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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Flyers Preview

After nine games of the 2010-2011 season, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in a similar position to their start last year. They have posted almost identical records, they are using a goalie who won't be starting games at the end of the season, and they have been backed by the strong play of Danny Briere, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter. Whether or not these closely identified starts will result in a similar outcome remains to be seen. Let's take a look at the Flyers' chances of building on last year's magic and returning to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Flyers offense has been somewhat of a disappointment so far this season, as they
rank 15th in the NHL in goals per game, with 2.5. Danny Briere has been an early highlight, as he leads the team with six goals and eight total points. However, Captain Mike Richards has been struggling to find the net. He has managed only one goal while registering a team-low shooting percentage of .05.  Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, and Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers key offensive defenders, have struggled as well. After combining for 129 points last season, the three have only posted five assists so far, and no goals.
But the Flyers' depth at lines is too strong for this offensive mishap to last all season. The second line of Briere, Scotty Hartnell, and Ville Leino has been their most productive as a result of Briere's offensive outbreak and Hartnell's continuation of his strong play in the 2010 postseason. The third line of Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, and Darroll Powe has also deemed itself a threat, with the three players combining for nine goals. 
Look for Richards and up-and-comer James van Riemsdyk to turn it on and make this offense everything it's shaped up to be.

The Flyers defense has also placed in the middle of the road, allowing 2.7 goals against, which is ranked 14th in the NHL. But there are some positives in light of the negatives. The defensive pairing of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle has been a highlight, with the two posting a plus/minus of three and two, respectively. Pronger missed the first two games of the season while recovering from off-season knee surgery and seems to still be working out the kinks, but "near 100%" Chris Pronger is still better than most defenders in the league. Carle has arguably looked the best out of any Flyer so far this year. He leads all defenders in scoring and has demonstrated mental toughness and restraint in committing only one penalty so far this year despite averaging over twenty minutes per game. Newcomer Sean O'Donnell has also been a bright spot, posting a plus/minus of three, which is second best on the team, and demonstrating veteran leadership on defense much like that of Pronger, who also played with him in Anaheim. 
Look for Kimmo Timonen to break out of his slump to bolster an already solid defensive front.

This is the big question mark for the Flyers (sound familiar?). Heach coach Peter Laviolette has decided to split time between Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky with Brian Boucher until starter Michael Leighton returns from back surgery, which won't be until late December. The two have managed respectable numbers so far, each posting a goals against average below three and a save percentage around .900, but lack the shut down ability that has been missing from the Flyers regular season for years.
Expect Bobrovsky and Boucher to do a respectable job until Leighton returns, but don't expect an orange and black Vezina trophy this season.

Special Teams
The Flyers' power play has been the biggest problem so far this season. Through the first eight games, the Flyers capitalized on only three of thirty-five power play opportunities. After Peter Laviolette referred to their eighth game against the Columbus Blue Jackets as a "mindless effort," the Flyers responded in game nine against the Buffalo Sabres, scoring three power play goals in five opportunities.
The Flyers penalty kill has done very well so far, posting an 84.6 penalty kill percentage despite a heavily penalized season so far in which the Flyers have committed 46 violations. The Flyers have also demonstrated their ability to score while down a man, as Giroux has registered two short handed goals so far.
This is very typical of Flyers' numbers in the past. Expect much of the same for the rest of the season.

The Verdict
The Flyers' depth at offense combined with their experience on defense should outweigh their questions in goal and on the power play. Expect their offense to post better all around numbers than last year and make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Record: 47-32-3 (3rd in the Eastern Conference)
Result: Lose in Eastern Conference Finals

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