Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter
For the Flyers, the 2009-10 season has been like a roller coaster ride.
First there were the huge climbs at the beginning of the season, when the team got off to a 3-0 start. That was followed by a steep fall with three losses in a row, followed by a massive climb, winning seven out of eight games, and back to the lows again.
The only consistency to the Flyers is their inconsistency. As it stands now, after 24 games the Flyers sit at 13-10-1, 18th overall in the NHL, ninth in the Eastern Conference, and third in the Atlantic Division.
That, by all accounts amounts to mediocrity.
The Flyers Home record of 8-4-1 is decent enough. On the road it’s a different stor; the Flyers own a 5-6-0 record, and have looked very tentative at times away from the Wachovia Center.
While the season is still young, the Flyers have already had to deal with the loss of Daniel Briere, Ryan Parent, Simon Gagne, James Van Riemsdyk, and others for various amounts of time. This had led to a number of line changes, which many feel has hurt the Flyers chemistry.
Then there are the ever-present sentiments of the John Stevens “Fan Club,” calling for the Flyers' head coach's head every time the Flyers lose a few games in a row.
The offseason saw the Flyers make a number of key acquisitions, the least of which, defenseman Chris Pronger, has been excellent on the ice and, by all accounts, has become a quiet leader for this young franchise.
Goaltender Ray Emery has had his fair share of ups and downs, but his 11-7-1 record is more than respectable. For the most part, Emery has been solid between the pipes.
Despite the Flyers’ recent two game losing streak and 4-6-0 record in their past ten games, the way I see it, the Flyers have quite a few strengths from which to draw some confidence.
First, the Flyers own one of the NHL’s best power play units, clipping along at a 24 percent success rate, ranking them fifth overall. In fact, the Flyers have been tremendous offensively, averaging 3.12 goals per game, again ranking them fifth overall.
Defensively it’s another story.
The Flyers’ penalty kill is giving up far too many goals, which in turn has cost the Flyers a few wins. An 80 percent success rate is not acceptable if the Flyers intend on being a legitimate contender. Clearly this area of the team's game needs to improve or it will cost them, large.
The Flyers are averaging 2.67 goals against per game, ranking them 11th overall. On the surface the Flyers' defense looks alright, but this team has a penchant for giving up bad goals and, when pressed, has panicked on occassion.
Pronger and Matt Carle have been a tremendous defensive duo for the Flyers; that said, Kimmo Timonen has been very average and Ryan Parent has been inconsistent. Pronger and Carle will “be there," but it’s up to Timonen, Parent, and Braydon Coburn to get it done when challenged.
Jeff Carter has played well this season, but he is struggling at times to put the puck in the net, and the Flyers need him to be more consistent. Teammate Mike Richards has been excellent, leading the Flyers in goal scoring with 11 goals and, at +6, owns the fourth best plus/minus on the team, which is great considering Richards plays in most situations.
It’s no secret that Coach Stevens is under the gun to get the Flyers to play a very physical/attacking brand of hockey. He has done a nice job adjusting to the injuries and, by all accounts, seems to have the respect of his players, despite all the rumblings out of Philadelphia that he does not.
The reality is, Stevens is never going to be that “rah-rah” guy. He is low-key with the media, and the fans hate him for it. The fact is, you don’t get to the NHL by accident, and I am sure Stevens has the stem and cherries to call out a player when he is not performing.
Bottom line: Stevens is a good coach, and I can’t see him going anywhere—unless of course the Flyers go into a major dive, which I don’t think is possible.
Rookie James Van Riemsdyk has been sensational. His 19 points ranks him third on the team, just three points back of Richards and four behind Carter. His enthusiasm has been a welcome addition as has his speed and touch around the net.
Daniel Briere looks to be back on track. His scoring touch has returned, and more importantly, his desire to compete has been very noticeable this season. Suspension aside, Briere looks poised to have a 70-point season, something few thought possible at the beginning of the campaign.
Scott Hartnell continues to have bad hair and to lead by example. He is one of the few Flyers that is willing to pay the price every single night, and is one of those players that brings so many intangibles to the game that, without him in the lineup, the Flyers are a different team.
Claude Giroux has shown flashes of brilliance, but with three goals in 24 games he still has a way to go before he can be considered a legitimate second line player. Like many young players, Giroux needs to shoot the puck more (he has 35 shots on the season), his hockey sense is strong, he just needs to be a little greedier.
Overall, the Flyers outlook on the season has been positive. Better defense, less penalties, and a more aggressive approach from the defense will go a long way in making sure this Flyers squad not only secures a playoff spot, but goes a long way in the process.
Until next time,