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Three games into the young NHL season and the Flyers stand 3-0. I attended the home opener on Wednesday, and the building was loud as ever. It’s almost as if Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were never there. All of the new faces have been contributing in their own ways, but there are a few of the new guys who really stand out. During player introductions and throughout the game, new players were treated just as warmly as older ones, but some more than others. I want to look at three new Flyers who really have made an impact not just on the ice, but in Flyers fans’ hearts as well.
He’s the goaltender this city has been waiting years for. So far, the Bryz has been as good as advertised, and has provided some awesome quotes to the media with his quirky sense of humor. He posted a shutout in the second game of the season at the Devils, something the 2010-2011 Flyers team could not do at all. If he can consistently keep us in games and maybe steal a game or two for us, Bryzgalov is well on his way to being beloved by Philly. He received a nice cheer during the player introductions, and plenty of them when he made some timely saves on the penalty kill.
I love this guy. When he came over in the Richards trade, I knew we had a prototypical Flyer on our hands but I was not sure exactly if he’d crack the lineup past the 3rd line. Well, here we are three games into the season and Simmonds is on our second line with Briere and Voracek, and sees extensive powerplay time. Simmonds is a young, energetic, talented hockey player. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice, and wreaks havoc in front of the net. Most scrums in front of the net start with this guy, and the fans love him. Every time he mixed it up or got in the middle of something, the fans cheered. I’ve seen some Simmonds jerseys popping up, and it won’t be long before we see more. And did I mention he could fight too?
For a player who was vehemently hated when he was on the other side, #68 has found that the City of Brotherly Love can be quite accommodating if you wear the right jersey. I grew up watching him kick our ass on the Penguins and the Rangers, and never really liked him. At 39 years old, Jagr has proven so far that he still has some in the tank and we’re all hoping he can go the distance this year. Now we’re not worried about having to take him off the puck because he’s on the good guys side for once. Along with Bryzgalov and Simmonds, I think Jagr is one of the new players who has really excited the fan base and draws most of the cheers. His intro and plays during the home opener were met with loud support and I’ve seen a LOT of Jagr jerseys. Probably the most out of any new player. Jagr has helped revitalized the powerplay that struggled so much last year with his great cycle game, and if he can continue playing a two-way game and contributing offensively, the Flyers should have a very successful year. His chemistry with Giroux is building, and if them two can find a way to fully get on the same page with VanRiemsdyk, this line could be one of the scariest in hockey.
The Vancouver Canucks head into Philadelphia tonight when the Flyers return after starting the season 2-0 on the road to play for the first time in front of their home fans. The Flyers have turned in two solid 60 minute efforts on the road against the defending champions and one of their division rivals, and look to build on their early successes. Claude Giroux leads the team with two goals so far, and Ilya Bryzgalov leads the league with both save percentage and goals against average in the young season. The defense has been good with Pronger still slowly rounding back to form, and the offense has been tenacious on the forecheck and backcheck in creating turnovers and offensive chances. Ilya Bryzgalov has made some dazzling saves, and things seem to be working out just fine so far.
Bryzgalov’s presence has shown a lot to this team already besides his stats. Due to the change in forward personnel and goaltending, this seems more confident in their goaltender and not afraid to lose. Last year, it was clear that the Flyers were having trouble staying confident with their defense in the playoffs because of many soft goals being allowed towards the end of the year. When forwards are worrying about every move they make that can lead to allowing goal, it breaks up the flow of the game and their concentration. Our defense is packed with veteran leaders like Timonen and Pronger and stout younger defenseman like Meszaros and Coburn. If they can continue defending Bryz the way they have and let him make the saves he has to, there is no reason the Flyers should not be a very successful team this year.
The forward lines seem to be clicking as well, with Giroux and Jagr continuing their chemistry they built in the pre-season. Briere has yet to find the score sheet, but seems to be meshing with new linemates Simmonds and Voracek pretty well. First round draft pick Sean Couturier has also played very well in the first two games. He has been a major factor on the penalty kill and has displayed his all-around play that the draft reports talked about in the off-season. He makes things very hard on the Flyers in their decision making coming in the next couple weeks. Blair Betts returned to the Flyers after being deemed unhealthy by the Canadiens, and our contract limit and cap space are making it hard to keep these players. Brayden Schenn is likely for a call-up at some point this year, so we will have to see. Like I said in the past, this forward unit and team as a whole might need some time to get their stuff together; but don’t discount this team for a second. Filled with young talent up and down the roster, there is a very bright season and an even brighter future ahead of this team.
Face-off is 7:30 tonight, let’s see if the Flyers can take down the defending Western Conference Champions.
The Flyers return to the TD Garden in Boston tonight for the first time since they ended their playoff hopes there back in April. The Bruins, fresh off of an impressive run through the playoffs and a Stanley Cup victory, will be hoisting their championship banner into the rafters to kick off their 2011-2012 campaign. The Flyers open up their first two games on the road before heading home against the Canucks next week, so this one should be a good test.
The Bruins are largely unchanged from their roster last year, with lots of depth on the forward lines and a stout defense backed by impressive goaltenders. The Flyers are coming off a forward overhaul and a big signing of a top-tier goalie. Tonight’s game should be a great game for hockey fans to add the budding Philly/Boston rivalry that was rekindled during the Winter Classic and the 2010 playoffs. How will the Flyers match up? Will the forwards begin to gel with such a young squad? Will the defense hold up this season? Is Bryzgalov worth his price?
The biggest makeover this season was the Flyers’ forward corps. The departures of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Kris Versteeg, Darroll Powe, Dan Carcillo, and Blair Betts left holes all over our line-up. However, the additions of Wayne Simmonds, Jaromir Jagr, Jakub Voracek, Maxime Talbot, Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and (eventually) Brayden Schenn will all see action this season to fill a role. Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, and James VanRiemsdyk will all have to carry the load for the offense as returning players. That’s not to say that the new guys will not be contributing either; because Jagr, Read, Voracek, and Simmonds will see an expanded role offensively for the Flyers. Most of these guys are very young and will have to gather chemistry with each other in order to be successful against some of the top talent in the East. Their age hopefully will equal energetic shifts that will mesh with Laviolette’s up-tempo offense.
Talbot enters as a penalty killer and checking line player that should help alleviate the loss of Blair Betts and Darroll Powe. Matt Read was spectacular in the pre-season, but can he translate that to a regular season NHl game? Can Simmonds eclipse 20 goals for the first time in his young career? Will Jagr have enough in the tank for the whole season? Can Voracek build off of his decent start and equal his trade value? And when Schenn finally plays on the Flyers, is he for real? Only time will tell, but the potential of our forwards is there. Let’s see if they can put some goals together.
Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky: The Russian Connection
Ilya Bryzgalov, the bajillion dollar man. He comes to the Flyers this season as one of the best goalies they’ve had in years. Will his success in Phoenix continue here in Philadelphia where he has arguably a better team in front of him? What about Bobrovsky? Bobrovsky could vary well be dangled as trade bait until the deadline, or he could be our young backup trying to gain a starting job in the future. I’d rather see the latter, but for once we have a solid goalie and a solid prospect at the same time. Can’t tell you the last time that happened. Let’s see what Bryz can do between the pipes tonight.
The Aging Defense
Chris Pronger, our newly crowned captain, is apparently healthy and ready to go after seeing some action in the pre-season. He returns with Kimmo Timonen, another fellow aging veteran. Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros return as well as the younger guys with good NHL experience. I do not think Carle and Coburn will both be returning next season, so their play will dictate who stays and who goes. Matt Walker will be starting for the Flyers tonight after clearing waivers, and free-agent signing Andreas Lilja will be the 7th defenseman. Our defense’s success will be predicated on our older guys staying healthy and remaining effective. If they can do that, our defense should be as good if not better than last year. Also, look for Bartulis and Gustafsson to get some playing time this year if there should be any injury or Laviolette feels the need to give these guys a shot.
Flyers are set for a 7 PM puck drop aired nationally on VS. Then they’ll travel to NJ to face the Devils on Saturday night. Get ready for this one, because it’s going to be a wild ride.
I’m back and settled into this new semester of school and ready for some Flyers hockey. I’ve gotten the chance to watch a few games on TV and attended one of the home games last week.
With the regular season about a week away, the Flyers have been trying out their new talent during the NHL preseason over the past week or two. New guys like Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Bryzgalov, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier all have had their fair share of play time so far, while returning players look to work on their expanded role this upcoming season. Here’s a few notes about pre-season so far:
Bobs posted a shutout in his first pre-season start. Granted, our skaters dominated most of that game and kept Toronto’s chances slim, but he still looked good in net and made some timely saves. Bryzgalov has let up his fair share of goals so far but has also made some great saves. None of them have been particularly “soft”. If we can somehow find a way to hang on to Bob as our backup this season with the temptation to trade him, I think our goaltending unit will be more than solid to say the least. Who knows if Leighton will be the backup or be waived/sent down to the Phantoms. I’d rather keep the Russian connection between our pipes.
If our newly crowned captain Chris Pronger is available to go on opening night, there will be one spot available on the Flyers blue line. Veteran Andreas Lilja signed this off-season to provide depth, but I think the Flyers will lean to one of their younger players. Walker and Lilja are meant to be scratched every night, and I think Oskars Bartulis or Eric Gustafsson will be filling that role. Bartulis has gotten some playing time over the past two seasons and is well liked by the Flyers organization. Gustafsson’s game is more on the offensive side, with skills in puck control and skating. Both of these guys have done a good job during the pre-season, but I haven’t seen enough to figure out who gets the opening night nod. If Pronger is unavailable, I’m sure Walker or Lilja will be paired with one of these guys for our 3rd pairing. Only time will tell.
New Offensive Faces
Jaromir Jagr has sure shown that he can come back from the NHL so far, netting 3 goals and 2 assists so far. He has shown the ability to take high percentage shots and bury them, and as a plus… he’s been having success on the powerplay. Our powerplay was atrocious last year, and I’ve been hoping Jagr can help revitalize this unit. A line of Jagr and Briere with JVR/Giroux sounds amazing, we will see.
Matt Read has been turning everybody’s heads in camp and pre-season with a tie for the league lead with 6 points. Laviolette has used him in pretty much every facet of the game and it looks like he is a shoe-in for the opening night roster on the 3rd line. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t make the team.
Wayne Simmonds has potted 3 goals as well and has been getting into the dirty parts of the ice and being the high energy player we hoped to get in the Richards trade. Regardless of what happened with him and Avery, I think he will be a great fit on this team. Max Talbot hasn’t done a whole lot to impress me yet, but I think his role will come into play when the season starts and there’s more stability in the locker room.
The young Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn have also been on the ice this pre-season and I think Schenn has a better chance of making the team at this point. Couturier is still a raw talent that will probably need more time outside of the NHL to develop. Schenn may very well make the team, and has been a big part of our penalty kill while displaying the two-way skill that got him touted as such as high prospect. The salary cap will come into play heavily here, so we will see how that works out.
Zac Rinaldo has also shown that he can be our tough guy with some hockey ability this pre-season, and looks to take Shelley’s spot on the 4th line after Shelley got suspended for his cheap shot against the Leafs last week. My projected lines look something like this:
I’m not exactly sure how these will pan out, but I know those guys on the first two lines will be there, just not in that order most likely. Voracek has shown some flash and the ability to set up guys, so he might be a natural with Briere. Jagr fits in that category too, so it all depends on where Lavvy wants to put these guys.
With two pre-season games left, small position and roster tweaks will be made in order to get this team ready to watch the Bruins raise their championship banner on opening night next Thursday. I’ll have more on here shortly before the season opener. Let’s see if this Matt Read guy can make the team or not.
August has to be the slowest month in hockey world. Everyone (myself included) is currently gearing up for football to start and baseball division races are heating up. So I thought I’d do a piece on a broader topic to have something to talk about. The Flyers will not have anything else for us to dissect until training camp starts or they make another roster move, so what I say now will rarely differ from what I’ve already said. I’d like to talk about an awesome trend I have noticed recently… Philly sports dominance.
I am not talking about dominance in the means on championships, but three of the major professional sports teams in Philadelphia are slated as making it far in the playoffs, and possibly as contenders. And oh yeah, free agents are FLOCKING here. If one or two of these teams can manage to win a championship, there may be a ‘Golden Age of Philly Sports’ on the horizon. Let’s look at the most obvious bright spot of our Philly sports teams.
Of course for the Flyers I’ve talked so much about. While they may not have made as big of a splash in the sports world with their moves, they still are a playoff contender and one of the top teams in their conference going into this season. They signed their number one goalie in Ilya Bryzgalov while picking up some promising prospects in Schenn, Coutourier, Voracek, and Simmonds. They also landed Jaromir Jagr whom was looking to come to a team with a chance of winning the Stanley Cup. The Flyers have a long, rich history full of unforgettable players and characters that have built the foundation that this team plays on today. Philadelphia has always been regarded as a top-tier hockey town and we’ve had our fair share of talent through our doors… but we finally have a number one goalie that wanted to play here, among so many other things that make our team great. But what about our two other hyped teams at the moment?
The Phillies are defending NL East Champs year after year, and have been dominant in the NL for a few years now. Two years removed from their last World Series and they are looking to return this season. Backed up by a deadly pitching rotation with the likes of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels; the Phillies can do some serious damage in the playoffs. Their infield is sound defensively and features superb hitting all-around. The outfield is anchored by Shane Victorino and newcomer Hunter Pence. Mayberry has been great recently in relief as well, and our starting pitchers have been doing a good enough job to set Madson and the rest of the bullpen up to finish games.
After years of mediocrity in the late 90s to early 2000s, the Phillies are a premier MLB franchise. Last season they went out and signed Cliff Lee after originally trading him to bolster their line-up. And this is after a season of acquiring Halladay and Oswalt to compliment Hamels, our original ace. Guys want to play here. They love playing for Charlie Manuel at a sold-out ballpark every night. Nothing exemplifies how new Phillies feel than the story of Hunter Pence. The Phillies swooped in near the trade deadline and picked up one of the most valuable assets on the market. Besides providing a beastly right hand bat so teams will stop pitching around Howard, Pence’s energy and swagger seemingly revitalized the Phillies team and helped them to finish 9-1 on their road trip when he joined the team. And he loves Philadelphia.
The Phillies are favorites in the NL to get to the World Series, and their recent handling of the Giants has led many to believe that barring any injuries, this club should meet expectations with their league-best record of 78-41.
The Eagles have been the talk of the down for the past decade during the Andy Reid Era. While only making it to the big dance once, they have played in five NFC championship games and are perennial playoff contenders. This past off-season, the Eagles were the biggest players and signed pretty much half of their current roster through free agency. Michael Vick did something special last season, and he’s attracted many players here to help him win a Super Bowl. The Kolb trade started things off to receive a second-round pick and dynamic corner Rodgers-Cromartie. Many speculated that trade officially ended the Eagles entrance in the Asomugha sweepstakes that had teams such as the Cowboys and Jets knocking on his door. Not to be outdone, the Eagles signed the most prized free agent this off-season along with Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin to solidify our defense. They also addressed their defensive line and offensive line depth with some key signings, and even inked Ronnie Brown and Vince Young to add to our already-potent offense. And then Steve Smith (NYG) was signed. Talk about a plethora of new players.
Like the Phillies, the Eagles attracted many free agents to their team and signed them. Both of these teams are good examples of going out and getting what you want (at least this season). The Phillies and Eagles have put themselves in good position to win championships this year. Whether that was the leading cause or the excitement of playing with Michael Vick sparked interest; guys want to play here. The Yankees and Patriots are not the only team attracting top-level talent anymore… but being the paper champions doesn’t grant you a Super Bowl ring. Let’s see if they can pull it together this season.
Let me put it this way. I’m going to list some names and you tell me if you ever thought them as an eventual Philadelphia athlete.
Pedro Martinez. Cliff Lee. Roy Halladay. Roy Oswalt. Hunter Pence.
Michael Vick. Vince Young. Nnamdi Asomugha. Ronnie Brown.
Chris Pronger. Ilya Bryzgalov. Jaromir Jagr.
For once, we’re making moves on big names through trades and free agency on some of our biggest teams. The Phillies went out and got their pitcher and hitter (Lee and Pence). The Eagles got their cornerback they needed (Asomugha and DRC). The Flyers went after their top defenseman and goalie (Pronger and Bryzgalov). Sometimes I think we are not appreciative even though we want to win. I just hope some of us aren’t letting this pass us by. Watching these Phillies every night is special, and we may never see a team like this again. The Eagles are putting themselves in a position to be better than they were in 2004. The Flyers have just shored up their offensive prospects with two great additions, and finally added a great goaltender to compliment their stingy defense and scoring forwards. There are few other cities who can compare with the competitive level Philadelphia sports teams have right now. Boston and New York come to mind, but Philadelphia is quickly pushing away from their stereotype as being a second-rate or “wannabe” city. If there ever was a time for a Golden Age of Philly Sports to start, why not now?
One of the big changes the Flyers made when shipping Mike Richards to Los Angeles besides losing one of their marquee players was that they also lost their captain who served the past two years. The announcement of the new Flyers captain for the 2011-2012 season is surely months away with training camp not even underway yet, but it is fun to speculate who might be filling Mike Richards role as the official team leader. There are plenty of good veteran choices such as Pronger, Timonen, and Briere that have had experience honing the ‘C’ on previous teams. The question is; who does Laviolette and Holmgren think best fits this team? Will he go with one of these three guys, or maybe go for a younger guy? With all the new faces on this years’ team, it is difficult to tell.
Pronger and Timonen are aging blue liners entering this season recovering from injuries sustained during the past season. Pronger had back surgery to remedy his ailment, and recovery from a procedure like that is never easy. Either of them could make the case to be the team’s captain with their leadership qualities on and off the ice. Both guys have been team leaders during their tenures here and have been active in the locker room and on the ice (supposedly, from what fans can gather). Danny Briere is finding his spot on the team after catching fire during the 2010 playoff run and carrying it into last season and always has the right things to say to the media while being a veteran leader. While any of these guys would make a good selection, there is really only one guy I see wearing the ‘C’ this season.
If Chris Pronger is healthy enough to start the season, he will be the Philadelphia Flyers’ captain. Pronger is a true veteran leader who has won a Cup and has no problem calling players out for not carrying their share of the load. He is aggressive, witty, and loves playing games with reporters during interviews. Above all, he clashed with Richards’ reclusive and laid back approach to captaincy. If the front office is serious about culture change, then they will put Pronger at the helm to do things his way this time around without stepping on Richards’ toes. We’re stuck with him for another five years, and I think Pronger is the answer at this juncture. Timonen and Briere might turn out to be chosen if I’m wrong or Pronger cannot start the season, but no one knows at this point.
In a perfect world, I see Pronger as captain with Timonen/Briere/Giroux splitting time as assistant captains. Pronger will remain captain until he retires, and then the torch passes to Claude Giroux or James van Riemsdyk. I say Giroux because if you take away the three candidates I previously mentioned, then what returning Flyer do you give it to? I’d like to think Giroux is the best option at that point. I don’t see any of the new Flyers becoming captain this year. Betts, Shelley, Coburn, Hartnell, and Meszaros are all good players and great in the team’s locker room, but I don’t see captain material in those guys. Lappy would be a good fit if he was fit to play… but for now it is a waiting game. I will be very surprised if Chris Pronger is on the active roster this fall and is not named the next captain of the Philadelphia Flyers