At the start of the season there was little doubt that the Philadelphia Flyers were poised to make a run for the Stanley Cup. The Flyers have been on top of the Eastern Conference standings for about 5 months now. They have struggled a bit of late, but there isn't a reason to panic. Luckily, the Flyers managed to break out of their slump in Tuesday nights game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Championships don't come easy, in fact some teams have never won the Stanley Cup. After a grueling 82 game season you have to win another 16 games to become the champion. The Flyers have the most cup final appearances of any expansion team. They also have the most playoff appearances of any expansion team. They know how to win and what it takes to get to the championship.
A lot of things are going to factor in to the Flyers' championship hopes. This article will take a look at the 10 biggest keys for the Flyers to make it to the Cup finals.
The Flyers recently appear to lose steam as a game goes along. They have lost a couple leads late and seemed to simply be tired.
Leading up the the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Thursday, the Flyers were skated hard at practice. Peter Laviolette looked to be making his players pay the price for their poor effort in he previous game against the Ottawa Senators.
The thought was that Laviolette wanted his players to start playing playoff hockey NOW. He also told reporters that their may be a short term negative reaction from this.
He was right, the Flyers went on to lose to the Maple Leafs, then to the Buffalo Sabres. Then the Flyers played their worst game of the season. They went to New York, and lost 7-0 to the New York Rangers.
Laviolette decided to give the team the day off following the Rangers loss, most likely to rest his team. In a conference call, Laviolette took full blame for the Flyers appearing to be out of gas.
Tuesday night in Philadelphia against the Edmonton Oilers, it seemed like Laviolette's method might be starting to pay off. The Flyers came out hot and held the Oilers to only 1 shot on their way to a 2-0 lead after the first period.
Problem is, the Flyers seemed to not be as hot in the Second period. The Oilers turned the tables and carried much of the play for the rest of the game. Again, the Flyers looked tired. The Flyers ended up with a 4-1 win, but against a better team they may not get as lucky.
If the Flyers want to make a run to the Stanley Cup finals, they will have to have better endurance and be able to play a full 60 minute game at full speed.
General Manager Paul Holmgren said early last week that the Flyers were in need of an attitude adjustment. What he meant was that the Flyers were starting to get too comfortable in first place. This could prove to be a problem if the Flyers get too comfortable in the playoffs.
Whether it's because they jump out to a 3-0 series lead, or come off an easy series, the Flyers can't afford to let off the gas in the playoffs. Hopefully, they remember what they did to the Boston Bruins in last year's playoffs. After the Bruins took a 3-0 series lead the Flyers battled back to beat the Bruins in 7 games.
That should serve as a reminder to Philadelphia. They can't expect games to come easy if they want to be in the finals.
Nagging injuries can cause a lot of problems. Paying attention to my Twitter feed lately, it seems that people have been on Sean O'Donnell's back lately due to his poor play. My answer to that is the man is probably still injured.
Remember when Oskars Bartulis stepped in to replace O'Donnell, who was said to be out for 2 weeks with a knee injury. Well thanks to a late hit from Scottie Upshall, Bartulis went down with a shoulder injury. Then, Magically, O'Donnell's knee was "better". Chances his knee is actually better? Slim.
Fact is, O'Donnell is probably playing on a bum knee. That isn't going to be good for the Flyers heading in to the playoffs. Anything can happen, one hit could put O'Donnell back on the shelf and possibly longer than the original 2 weeks.
Look for the Flyers to start giving players with nagging injuries a rest down the stretch. In my opinion they need to in order to have all their players performing at 100 percent.
I don't think I can stress this enough. The Flyers absolutely HAVE to get their power play working. Everyone knows it, and no one seems to be able to figure out what is wrong. If you watch the power play you can see them choosing to pass over choosing to shoot. That is a sign that something is wrong, as trying to make the extra pass is a result of not feeling like you can score. Instead you elect to try and make one last pass to beat the goalie, and in most cases it's one pass too many.
The Flyers have tried countless line combinations, as well as putting forwards on the point. Their struggles were even more apparent in Tuesday night's game against the Oilers. After being awarded a 5 minute power play, the Flyers didn't score until there was only 22 seconds left on the power play.
Playoff hockey is so tightly contested that the special teams play usually makes the difference between who wins and who loses. The Flyers can't afford to miss out on power play chances.
The Flyers need to get their team defense back to where it was at the start of the season. Recently, the forwards seem to not be back checking as hard and it's putting more pressure on the defense.
Early in the year the Flyers were playing really good team defense. This coupled with their very good goalie play and the Flyers were hard to beat. The past few games however, the Flyers have relaxed on defense and its costing them.
There's a saying that goes: Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. That could never be more true for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Brian Boucher is key for 3 reasons. The Flyers have been playing Sergei Bobrovsky more lately. This is where Boucher becomes huge.
Reason 1: If Bobrovsky should start playing poorly, Boucher needs to be ready to step in and play big. The Flyers can't survive an unprepared Boucher. He needs to be on his toes just in case the Flyers need him.
Reasons 2 and 3: If Bobrovsky keeps playing as well as he has been, Boucher needs to be the veteran mentor, and he has to be able to step in for a few games and pick up the wins. Boucher knows how to be a back-up goaltender. The thing that Boucher isn't used to is being a mentor. Boucher was never in the veteran role in his career. This is Boucher's opportunity to prove he can be the professional back-up goalie that teams can be interested in.
If Boucher does well in any of the above scenarios, the Flyers are in good shape.
Peter Laviolette has sometimes been questioned on who he has in the line up. Some people call for Nikolay Zherdev to always be in, while others really don't like Zherdev. Also, playing Andreas Nodl on the first line raises some eye brows.
Then there are people who believe Daniel Carcillo should have Jody Shelley's spot in the line up. No matter who the player, it's fair to say Peter Laviolette has some tough decisions. However, how he makes these decisions and who he decided to play is going to be important.
Zherdev has the scoring ability, Carcillo brings the agitator role, Shelley is the tough guy and Nodl is the defensive forward who can chip in the occasional goal. Each one of these players has a purpose and a role to play. If Laviolette can tap into their strengths at the right times the Flyers will go far.
Love the faces of the fans in this picture.
In the playoffs last year Mike Richards was a force to be reckoned with. He was a huge part of the Flyers making the Stanley Cup finals. If the Flyers want to get back he will have to step up yet again.
Now I'm not saying that Mike Richards has been playing poorly.However, there is another level of play that he was at during playoffs. That level is the level they need Richards to be at. The Flyers are hoping that putting Kris Versteeg on Richards' line is going to put him at that level.
Versteeg is very good at getting open around the net. He also fills the hole that was lost on Richards' line when the Flyers traded Simon Gagne. If those two can click offensively, the Flyers are going to have a good time.
Expect big things from Mike Richards going down the stretch.
You can't leave out the fact that after the AHL season some players get called up for reinforcement. Who the Flyers choose to call up could be important should injuries happen. There are a few good players that could be ready to step in and not miss a beat.
Eric Wellwood is one of them, and he proved that earlier in the season. He played impressive games for the Flyers and caught the attention of the organization.
Another forward would be Mike Testwuide. Testwuide was impressive in training camp and in the preseason. Both of the forwards could be call ups and I am confident that they are able to step in and contribute.
Regardless of who the player is, the Flyers have to make sure that they can be counted on to do their part.
This is probably the most important key of them all, as it ties in to all of the other keys. The Flyers absolutely must keep things simple and stick to their game. No matter what the other team is trying to do the Flyers have to make sure they don't stray away from their system.
Peter Laviolette's system has set the Flyers up for victory. If they stick to that they should be just fine. Should they stray away from the system, it may not turn out well for Flyers fans.
Breathe easy though, I'm confident that Laviolette can keep this team on the right path.
Please comment below if you have anything to add or dispute.