Hockey is a team sport. No one player will be the difference between being a lottery pick and hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. No, you win as a team and you lose as a team. All the talk in Philadelphia not revolving around the sinking Sixers sudden skid or where to put a sniper rifle in Lehigh has been focused on Ilya Bryzgalov. Yes he has been as steady as the San Francisco fault line, but he is not the only reason the Flyers are struggling this season.
1. They are young. The reason everyone was excited about the Sixers early on was because they were young and overachieving. It is always fun to watch a young team mature right in front of our eyes. Well the Flyers are even younger. The average forward is 26 years old and that is including Jagr who is 40 years old. Most great teams have a healthy mix of crafty veterans and up and coming players. The Flyers have nine forwards who are under 25 with seven forwards who weren’t on the team last year like Simmonds, Voracek and Talbot. It takes time and repetition for a team to come together and gel, that doesn’t happen overnight and usually doesn’t happen in one season. Hell Coburn is the longest tenured Flyer at 5 years. The greatest teams I ever saw were the late 90’s Red Wings with Yzerman, Federov and Shanahan. They spent years together before they started winning cups. Of course this team will make mistakes, but they are more like growing pains rather than severe system flaws. Give this team time, don’t break up the nucleus and down the line this team could be really special.
2. They are soft. When you think back on the proud history of the Flyers your first thoughts, if you’re a true fan, go to the Broad Street Bullies. No one was tougher than them and would win the game before taking the ice. Teams were afraid of them, the Russians were afraid of them and because of that they are the most popular team in Philadelphia history. But watching the Flyers a few nights ago against the Penguins and even while they were leading I knew they would lose. Just watching the game the Penguins just looked bigger than us. Our tallest player with Pronger sidelined is Braydon Coburn listed at 6’5. No one on this team is intimidating and as such no one is afraid to attack the center of the ice. While I can’t find hits per game stats the Flyers are ranked 21st in penalty kill. Outside of Rinaldo there is no on e on this team who I expect to start or win a fight. Teams are no longer afraid of us, and that makes me worried.
3. They don’t win faceoffs. Like a great center in the NBA if you can control the tip you usually can control the tempo, win the draw control the puck and set the tempo. The Flyers are 26th in the league at it, winning a pitiful 48.3 %. That is unacceptable. Every time the Flyers start a power play with a faceoff in the opposing zone it seems it ends with the other team winning it and sending the puck down the ice easily killing 20 seconds. Our best is obviously Giroux (obviously because he is our best everything) at 53%, next is Briere who wins 49% then there is Shenn and Courtier who average 47 and 46 percent respectively (side bar Sestito wins 50% but he doesn’t count because the sample size isn’t large enough yet.) That means there is only one guy on the whole team that can get us the puck. Not since Handzues(ZUUUUEEEESSSSS) do I recall a guy who could just step into the circle and consistently win. This needs to change if they are going to be a great team.
4. They don’t win shootouts. This can be partially attributed to our goaltending, but so can everything else on this list. Bryz and Bob look like a couple of deer in the headlights when it comes to shootouts. Evident by the fact that they have allowed 10 out of 16 shots to go in! However the offense hasn’t done them any favors. Briere is 2/3 this season and Giroux is 2/4 but no one other than JVR’s 1 has scored. In fact the Flyers are a combined 5 for 17 on shootouts. It came to light recently that they don’t practice shootouts. Which begs the obvious question; why the hell not? They are 1-5 in shootouts that’s five points they let slip away. It is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed, so fucking address it already!
5. They are sloppy. I’ve always thought of hockey as sort of free form jazz; a lot of different pieces are constantly flying around sometimes seemingly at random but at the end of it is truly a joy to behold. This Flyers team is probably the most skilled team I’ve ever rooted for. But they do a lot of little things poorly. The forwards do a terrible job of back checking. The defensemen are very good at losing opposing forwards in front of the net. Too often they try to make long passes either across the ice or down it trying to spring a forward which get intercepted. For a team that can’t rely on either of their goaltenders they sure do take a lot of risks with the puck. And if Giroux doesn’t bring the puck across the blue line no one else knows how to. This is an off shoot of the first problem but it needs to be addressed. Most of these are correctable problems and this might be Laviolette’s best job as coach. But they mess up a lot of little things and this leads to big problems.
Having said that (my favorite phrase to completely 180 everything I previously said) this is a great team capable of a long playoff run. Keep in mind the Flyers are still first in the league in Goals per Game, 5th in the league on the Power Play and 9th overall in total wins. This is an incredibly good team. The forwards are raw but incredibly talented. With the additions of Grossman and Kubina there is now extra strength at the blue line. They have a GM capable of making magic happen. And even in the playoffs a goalie is capable of getting hot at the right time.
Actually Bob and Bryz are 63 and 64 (dis)respectively in save percentage. If they don’t win the cup this year it will probably be their fault.