The Philadelphia Flyers started the 2008-09 season 0-3-3. Not exactly the start many expected—including the players.
I received an email asking me to submit an article as to what could be the reason or reasons for the turnaround, as the Flyers are 16-4-3 over their last 23 games.
To pinpoint one or two players as the cause of the turnaround would be impossible. It appears to me the Flyers have done so with a complete team effort, which is terrific because that is a sign of just how strong the Flyers can be when firing on all cylinders.
The goaltending certainly got stronger. Both Marty Biron and Antero Niittymaki picked up their play. Philadelphia’s special teams improved drastically over this stretch of games as well. The power play has almost been the only time the Flyers have scored—well, with the exception of their league-leading 11 short-handed goals.
Oddly enough, if I had to select a player who I credit most with the turnaround, it would be Danny Briere. The oft-injured centre-man has allowed the Flyers' coaching staff to allot a greater share of ice time to Jeff Carter. Carter, in turn, has responded with 21 goals, three shy of the league lead. Carter also has four game-winning goals.
Carter’s emergence has supplied Mike Richards and Simon Gagne with the secondary scoring support they required to maybe take a night off and still come out with two points. The chemistry between Carter and Hartnell has supplied the Flyers with at least two-thirds of a second line, with Stevens shuffling the winger between Upshall, Lupul, and even the rookie Andreas Nodl.
Again, pinpointing one player is impossible. Mike Richards continues to be “Mr. Everything” for the Flyers. The return of Simon Gagne and his 34 points has certainly made the Flyers that much more formidable.
Once again, Paul Holmgren deserves a huge pat on the back. Heading into the summer, it was obvious the Flyers needed some improvements on the back-end with quality puck-moving, smooth skating defensemen.
After a handful of games he made further improvements, trading Steve Eminger and Steve Downie to Tampa Bay for Matt Carle. Carle is a bit of a liability on defense but more than makes up for it with his heads-up outlet passes and ability to skate the puck out of trouble. He has also paired beautifully with Timonen to man the point on the PP, currently ranked second in the entire NHL.
The addition of Andrew Alberts has been a nice quiet move. He is a large man who can skate. If he has enough time, he makes decent outlet passes or opts to make the safe play if forced. He is an upgrade on Derian Hatcher as far as the resident physical force on the defensive corps.
All in all, the turnaround can be attributed to a combination of much more reliable goaltending and better defensive zone play from both the defense and forwards. As well, depth of scoring has proved too much for the opposition to handle, and that was the key ingredient heading into the season that made experts consider the Flyers as true Cup contenders.