Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Reasons Not to Panic...Yet
Coming off of last night's shellacking at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, some Flyers fans are getting antsy about the $51 million goaltender, the sub .500 home record (2-2-1) and the overall sloppiness of the Flyers four losses.
But all is not lost only nine games into the season.
While there certainly is reason for concern, there is no reason to doubt this team will progress throughout the season and be much better in the second half than they were in the first.
If you still need to be talked down off the ledge, here are the five reasons Flyers fans needn't hit the panic button just yet.
Every Philadelphia Flyers fan has seen their team play like world beaters in the first half only to run out of steam by February and get knocked out of the playoffs far earlier than their overall record suggests they should have been.
Fans need not look past last year as the perfect example. The Flyers were competing for the President's Trophy in 2010, and then 2011 happened.
The Flyers went 24-21 after December 31st, relinquished the strangle hold they had on the top seed in the Eastern Conference and were bounced from the playoffs in an unceremonious sweep by the Boston Bruins.
While four losses in nine games is not the kind of start Peter Laviolette and company were looking for to start the year, this humbling beginning shows the rookies and veterans alike that this team has plenty of room for improvement and will not be able to rest on its laurels.
In fact, this type of start may end up helping the Flyers in the long run.
Laviolette will work this team until it is a finely tuned machine, and they may just be rounding into form when the games matter most.
And adversity is always a team-building experience. With the veteran leadership on this roster the Flyers will respond to and learn from these early woes and lapses and be better for it.
Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette built this team for the long haul. They have enough youth to maintain the energy level throughout the grind and enough veterans to show the kids how it's done.
It may not be artwork right now, but the picture is forming, even in disheartening losses like last night's beating at the hands of the Habs, who had to win, by the way.
Montreal was 1-5-2 heading into last night, staring down the barrel of the worst start in the franchise's long and proud history. The evil Philadelphia Flyers were coming into town. If Montreal loses last night they are buried both in the standings and emotionally. Les Habitants had no choice but to win.
I was hoping statistics would prove Ilya Bryzgalov is a slow starter and has historically rounded into form over the course of the season.
Unfortunately his October and November goals against average over the past two seasons of 2.42 is only slightly higher than his December-April number of 2.37.
However, this argument will not be swayed by facts.
Ilya Bryzgalov just signed a nine-year, $51 million contract. He moved from a city that might lose its hockey franchise and has never played in a city that could not live without theirs.
The culture shock, the contract pressure, learning the Eastern Conference opponents and developing chemistry with his new defenseman are all issues that can be resolved as the season moves along.
Furthermore, Bryzgalov is a proud athlete, and once the whispers of "What about Bob?" become louder and louder, Bryzgalov will step up and prove he is the number one Russian in town.
Chris Pronger is the ultimate captain. He's a big, strong, puck-moving defenseman who plays in every facet of the game.
Pronger matches up with the top offensive line every night. He is physical, cerebral and never afraid to speak his mind to the officials, opponents or teammates.
But most recently Pronger has been injured.
Pronger played in only 50 regular season games in 2010-11, his lowest total since playing in only five games with the St. Louis Blues in 2002-03.
Missing No. 20 on the ice and in the dressing room is the excuse for last year's collapse, and not having his presence in eight of 11 playoff games was the reason there were only 11 playoff games.
But rumor of Pronger's downfall is unwarranted.
In his 17 previous seasons, Pronger has averaged 68 regular season games per year, and has played in at least 70 games 11 of those 17 years.
Despite his recent eye injury, Pronger is expected back in the lineup in about two weeks.
Given his on-again-off-again injury status last season and surgeries preventing him from skating over the summer, it is going to take some time for Pronger to be at 100 percent both with his health and his game in general.
Once the Captain makes his return, visor and all, the Flyers will be better.
Once Pronger is at 100% they will be one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
Defensive zone coverage and point play five-on-five, penalty kill and power play. Big hits and long passes. Pronger effects every level of the game from match-ups to penalties drawn.
The Flyers traded for Pronger because he was seen as the missing piece to winning a Stanley Cup. Paul Holmgren surrendered Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first-round draft picks and a third rounder. Even when Mike Richards was wearing the C the franchise was in Pronger's hands.
So be patient, and remember what this team looks like with Pronger. He's more than a player. His attitude resonates better play than we have seen over the past few games. It is ugly right now, but he will be back.
I do not expect injuries to continue to hinder the big man. Pronger played 200 NHL games between 2008-09 and 2009-10, and don't forget about seven games with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Maybe at 37 his body is not suited for THAT type of schedule.
But after the maintenance he has had done and sufficient rest there is no reason to doubt Pronger can play out his contract, which expires for him at 42. Just look at Niklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne still producing.
Nobody needs to be reminded how many new faces there are, but here is a refresher anyway.
Sean Couturier, 18, Brayden Schenn, 20, and Matt Read, 25, are all rookies. Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are adjusting to brand new surroundings, teammates and conferences. Max Talbot used to be the enemy. Jaromir Jagr has been in Russia for three years. Only Chris Pronger, who is currently injured, has more than a handful of games played in front of Ilya Bryzgalov.
This may take a while.
But, fortunately, it is already evident the talent is there.
The good news is nobody's individual performance is standing out as terrible. The Flyers are playing and losing as a team, which means they will improve as a team.
All the new guys have shown flashes of why they were acquired, and once permanent lines start to form and chemistry builds, the Jagrs, Voraceks and Simmonds will reach their potential.
Matt Read and Sean Couturier have been playing big minutes and shining in the early spotlight. Imagine how they will look with 45 games under their belts when they are already showing maturity far past their experience.
I know Philadelphia is in a win-now mode, and very frustrated over the disappointing Phillies season and current Eagles travesty. This Flyers team is good enough to win this season—the pieces just have to fall into place.
The Flyers have looked great in victory and downright embarrassing in defeat. Teams are not consistent from day one. Consistency grows as teams do, and the foundation has been laid for a winner.
When a veteran superstar like Jaromir Jagr says he has never worked harder in games than he does in Peter Laviolette's system, you know there are going to be growing pains.
Think back to when Laviolette took over for John Stevens in December 2009.
Philly went 2-7-1 in its first ten games under Laviolette before ripping off four wins in a row and winning 26 of its last 47 to make the playoffs, come back from an 0-3 hole against the Boston Bruins in the semi-finals and come within two wins of the Stanley Cup.
Just think about what he can do now that half of his roster is not hung over on game days.
I kid Car Bomb, Captain Morgan and Admiral Nelson, but their dedication to Olde City and Sea Isle outweighed their dedication to the team and they had to go.
For the first time I can remember the players, not the coach, were held accountable for a disappointing season.
Now the coach has his leaders in place, the players to fit his system and a goalie to bring consistency, even if it's just for consistency's sake early in the season.
Stability at the top brings stability throughout the team. As long as Laviolette stays on point (is there any question?) the team will ultimately succeed, because management has empowered the coach, which brings him even greater respect from the players.
The Stanley Cup championship on his resume does not hurt either.
So do not fret Flyers fans. I know we like to overreact to every single shift we see, but this is an 82-game season. Philadelphia is a balanced team with great upside and a great coach. It is just a waiting game while it all comes together.