The Philadelphia Flyers ended their season last year in shambles. The tragic ending came after a first-half performance that was so dominating, Flyer fans were booking their Stanley Cup Finals tickets in January.
This year, after an off-season roster overhaul that had skeptics announcing them dead before one shift was played, the Flyers are right where they want to be: in the middle of the pack.
Apparently Paul Holmgren knew what he was doing after all. Evidently, changes in philosophy and team dynamics were needed—not coaching.
Last season, Philadelphia rode atop the Eastern Conference for two-thirds of the season, only to have the wheels come off.
The media keeps dropping those little teaser tidbits about how the Flyers are so many points behind Pittsburgh. Who cares?
I say let Pittsburgh and Washington have their division titles, top seeds and Presidents' Trophies. Do teams that reach those pinnacles out of the East fare well in attaining the true goal? Not usually.
With that said, allow me to present my five reasons the Flyers are poised for second-half success.
Last season, the Flyers peaked in November through December, looking almost unstoppable.
This season, however, they sometimes look out of place.
Several goals against goalies Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky have come by way of Flyer defensemen recklessly deflecting the pucks into their own nets.
While this is unacceptable to happen once, let alone several times, it can be attributed to a lack of focus. Something that should not be happening come May.
For the season's duration, the Flyers have been bouncing up and down between fourth and fifth place in the East. So long as they maintain that pace they'll be fine. No need for them to get burnt out or complacent later.
The punches in the mouth they take now will force them to focus later on, as the games get more and more important. No like last year, where in February and March they had the East all but wrapped up.
What happened was the team put it in cruise control, expecting to just flip a switch come playoff time. As they learned, that's real hard to do. Instead, this year Philadelphia should be entering playoff mode come March and be primed by late April.
See that guy there? For those that don't know, his name is Zac Rinaldo.
Although he fights a lot, he's not a fighter. In fact, he's not that imposing physically, standing only 5-foot-11 and weighing a buck-70, he's anything but an NHL enforcer.
He's not much of a scorer either, only registering three points this season thus far.
What he does do and does well is go out on the ice looking to lay someone out. I know I already said he's not that big, but his height actually gives him a low center of gravity, making his checks more likely to unbalance his opponents.
Don't believe me? Go ask Drew Doughty.
OK, so what does that do for the Flyers, you ask? It's a shot in the arm for the team to see a guy like Rinaldo go out on the ice and take runs at the likes of the Doughtys of the NHL.
When your name is James van Riemsdyk or Jakub Voracek, and you suddenly see your ice time drop in exchange for a guy like Rinaldo, who goes out there throwing his body around as he does, your coach is telling you to step up your game.
Last season, the Flyers didn't quite have that type of guy in their lineup. Dan Carcillo was supposed to fill that role, which he did in previous seasons quite well. But last season was a different story, as we saw "Car-bomb" either ushered to the sin-bin for a rash of dumb penalties or losing fights and with just plain deteriorating play.
I loved Carcillo. His overtime goal against the Devils in the playoffs is one I'll tell my grandkids about. But as Kenny Rogers once said, "You gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em." The Flyers knew it was time to fold 'em with Car-bomb.
This year, when the team looks flat, Peter Laviolette won't have the Car-bomb to throw out there; he'll have a Smart-bomb. I personally prefer the latter.
When the Flyers signed Jaromir Jagr last June, the fan in me wanted to get nuts. The objective-minded analyst in me said he'll be lucky to get 40 points. The end result was a 50-point compromised expectation.
I never for the life of me thought Jagr and Claude Giroux would become the second Legion of Doom line.
They are absolutely ruthless together. They have the uncanny ability to find one another in traffic, most often putting the puck right on the other's tape.
Early in the season, it seemed to be the Giroux show. However, Peter Laviolette saw fit to promote Scott Hartnell to the top line.
The result ended up being a balanced complimentary trio of players whose styles only serve to make each other better. A coach couldn't ask for more from a top line. Not only that but all three have shown they can perform in the postseason.
I almost wanted to title this slide, "Eye of The Tiger"!
That helmet just screams inspiration from Survivor's song from 1982's Rocky III, where a Philadelphia mythological figure finds what he's been missing to reclaim his title.
Wait, that's what the Flyers are doing to end their 36-year Stanley Cup drought: getting back that which they lost that had gotten them there in the first place!
Let's face it, as historic and legendary as those '1970s teams were, when Bernie Parent went down, they just weren't the same.
Since those days, the Flyers struggled to find, or ignored the fact that, they needed a stud goalie if they are to hoist the Cup.
After the Flyers' disappointing loss to Boston, Ed Snider commented in a post-game interview that the goalie carousel Flyer fans saw would "never happen again."
In Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers found a talented goalie with something to prove, much like Rocky did—that he has what it takes to be a champion, again.
Yes, Bryzgalov has a championship ring but as a backup. Although he started 10 games for the Ducks in their championship run, he didn't quite prove he could carry a team all the way. His two debacles against the Detroit Red Wings the previous two seasons add fuel to that fire.
Despite a few shoddy performances earlier this season, his last being a four-goals-allowed-on-10-shots outing against Winnipeg, Bryzgalov has been spectacular and not quite "lost in the woods."
In his five starts since that 8-9 disaster Bryzgalov, has posted a 1.80 GAA and a .939 save percentage.
It would also behoove his own teammates to not deflect or kick shots in against him.
This year, the Flyers have no question as to who their leaders are. But the same couldn't have been said last season.
A locker room divided is a locker room that is doomed to fail.
Teams have to be cohesive units that can trust each other in times of need.
They can't have Captains who are disinterested or unconcerned when an opposing team's goon takes head shots at defenseless non-fighters.
Yes, that happened last season when Matt Carle took a shot from Sean Avery, and Mike Richards went on to remark how Carle wouldn't mind taking a few punches to win a game.
That kind of attitude isn't in Flyer dogma and shouldn't be in any team's.
In the Flyers' early days, a player went down with a severely fractured jaw during a fight.
Ed Snider's response to that at that time was, coincidentally the same as his response to last year's goalie dilemma, "It will never happen again." And so were born the Broad Street Bullies—a team that stuck up for each other regardless the cost.
Players like Pronger, Max Talbot, Jagr, Briere, Timmonen and Giroux know what that's about. While they are all not fighters, each has shown they can give the team a lift when things look grim.
Those types of players understand what is expected of them.
With Pronger hurt during last season's playoffs, Danny Briere stepped up big against Buffalo. He played a battle of wits game through the media with Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, which seemed to affect Miller's game at moments in the series.
Timmonen is a player that can lead by example, logging heavy minutes and picking up the slack for a defensive corps that at times can struggle.
Talbot, although new to the Flyers, has shown his clutch ability and leadership with Pittsburgh. Flyer fans should remember well how Talbot goaded Dan Carcillo into a useless fight in a game in which the Flyers had a 3-0 lead. Talbot lost the fight, but his team became visually inspired, rallying to come from behind and eliminate the Flyers that day.
Jagr is a living legend, but most recently was seen taking up the slack when Pronger suffered a gruesome injury against Toronto. Jagr went on to register his first and second goals of the year, lifting the Flyers to victory that day. The injury to Pronger could have easily deflated the team giving them an easy excuse to lose. Instead, Jagr said no to that.
Giroux just needs to be Giroux. By going out there and menacing the opposing team, he makes room for guys like Voracek, van Riemsdyk and Simmonds to work against less than stellar defenses.
The formula laid out in this presentation is one the Philadelphia Flyers should stick by for success. They have the pieces they just need to put it together.
Please feel free to comment as usual! Hope you enjoyed!