Philadelphia Flyers: 10 Keys To Keeping the Top Seed in the East
The Philadelphia Flyers are currently sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference. Through 62 games, the Flyers have a 40-16-6 record.
As most fans will tell you, it's not always easy being on top. Every other team in the east is now gunning for you. Every game is challenging because teams throw everything at you and want to knock you off.
With that said, I would like to take a look at 10 keys to staying on top in the east.
1. Putting the "Power" Back in Power Play
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The Flyers power play has been woeful all season. They are currently tied for 22nd place with a 16.7% success rate. It seems as if nothing is working for them when they have the man advantage.
Peter Laviolette has switched lines and spent a lot of time practicing the power play. If the Flyers want to cement their place on top of the standings, they will have to start cashing in on the power play. Special teams is going to play a huge roll down the stretch.
The problem with not having a good power play is that teams become less afraid of taking a penalty. The even strength numbers for the Flyers are great, but with the struggling power play teams could be more willing to hook or hold a player when the Flyers are putting the pressure on.
The good news is, this could be one of those situations where once the puck goes in it keeps going in. If that becomes the case, then look out hockey world.
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Discipline becomes even more of a key down the stretch. One or two bad penalties can cost you a game. Add in the fact that the Flyers aren't scoring on their own power plays, and you could be in trouble if you send the other team on the man advantage too often.
The Flyers are in 10th place in penalty kill percentage, but that's no reason to keep going to the well. The coaches preach it and the Flyers have actually been doing a good job of staying out of the box.
From Scott Hartnell all the way to Daniel Carcillo, it seems the Flyers are all buying in to staying out of the box. They even had a penalty free game against the New York Rangers this season.
If the Flyers stay out of the box they will be a tough team to beat.
3. What About Bob?
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Some have pegged Sergei Bobrovsky as the goalie of the future. My opinion is that Bobrovsky's play will mean a lot when it comes to where the Flyers sit in the playoffs.
So far this season Bobrovsky has been excellent. His quickness in the net is like no other. He's very sound technically, and when he is out of position his athletic ability can bail him out. They only struggle in Bobrovsky's game seems to be puck handling.
Every time Bobrovsky goes behind the net to play the puck, the Flyers fan base holds their collective breath. Some say his lack of English makes it harder for him. How true that is has yet to be discovered. While his English may be somewhat of a factor, he really only needs to understand a few phrases. He doesn't really need to know what they mean in English, just what they mean in hockey.
If Bobrovsky continues playing the way he has been, the Flyers are poised for a deep playoff run.
4. Zherdev's Work Ethic
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If you've read my previous articles you will know that Nikolay Zherdev has been criticized for his lack of effort. He was even waived as a result of not working hard enough, after he spent a lot of time as a healthy scratch. After clearing waivers it was reported that Zherdev and coach Peter Laviolette had good talks about what was expected of Zherdev. Clearing waivers may have also been eye opening.
Bottom line here is, if Zherdev puts in the work to be in the line up, he will be dangerous. No two ways about it. He's a smooth skater, has an abundance of moves, and can shoot the puck with the best of them.
Flyers fans, you should hope that Zherdev puts in the work. His scoring ability will be useful down the stretch.
5. Beating the Bs
At of the time of this writing the Boston Bruins sit just 5 points behind the Flyers in the standings. The Bruins are surging, and with the recent moves they made at the deadline they look even more dangerous. Please don't think this is me saying the Flyers haven't or can't beat the Bruins.
What I mean by this is, with only one game left against the Bruins, the Flyers need that win. Potentially for standings reasons, but more importantly for mental reasons. Getting a win against this improved Bruins team would give the Flyers confidence heading into the final games.
It also seems to be the common thought among Flyers fans that the Bruins scare them the most. With a Flyers victory the fan base's minds could be put at ease. Some are even predicting a Flyers versus Bruins Eastern Conference final.
Mark this date on your calender Flyers fans: March 27, 2011.
6. Briere-Leino-Hartnell Line
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The line of Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Ville Leino was the hottest line in last years playoffs. Early this season they were still on fire. They have cooled down a bit of late, but if these guys get going again the Flyers will be in good shape.
Having this line fire on all cylinders is great for the Flyers' game.
This line gets slotted as the third line but it's easily a first line on most of the other teams in the NHL. When this line is playing well it creates havoc for the the other coaches. It makes a coach decide who to put their best defenders on. Do you play your top defensive unit against the Briere line? If you do then you free up another line.
Watch for this line to get hot again, especially if they stick together.
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With the team the Flyers have put together they are poised to make a run. Problem is, an injury or two could change the look of this team. The Flyers have been lucky this season with the injury bug residing in the other half of Pennsylvania. The only significant injury was Chris Pronger's foot earlier in the season.
Other than Pronger, only Ian Laperriere has missed significant time with an injury. Laperriere's injury hasn't affected the team since he has missed the entire season thus far.
The Flyers shouldn't be as worried about the players they are missing, as they have very capable call ups ready. The part to fear is the loss of chemistry. Having to plug in new players on the fly isn't easy.
So far so good for the Flyers, join me in knocking on wood.
8. Who's Our First?
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I mentioned the play of Sergei Bobrovsky earlier, but to me the Flyers need to establish a clear cut number one goalie. Whoever is going to be number one needs to know soon, so that they can get in to a routine and on top of their game.
So far this season Laviolette has split time fairly evenly between the two goalies. Every now and then he will ride the hot hand but for the most part it's been back and forth. No goalie has been declared number one, and honestly I would like to see how one of them plays without the fear of having a bad game.
May not happen soon, but expect the Flyers to make a choice by the end of this month.
9. No Slumps
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Obviously you don't want to lose, ever. The Flyers don't have to win every game down the stretch, but they need to avoid a losing streak,
At this point in the season, with all the other teams fighting to get to the top, a losing streak could sink your season. Sure, statistically it's very unlikely the Flyers will lose a playoff spot. However, do you really want to head in to the playoffs on a losing streak? I don't, and I would imagine the Flyers don't either.
Prior to tonight's loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flyers hadn't lost back to back games since December. Hopefully tonight was a fluke and not the start of something terrible.
10. Stay Motivated
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It's easy to get comfortable at the top, especially since the Flyers have been there for a good chunk of the season. General Manager Paul Holmgren saw that the Flyers seemed to look comfortable coming off a loss in which the Flyers looked disinterested.
After last weeks loss to the Ottawa Senators, in which the Flyers played like they didn't care or at the very least took the Senators lightly, Laviolette skated his players hard during practices. Hoping to make them aware that they always need to work hard.
The Flyers need to stay focused. Whether it be on the Presidents Trophy, or just home ice advantage. They need something to chase, if they continue to play like they don't have to try they will fail.
I urge you to comment below whether you agree, disagree, or feel I missed something.