As the year progresses further and further into its schedule, Flyers fans such as myself are left trying to get a feel for a team that has yet to establish a true identity.
For the first month or so I felt as though we would get a true indication by the 20-game mark. As the 20-game mark came and went, I thought the 30-game mark would give a clearer indication of what this team is capable of. As the 30-game mark came and went and still the desire to see this team perform the way I know they are capable remained unquenched, I left the deadline for proper evaluation of this team until the New Year, or as we see it in the hockey world, 'The Winter Classic'.
At a quick glance, the team is hurting; 38 points in 38 games and a mediocre 18-18-2 record to boot. They are two points out of a playoff spot and have four teams to jump to acquire the eighth and final playoff position.
At home they are 9-9-2. On the road The Flyers are 9-9-0, and despite their poor performance as of late, they have strung together three wins in a row.
In 21 career starts for The Flyers as starting goaltender, Ray Emery has been strong with an 11-8-1 record. Emery has shown signs of brilliance despite battling through a groin injury that obviously impeded his performance. His 2.83 goals against average is good but not great, and his .901 save percentage is nowhere near where Philly needs it to be to be legitimate contenders this year.
Emery's injury forced backup Brian Boucher into action. In his third stint on the team Boucher has a 4-10-1 record that has raised eyebrows for all of the wrong reasons. his 2.66 GAA and .902 save percentage tops Emery's numbers, but given the choice, there really isn't one; Emery is the main man in Philly.
However, Philly did acquire a third stringer to fill in for Boucher who had an injury to his stick side hand. Far from the expected bad-to-worse nose dive the team was expected to take, Micheal Leighton stepped in and has since boasted three wins in three starts with the club, and has an impressive 2.15 GAA and .933 save percentage.
In October the club went 6-4-1. At home they were 4-2-1, and on the road they were
November saw the club go 7-6. 4-2 at home, and 3-4 on the road.
December's record leading into the Flyers final matchup of the month with the Rangers on December 30th is 5-8-1. This month has seen The Flyers through their most controversial stretch of this still very young season.
Think back to last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins record was 19-14-4 heading into the New Year, but miraculously a coach change from Micheal Therrien to John Bylsma and boom the pieces were put into place by the playoffs, the new system worked and the players bought into it, next thing you know Sydney Crosby is hoisting The Stanley Cup over his head.
Okay, okay so the Flyers record of 18-18-2 is certainly not Pittsburgh's 19-14-4 points, but Philly does have one game left against a division rival and of course 'The Winter Classic'.
As for Philadelphia's identity? Well not to steal the words out of the man's mouth or anything, but under Coach Laviolette I've seen aggressive play in the offensive zone with lots of cycling down low. And sound back-checking in their own end.
The team is 5-7-1 under Laviolette, but ta-da! It looks as if they have bought into his system.
Captaincy has bounced around leaving Richards as captain, but seeing the assistant duties shift to NHL shot leader Jeff Carter (171) and the tree like Chris Pronger who has averaged 26 minutes and 44 seconds of ice time in his last five games; don't even began to tell me he just doesn't have it any more, all this guy does is win.
Luckily for Carcillo, Laviolette believes in second chances and apparently doesn't believe in making an example out of somebody. It would've been the perfect opportunity. Coaches first game and its tied 1-1. Carcillo ended up getting 29 penalty minutes after he absolutely knuckled Matt Bradley in a one punch knockout and ended up getting two minutes for cross-checking, two minutes for instigating, and five minutes for fighting. The Capitals ended up scoring five goals on the power play and won the game, 8-2.
Immediate means for a dismissal right?
After his four game suspension ended on December 14th against the Boston Bruins, Carcillo has logged at least 15 minutes of ice time three times, has three points (1 goal, 2 assists) and has not logged more than a fighting major since his return. Responsibility is something that I have seen in his game, simple dumps followed by a ferocious chase, a system that obviously sits well with the new bench boss.
And finally (aside from Emery) The team is healthy! Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne look poised to be primary producers down the stretch, after they have both come back from career threatening injuries.
Energy producing Darrol Powe is also back from a lengthy injury,and looks to be a secondary threat.
Ultimate grinder extraordinaire Ian Laperriere is back and holding in there despite sacrificing life and limb on every shorthanded opportunity he gets. All Ian wants for Christmas is his front four teeth, but I'm sure if you asked him he would settle for an extension of the current winning streak.
Blair Betts is sure bets, as he is back and ready to contribute in only the way Betts can. A sheer combination of grinder/defender/enforcer/checker,and from time-to-time, goal scorer as well.
Sure a team that is missing both their starting goaltender, as well as their backup goalie sure doesn't sound like a healthy team, however a team with a system built around taking chances and creating opportunity through proper neutral zone play should be able to play in front of any N.H.L. caliber goaltender, at least for the regular season.
So far so good with Leighton too.
The G.M. within me has me just holding down the fort. This team is good, its real good. However we all like rumors and right now all the buzz is around Jaroslav Halak and could be an option down the stretch, with that said, sometimes the best move is the one you don't make.
The coach within me has the lines as follows:
LW C RW
Simon Gagne Mike Richards Daniel Briere
Scott Hartnell Jeff Carter Claude Giroux
James Van Riemsdyk Blair Betts Daniel Carcillo
Ian Laperriere Darroll Powe Mika Pyorala
Bartulis- Parent (should he be due back from his lower body injury)
Wouldn't it be great if Philly could extend their current three game win streak to a five game winning streak that continues into the New Year, sure they don't have to win 35 in a row or anything, but some consistency would be nice.