Four games in and seven points to show for their effort. Not a bad start at all for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Now comes a week in which expectations for similar results are high, and rightfully so.
Thanks to Pittsburgh's hot start and loaded schedule, the Pens lead the Atlantic Division with eight points (3-2-2). While they've cooled of late, and have a goal differential of just plus 1, there is no mistaking the Flyers will be in for a long race if they wish to take the division crown in 2011-12.
That's what makes weeks like this so important. At Ottawa, home for Washington and St. Louis. No matter how you slice it, the Flyers need to come out of weeks like this with a minimum of four points.
Ottawa is a bad, bad hockey team. They've allowed 23 goals, second most in the NHL. Their penalty kill has a 68 percent success rate, which is only better than St. Louis (66.7 percent) at this early point in the season.
For whatever reason, despite Ottawa's struggles in recent years, they have the Flyers' number. Since 1992, Philly is 12-17-6 in Ottawa. They've also lost seven straight games, including a 5-2 loss last April that helped drop the Flyers from the East's top spot.
Maybe the massive overhaul will help. Maybe the fact this almost a completely new team on the ice throws those stats out the window. Maybe the Flyers will skate to their ability and realize how important these games are.
When you look at teams like Ottawa and St. Louis, it's easy to take them lightly. Between them they've won three games this year, and neither are expected to do anything more than hope to be in the conversation about the final playoff spot in the season's last month.
But when you look down the road, to the grueling sprint through March to the end of the season, that's when playing these games tough pays off. The Flyers' final 20 games of the season feature the following: @ Washington, v. Detroit, @ Boston, v. Pittsburgh (on back-to-back nights), v. Washington, @ Pittsburgh, and @ Pittsburgh again in the finale. That's seven games against teams who figure to be battling for their conference's top spot.
It's easy to look at a game in Ottawa in October, on the eve of a showdown with the Caps, and blow it off. As history has shown us, and as the future schedule has shown us, the Flyers would be making a critical mistake by doing that.
Some quick notes:
- Jaromir Jagr has yet to score a goal with the Flyers. In 59 games against Ottawa, he's scored 36 times.
- Interesting piece on Scott Hartnell's ice time (http://bit.ly/o8qXsA
) by Frank Seravalli on Philly.com today. Hartnell's ice time is down to less than 12 minutes per game this season, almost five minutes below his career average.
Hartnell skated with Danny Briere and Ville Leino last season and the Flyers reaped the rewards of his gritty style opening things up and creating a dangerous line.
This year? He's paired with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, both of whom have been seeing a lot of penalty killing time, which results in a decrease in their 5-on-5 time. Hartnell doesn't kill penalties, therefore his overall role is diminished.
The Flyers started the season with Briere centering Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Through four games, Briere has one goal and two assists, Simmonds a goal and an assist, and Voracek two goals.
Hartnell and Cooter (Couturier is hard to type over and over) each have one assist. Read has two points.
Seems to me the most likely scenario of Hartnell seeing more ice time is his reuniting with Briere (the Giroux, Jarg, JVR line seems like a match), but it will take a stumble by Simmonds or Voracek, both of whom have played well, for that to happen.
- The Flyers enter the week ranked 29th in the NFL in faceoffs and 21st in the penalty kill. Yet they are 3-0-1. Imagine what kind of team they could be with some improvement in those areas?