No, this isn't one of those scandalous stories with pictures of the Flyers getting wild at parties.
Any Flyers fan can tell you that it's been a frustrating year of high expectations and largely disappointing performance from the guys in Orange and Black. A roster full of talent with the scoring consistency of Sami Kapanen (sorry Sami, I love ya but...).
One can point to statistics and see the Flyers are seventh in the league in scoring. That sounds respectable enough, right? Dig a little deeper and you'll see that it's kind of misleading. The Flyers powerplay and 4 on 4 play was responsible for much of that production. If you look only at even strength, 5 on 5 production, Flyers goal scoring ranks a measly 23rd. That's not the hallmark of a successful team and won't cut it in the playoffs, where teams tend to get less poweplay opportunities.
What could account for the big difference? Know one knows for sure, but maybe it's a matter of chemistry. Try as they might, the Flyers coaching staff(s) haven't been able to find a consistent scoring line amongst the considerable pool of talent they have to choose from, one that has obvious chemistry and that can be counted on to produce (5 on 5) more often than not. Having such a line or two can be a critical component to a team's consistency. Now, it bears mentioning that the fourth line of Carcillo, Betts and Laperriere has been outstanding. They aren't going to score a ton of goals but they are a great checking line and an example of really good chemistry. Unfortunately, the team hasn't been able to find that same type of spark and cohesion amongst their scoring lines.
There are more than enough talented players on the team so what gives? Well, for one thing, the team currently has a number players playing out of their natural or preferred position. Daniel Briere tends to do his best work as a center but is often deployed on the wing. When Claude Giroux was tearing up the Q, it was as a right wing (who also took draws). Yet Claude has played more time at center than Briere this season. Hartnell, who had his best years playing left wing seems lost on the right side when he's played there at times. Hartnell needs to keep things simple. Don't confuse him (further) putting him in a spot he's not used to. Mike Richards has had a rotating cast of wingers to play with, it's no wonder he's lacked consistency. There are other examples, but the point is, what's been tried hasn't worked so well.
I had mentioned a few times on the discussion threads of some of HB's featured Flyer bloggers about wanting to see a particular combination that seems like a no-brainer, but for some reason hasn't really been tried this season. They've had some time with each other on the power play and in odd times during shift changes, (and it has worked) but for some reason they haven't been deployed together as a regular line combo. The players I'm talking about are Daniel Briere centering Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux. Call it the French Connection or the Poutine Line or whatever you want, I call it potentially explosive. Why? Those three players have similar styles, in that they seem to think, skate and play the game at the same speed. Moreover, they each have high end skills and tendencies that are complementary. Giroux likes to carry the puck and dish, Gagne likes to find space in the slot to snipe goals, Briere likes to lurk in the shadows, around and behind the net for pucks to dish or stuff home for goals. That's the makings of good line chemistry. Indeed, in the rare times they've been on the ice together this season, it's been like lightning in a bottle.
Here's a clip from the Flyers Predators game on March 19th, 2010 when Gagne, Briere and Giroux were on the ice together for a brief moment due to a shift change...during that brief time, they scored a goal.
Giroux over to Carle over to Briere to Gagne who finds and stuffs it:
Next, here's a goal from the recent game against Toronto, where Briere plays center on the power play. He wins the faceoff, goes behind the goal line where he likes to operate, gets the puck back and dishes up the game winner to Giroux in front. A quick strike...chemistry. It seems a shame that with such success, the only time they're on together is the powerplay. I'd like to see more.
Now, these are just a couple of recent examples. There is evidence dating back to last season indicating the success they've had when playing together.
I took a look at some stats for last season, focusing on the production of Briere when playing with specific other players on the team. Take a guess at who were among the most productive line mates for Briere:
Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne (and Arron Asham):
Look, I don't want to overstate the case here. Deploying Briere with Gagne and Giroux isn't going to instantly make the Flyers into an offensive juggernaut; however, in a season where there seems to have been a merry-go-round of largely underwhelming line combinations, I'm surprised, and kind of frustrated that these players, who have shown they can be effective together, haven't been given a shot to show it. I know it's kind of late in the season. Maybe too late. Maybe this is something to look at for next season. If it were up to me, I'd be trying it out asap. It's not like they have any line that's lighting it up, so there's not much to lose.
As for the rest of the lines...I'd like to see players slotted into spots they're comfortable and familiar with as opposed to mixing it up and playing guys out of position. The Flyers have a plethora of good centers, so someone will have to wing it. Powe is most effective as a center in my opinion, but he's also looks decent on wing.
I tried to consider past chemistry and keeping players in positions where they are most effective in rounding out the rest of these line combinations:
Gagne Briere Giroux
JVR Richards Powe/Asham
Hartnell Carter Leino
Carcillo Betts Laperriere
Cote? Please...no Cote! It's not the time. It's never the time...(no offense big guy).