So we’ve been sitting around for the past month after watching our most recent rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, win their first Stanley Cup since the Lemieux era. A year and some months ago, we were watching the magical run of the Flyers with Biron stopping everything in his way and Umberger exploding over the Habs. We were watching our team go to the Eastern Conference Final after not making the playoffs and having a franchise-worst season. But, where are we now?
We can play against anyone, and we showed it this year. Battling versus elite teams such as the Sharks, Bruins, Red Wings, and Hurricanes; we either won or were seconds away from winning any games in those season series. That was the theme for the season though. Up and down. There was flashes of brilliance. Shorthanded goal explosions, dominant play from both Marty and Nitty at times, Giroux, Powe, Carter, Richards all were molded into much better players this year. Not giving up a shorthanded goal until the last game, being the best special teams team in the NHL with being in top 5 in both PK and PP at times… but it wasn’t enough.
Then there were signs that we weren’t getting out of the first round. Injury-filled rosters. Penalties. Mistakes. Penalties. Lack of emotion at times. More penalties. The “Jekyll and Hyde” reference was all too true for our Flyers this year. Needing to win 2 out of 3 of our final games to close out home ice advantage for the first round, we only got one. Needing to show up for every game of the first round, especially for a chance at a split in the series… we got pushed around Game 1. We played good Game 2, and played great through Games 3-6. The reason we lost the games we did? Simple. Even though at times we carried the play, we couldn’t finish. Penalties or mistakes were holding us back.
Here’s what I think needs to happen for the Flyers to take their talent-filled roster and make it into a Cup winning team:
This is often an overlooked aspect of a player’s game, but we need to improve greatly in this department. We did improve over the year, but how many times did a key offensive zone draw where we could have gotten control of the puck and scored and we didn’t? Or how about the times when we were in our defensive zone after an icing or at a big part in the game and we just didn’t get it done? This needs to change so we can control the tempo of the game a little easier.
This is Flyers hockey at it’s finest. When we control the forecheck, we control the game. We can’t be sucked into other team’s plays. It seems when teams force with an aggressive forecheck, we get caught. We have to find a way to counter that this year and keep getting pucks in deep. When we do that, it’s hard to beat us. The backcheck needs to be improved as well. I don’t care if you’re the highest paid 3rd line center Briere, we need you to skate back and help our blueliners.
It could be a coaching thing or maybe just a slump this year but we need to be more consistent. I’d rather be consistently good then play great at times and falter at times when we need to play better. The Penguins and Rangers were victim to this during the year and got a new coach and they turned their seasons around. I’m not saying to fire Stevens because he’s proved he can coach our team. He just needs to know that he better come up with a better plan next year or his job may be in jeopardy.
This is most important aspect of their game that needs to be improved. Not as many suspensions or controversy as last year, but still a lot of minor penalties. Our 3 best forwards (Richie, Gags, Carts) play on the PK and it’s hard to score goals when you’re tired from playing down a man for a good portion of the game. Those things tend to catch up with you, and they did to us this year. Hartnell, Carcillo, and Carter are main culprits I see in this one with some lazy hooking and holding penalties at times. Everyone needs to improve.
Not much to say here after the free-agent signings. Ray Emery will most likely be the starting goaltender and Brian “I Lost My Helmet” Boucher will be a solid backup.
Our defense is much more improved obviously with the inclusion of big, talented D-man Chris Pronger. The possibilities of Carle/Coburn/Pronger/Timmonen pairing up are vast improvements over any pairings last season. Watch this help our goalie situation out as well.
Next year looks promising. We have much of our returning lineup with the promise that Powe and Giroux are going to continue to “wow” us. The idea of Giroux playing on the top 2 lines with Lupul and Knuble gone gets me excited. Nodl and Ross showed some things to be happy about if we need them to play some games at the NHL level. Even guys like Asham and Carcillo showed they can handle the puck while being able to drop the gloves. Carters needs to have another strong season to show that last season wasn’t just a one-time thing. He needs to show up for next year’s playoff run, too. Richards needs to continue to lead this team and be a solid PKer. The addition of a guy like Ian LaPerriere will help us out immensely on the PK and in our bottom lines. It looks like we will have yet another season with solid 3 lines of balanced offense.
It would be nice to have Danny Briere healthy, also. All of this combined with the idea of James van Riemsdyk possibly wearing orange and black at some point in the season after adding 20 pounds to his small frame since he’s been drafted makes the puck dropping at Carolina in October that much more exciting… and that much more far away.