant line juggling, Simon Gagne (but he now gets a pass because of the underlying injury), five-on-five play, and less than 60 minutes of effort.
What Is the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?
On paper, this group of players should be much better than a .500 team. They have been inconsistent at best, and this is not new.
They come out one night looking like world-beaters, and the next they can't even beat the Florida Panthers. Those are the kinds of games you just cannot lose.
I'm sure all Flyers fans remember how they lost home ice advantage on the last day of the season last year. If only they'd won one of those games against a lowly team...
Chris Pronger said as much regarding the loss to San Jose last week: "These are games where you look back and wish we would have played just a little bit better." Indeed, Chris. Indeed.
What did Stevens say about the same game? "I thought we actually played pretty hard and had good energy and created some good chances." Quite a contrast.
Unfortunately for Pronger, who seems to get it, there have already been two such games where they might look back and think, "Gee, if only we had shown up."
The Flyers blew a 2-0 lead against Anaheim, and blew a one-goal lead against a weak Panthers team.
You might be tempted to include the most recent loss to the Capitals, but you really can't expect to keep the Capitals' offensive prowess at bay the entire night. They were knocking at Emery's door the whole game, and it was just a matter of time before somene let them in.
These are systemic problems that have carried over from season to season: poor on-ice discipline, incomplete effort, inability to win the games they should be winning, late period goals against, blown leads and late game collapses, inability to clear pucks from their own zone, and poor faceoff performance.
The Flyers are the ultimate chameleon, taking on the character of their opponent. If they play a tight checking team, they fall into a tight checking mode. If the other team is a high-octane offensive dynamo, such as the Capitals, the Flyers match that tempo, too.
What they really need to do is start dictating their own style and pace, forcing the opposition to adjust to them instead of the other way around.
When the Flyers play a high tempo, end to end game, they seem to be at their best.
They have the personnel and offensive talent to keep up with the best in the league, and when they play that kind of game, they just seem to be skating that much harder and finishing their checks.
If they just tighten up their defense and give that kind of effort on a regular basis, they can do a lot of damage.
Barring that, what can be done? Well, the GM has been replaced. The roster has had tremendous turnover in the past four seasons. There's only one other logical place to look: at the man behind the bench.
Team grade: C-
Oh, and the answer is 42.