The Flyers enter this off-season with a glaring need between the pipes. This may sound familiar, as the Flyers arguably have never had a definite answer/solution to their goaltending problem since Pelle Lindbergh’s death. Two decades without a true number one goalie, and the Flyers have lost two Stanley Cup Finals, quite a few Conference Finals, and plenty of early first and second round exits. Previous Flyers teams have played strong defense, and always had depth at forward. Yet, they have not been able to get over the hump. Goaltending was not the only issue this season, and it did not ultimately send them packing in the second round. Although the Flyers played poorly in front of their goaltender, it’s hard to imagine that a better goalie would not have at least made things a little easier for the Flyers. Maybe steal a game or two, make some timely saves. The play of the goalies in question wasn’t terrible, but a team with confidence in themselves AND their net minder will be playing a lot better hockey than a team that is scared of their goalie giving up a soft goal (see: Flyers vs. Boston this year). The free agent market this summer has some good goalies whom the Flyers might want to take a look at. There are also trading options with plenty of young to middle-aged goalies playing behind established veterans. And then, there is the hope that Bobrovsky will magically become a number one in only his second NHL season. What do the Flyers do?
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Coming off an exceptional Stanely Cup Final run in 2010 that left them two wins short of glory, the Philadelphia Flyers were poised to make a return with a deeper defensive corps and experience from a deep run on their side. In the first half of the season, the Flyers were among the best in the league, actually holding down the top spot in the league for some time. They were beating some of the best teams in the league, and some of them pretty handily. They were getting strong defensive play, surprise goaltending from their rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and Claude Giroux, Ville Leino, and Danny Briere were continuing their hot streak after an amazing playoff run. Fast forward to the end of March, and the Flyers still have a chance to lock up the #1 seed even after coasting through the second half of the season. After failing to beat some teams who were out of the playoff picture along with some divisional opponents, the Flyers finished the season as the #2 seed to face the seventh seeded red-hot Buffalo Sabres. This match-up had the hottest team from the first half of the season (Philly) playing the arguably hottest team in the second half (Buffalo). After a few games of musical goalies and physicality, the Flyers emerged victorious in a Game 7 demolishing of the Sabres. The Flyers apparently righted the ship, and were playing good hockey again. Until of course, they were utterly dominated (albeit Game 2) and got swept in the second round by a hungry and focused Boston Bruins team. So why did this team come up VERY short of its intended goal?
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The scene of the series shifts from Philly to Buffalo tonight. After a crazy, penalty-filled 5-4 win over the Sabres on Saturday, both teams will be looking to establish some momentum in the series. 1-1 series ties are often dangerous considering they take home-ice away from the higher-seeded team. I don’t think we will see as many powerplays as we saw on Saturday, and for the Flyers sake I hope we don’t. Their powerplay struck only one out of nine times, although some of their setups did look improved from previous games. Another emerging storyline is the Flyers’ goaltending… surprise! Bobrovsky was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals, the third being what most fans would call “soft”. Boucher came in and calmed everything down in relief, letting only one goal in to seal the Flyers victory. Apparently Michael Leighton will be backing up Boosh tonight. Bobs will be sitting in the press box to watch the game for the first time all year.
Once again, James VanRiemsdyk was a force on the ice and is developing into a big presence on the ice. Hopefully my prediction holds through the rest of the series/playoffs. Claude Giroux has also stepped his game up, and his back-checking has been amazing in hindering Buffalo crossing the Flyers’ blue line. Carcillo even got rewarded with a gritty goal, and that’s the kind that will win this series. Tonight should not be as high scoring as Saturday, and hopefully the Flyers can get a lead and protect it. Buffalo should feel good they got the split on the road, but they also should have some doubt growing now after letting five goals on their prized goaltender and supposedly good defense that helped them remain so hot down the stretch of the regular season.
Nodl suffered a cut under his eye during the game and will not play tonight per the Flyers twitter. This leaves Zherdev, Holmstrom, or Shelley to fill in for him. I’m hoping that Zherdev finally gets a chance to play, but we shall see. Pronger apparently particpated in the team skate this morning, so his return should be coming soon. I’m thinking Game 5. Carter has been snake-bitten lately in the first two games of this series and I think he’s finally going to put one in tonight to put down all of the doubters regarding his playoff capability. Richards should also find the scoresheet tonight, he’s way overdue and the internet fans are getting anxious. Regardless that he’s a great defensive forward as well, people get pissed when he does not produce a plethora of goals.
So in my eyes, Carter and Richie should have big games tonight, Boucher should get the start, and Zherdev should get a shot to play. Look for JVR to be crashign the crease again, and maybe Giroux can give us another dazzling goal. Game 3 is usually the game that sets the tone for the rest of the series. If the Flyers win tonight, all the pressure is on Buffalo to win Game 4 before going back to a possible series-ending game in Philly. If the Sabres win tonight, the Flyers have to hope to get Game 4 to take back home-ice. Should be a wild one tonight. LET’S GO FLYERS!
Last week in Montreal, the Flyers got shut out 3-0 by giving up a pair of powerplay goals and failing to capitalize on their own powerplay chances. The Canadiens carried the play in the first and then caused the Flyers to play catch-up the whole game. Tonight, the scene will shift to Philadelphia and the annoying Habs fans won’t have a chance to sing their “Nah nah nah nah hey hey goodbye” for a regular season game. The Flyers are definitely looking forward to this one as a chance to build on the sloppy game yet solid effort that they won in a shootout on Saturday against the Caps. Subban and Richards exchanged pleasantries last time around, so look for that if the game gets out of hand.
The Flyers powerplay needs to keep things simple and get shots on net with traffic in front. That’s how they were so successful earlier this month, and that’s how Flyers hockey scores on the powerplay more often than not. The penalty kill needs to tighten up for sure, but the amount of penalties taken needs to be cut down. Danny Briere’s stick infraction last game nearly lost them the game, and it can’t happen again. Good teams will make you pay for that usually, but we got a little lucky on Saturday.
They need to test Price early and often. I doubt he’s going to return another 41 save performance in Philly tonight. Boosh will get the start again tonight, and they need to make sure he feels comfortable early or it could be a long night.
James Van Riemsdyk had his best game of the season on Saturday. He was all over the ice, taking the body, and cycling the puck down low using his size. This was the JVR we wanted to see this year, and he needs to take that game and flush it. He may have played well, but the only way to show your coach that you shouldn’t be scratched again when Carcillo returns is to keep building on each game and getting better. He should be getting that first goal soon, why not tonight? If he keeps working hard and stops trying to be too fancy with the puck, the bounces will come his way.
There’s been a lot of talk about Bobrovsky being rested the past two games, but I think this is a good thing. He can take a step back and evaluate what went well with those 10+ games he saw action in and what didn’t go so well. Jeff Reese can show him some film and work him to improve his game. This also gives Boosh a chance to get some work in because you can’t play an 82-game season and win with just one goalie in today’s league. Bobs is our starter for sure, but right now as a young goaltender still acclimating to the North American culture and game, a break can be a good thing.
Tonight should be a good hockey game for fans in general, then the Flyers travel to Minnesota, back home to take on Calgary, then to New Jersey to meet the Devils for the first time this season. Should be an interesting Thanksgiving week/weekend.
The Flyers have been hot as hell lately with their five-game winning streak. Last time I posted they were going into that Columbus game that we all would rather not talk about. They played un-inspired hockey and walked out of there with a win, but have not lost since. Even with the suspension of Danny Briere and the injury to Nodl, our forwards still found ways to score and our defense has been terrific. It was nice to see Bartulis get some time in when Meszaros was out, and things are looking good for this hockey club. JVR is going to be scratched tonight, and anyone who has watched this season can tell you why. He looked like a new player the first few games and began to look like that power forward we all thought he’d become… but he’s been trying a bit too hard out there. Instead of keeping it simple, he has tried a bit too much and it costs him and the team in the offensive zone. A game or two to sit out and go back to the drawing board might be good for him, as we saw with Nikolai Zherdev a few games prior. This move is to bring Nodl back into the line-up who had the best game of his young career before getting hurt against the Islanders. Another surprise has been rookie Eric Wellwood who has found his place amongst some of the Flyers standouts and has been a contributing member to each of the Flyers past few wins.
Sergei Bobrovsky gets the start again tonight in Long Island after looking GREAT in the past five contests. That either means he is going to get a good amount of work this weekend with the game at Washington tomorrow, or he will sit tomorrow and Boosh will get the nod. Either way, this rookie has every thing you want in a potential star goaltender… it gets me excited. When’s the last time we had a young goalie we were this excited about? Cechmanek, Beezer, Esche… they were all pretty old by the time we got to them. With Jeff Reese and Lavvy getting things going, maybe Bobs could pan out to be the #1 goalie we’ve been longing for; but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Tonight should be a battle since Briere got suspended last week for his crosscheck to the head on Nielsen. There were a good amount of scrums and fisticuffs, so look for more of that. They weren’t too happy with our 6-1 shellacking last week, so they better come out ready tonight.
The Flyers own a 2-2-1 record going into their 6th game of the season to continue their 5-game homestand against the Anaheim Ducks. Coming off their 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday, the Flyers have had some time off from games until Thursday. They got to enjoy a full day off and have been conducting full practices and skates to keep the legs moving. They have a few things that they need to work on to get above .500, and hopefully they are rectifying some of the glaring holes in their game during this week.
Conditioning from practices this week will hopefully be hard, because the early season is the best time to get in game shape and guys like Chris Pronger are going to need it since he did not play in training camp. The line-up should be shuffled a bit over the next few games to accommodate different looks with guys like Andreas Nodl starting to break into the Flyers line-up. He skated pretty well with Carter and Richards, but I really think that Richie and Carter need to get separated for a game or two to see how they play with other players. I’d love to see a line getting Giroux some time with Carter and Zherdev/JVR. Richards is the kind of player that could very well center a third line with Nodl/Carcillo and Hartnell. Some tinkering could definitely produce results with the depth and talent we have.
The defense is also going to need to tighten up, which will happen in time as Chris Pronger adjusts his game back to usual. Our defense has been playing a little too much though due to the amount of penalties we’ve taken so far, especially in the last 3 games. Bobrovsky has been good, but still shows signs of a young goaltender adjusting to a foreign North American game. I still look forward to his development as our goaltender though. These next two games against Anaheim and Toronto at home are big. Anaheim has struggled out of the gate but look for Sbisa and Lupul to want to play against their former team, and don’t count out Bobby Ryan returning home to have a good game. Hopefully Pronger gets into form to play his former team because Saturday against the Leafs will be the Flyers looking to hand them a loss; something that they haven’t experienced in regulation this season yet (4-0-1).
After this homestand, it’s to Columbus, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Long Island for a little road trip. Those are some good hockey teams and the Flyers can’t afford to get behind in games at this juncture in the season. Slow starts are often hard to overcome, as previous Flyers teams have proven.
Thursday night’s loss to the Lightning was an emotional one for Flyers fans as they saw former Flyer fan-favorite Simon Gagne return to South Philadelphia wearing some different colors than his traditional orange and black garb. In the 3-2 loss, we were finally pleased to see Nikolai Zherdev get on the stat sheet with a nice rush with crisp passing by Giroux and JVR to find a streaking Zherdev for an easy tap-in. Brian Boucher got the start and played a great game up until he let in a pretty soft goal that turned out to be the game winner. The 4th line continues to be an effective checking line even without Lappy, and the powerplay is still struggling. The Flyers will hope to rectify that tonight when the Pens come to town for their first meeting in Philadelphia this season.
Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start tonight after going 2-0 in his first two starts. The Penguins have a bit more of a gameplan now after seeing Bobs in their home opener, so let’s hope our Russian friend can keep the puck out of the net tonight.
Scott Hartnell has been very quiet this season. Between stupid penalties, stirring the pot, and points… I feel like Scott Hartnell hasn’t even played a game for us this season (minus the Blues game in which he racked up 21 of his total 23 PIM this season with fighting majors). Danny B is still on his A-game offensively, and Leino is still finding his stride after recovering from his off-season hip surgery. If we can get Scotty and Ville going on the same burner they were on in the playoffs, that line will once again be extremely dangerous. I have been unimpressed as a whole with Carbomb’s play this season. He is -3 and has 2 PIM, and has generally been ineffective playing with top tier forwards in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. I feel that if he doesn’t pick it up, he should be bumped down to the 4th line in favor of possibly having JVR move to the first line. Call Nodl up to play on the third line, scratch Carcillo to light a fire under his ass or simply scratch the $1.1 million dollar man Jody Shelley. I’ve actually been pleased with Shelley’s play so far and he has laid some nice checks and seems to be a competent hockey player. Defensively, I’ve seen him body players and get the puck. That’s really all I can ask for from a 4th line enforcer winger, so that has been going well. Matt Walker is injured and may require surgery, but if his move to the LTIR frees up some more cap space, so be it.
Look for Claude “The Magician” Giroux to get back on the scoresheet tonight with a goal and an assist. The kid is simply too good and this year is the year I finally believe he will get enough ice-time to be the NHL star that we all know he can be. I’d also like to see Richie get his first goal of the year, and tonight may be the night. He always seems to bring his best when playing against the Penguins, and nothing would be better to start off the season 2-0 against the division. Let’s go Flyers! Face-off at 6 PM to accommodate the Phillies starting at 8. Go Phils too!