State of the Franchise: Philadelphia Flyers
March 23, 2011 Leave a comment
With only 10 games left in the regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers sit one point ahead of the Washington Capitals for first place in the Eastern Conference, but have two games more to play than the Capitals do. All this after the Flyers fell in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Well, there’s a reason for that:
From top to bottom, the Flyers are the deepest team in the NHL. They have a perfect mix of veteran leadership and young phenoms. Arguably, they have the best top-three centers in hockey to anchor each of their lines in Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Danny Briere. Not to mention, 23-year old winger Claude Giroux is developing into one of the best wing players throughout the league to rival the likes of Alex Ovechkin in Washington.
For the season, Giroux has put up a team-high 68 points (24 goals, 44 assists) and ties him for 11th-best in the league. Giroux’s beautiful stick-to-stick passing has helped set up the likes of Jeff Carter, who ranks sixth in the NHL with 33 goals, an Danny Briere, eighth in the league with 32 of his own. Fellow winger and enforcer Scott Hartnell has recorded 20 goals, as has center Mike Richards. At the deadline, the team traded for Kris Versteeg, who was on the Cup-winning Blackhawks team last year, that has 47 points on the year, though only seven of those have come with the Flyers.
All this offense, ranked third in the league for goals-per-game, has allowed the team to bring along former top prospect, 21-year old James van Riemsdyk, at a slower pace and ease him into the fast-paced life as a professional. Van Riemsdyk is still producing at an encouraging pace, notching 16 goals along with 32 total points.
To compliment their ridiculously strong offensive attack, the Flyers have assembled arguably the deepest blue line defense in the league. Led by two talented veterans in Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers rank seventh in penalty kill and 11th in goals allowed per game. While both Timonen and Pronger anchor the squad, the team boasts three players 26-years old or younger that see over 20 minutes of ice time a night in Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Meszaros and Carle both rank in the top-10 among defenseman in plus/minus ranking, with Carle adding 34 assists to his credit as well.
If you were to point at one potential weakness for the Flyers, it would be their goalies. The team has flip-flopped all season long between veteran Brian Boucher and rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky, only 22, has gotten the bulk of the playing time, tallying a win-loss record of 26-11-5 with stopping 91.5% of the shots taken against him. However, he is allowing an average of 2.61 goals per game, in comparison to Boucher’s 2.41. Boucher also has the playoff experience on his side heading into the post-season, but the team is yet to commit to either goalie to start come April’s playoffs.
Regardless, the Flyers remain one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference. With the Penguins still without Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin out for at least the next week with an undisclosed injury, the Flyers are best put together for a long run in the playoffs. The team is 16-9-2 against potential Eastern Conference playoff opponents, with the Tampa Bay Lightning boasting three of those wins against the Flyers.
Nobody would be surprised to see the Flyers represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, or even take the Cup home themselves. The biggest surprise would be to see the Flyers take an early exit out of post-season competition. But, with the Flyers boasting the deepest and healthiest roster heading into April’s new season, I don’t see any scenario that doesn’t have the Broad Street Bullies in, at the minimum, the Eastern Conference Finals.