We're about a third of the way through the season, so I figure it's about time I should issue my opinions of the Flyers (version 2008-09). The Flyers are sitting at 13-7-6. They have points in 73% of games, but only 62% of possible points. They also lead the league in overtime games, a stat that is bad for both my blood pressure and the team's chances in April and May.
The Flyers are 7th in the league in power play goals, and Richards and Gagne each have more shorties than 26 other teams. However, this team struggles mightily at 5-on-5. They have only 39 goals at full strength and have given up 47. To put it into perspective, the Flyers score 1.5 goals/game at full strength, and score 1.72 goals/game in situations other than 5-on-5. That will be big trouble when they hit the inevitable power play drought.
The way I see it, the problem starts in the defensive zone. The forwards are hanging out too high, often in the neutral zone as the breakout should be starting. The defense is unable to hit the forwards with a pass from that distance, and the forwards aren't generating any speed. This team has to lead the world in D to D reverse passes behind their own net, and they have no way to combat an aggressive forecheck besides throwing the puck blindly up the boards. That creates turnover and scoring chances againse. The skating ability of this team would indicate a better transition game, and Stevens needs to make that happen.
Being 24th in the league in faceoffs at 48.2% is absolutely unacceptable. They got lucky in the Carolina game on a Carter win, but it's going to cost them points at some point. This team is still maddening to watch. They don't win enough battles, and they refuse to compete for 60 minutes. The talent is there, but the heart is questionable.
Onto the goaltenders:
Marty Biron - C: Marty started slow but has come on in the last 6 weeks or so. He still will let in the softie that deflates the team, and has made horrendous decisions to play loose pucks. He's cost the team 3 goals in the last 6 games. Can you install an electric fence on ice to keep him in the crease?
Antero Niittymaki - B-: I like Nitty. He has actually been the more consistent of the two. I'd like to see him moved to a team that will give him a chance to start because he deserves it. I don't trust him to lead a team to a Cup, but he's excellent when he's hot.
Lasse Kukkonen - B-: Good when under about 17 minutes of ice time. Dude is fearless, though a bit small for the style he plays. Good penalty killer. Don't understand why he's constantly in the dog house. He is the perfect 7th defenseman.
Braydon Coburn - C: What happened to the Coby of last year? Is he affected by wearing the visor? Expectations too high? 9 points and +1 in 26 games seems pretty average. He needs to stay out of the box.
Randy Jones - Incomplete: Not looking forward to his return. Not that I don't think he's a decent hockey player, I just don't think he's a good defenseman. He's a 2nd-3rd pairing guy that can move the puck but will give up turnovers and blow assignments regularly. Randy must have the best agent in the league for him to have gotten that $2.4M contract.
Ossi Vaananen - A-: Solid. You never notice him, and that's a good thing. Does his job and does it well. A bigger version of Petr Svoboda.
Matt Carle - B+: Is he really this good, or are we just happy he's not Eminger? Big, physical, skates well, passes well. Best on the team at getting point shots through traffic. What's not to like?
Andrew Alberts - B: How did Boston give this guy up? Took him a while to learn the system, but he has been outstanding of late. I'm not saying that he's a warrior like Jason Smith, but he's filled Gator's role pretty well and is a better skater.
Kimmo Timonen - A: Outstanding in all areas. Hits like a freight train for his height. If he can stay healthy for a few more years, he may be fourth in team history behind Howe, Desjardins, and Watson.
Luca Sbisa - B+: If he stays the whole year he will get some serious Rookie of the Year consideration. He won't win it, but he should get some votes. Add 3 years experience and 20 pounds of muscle and Luca's an All Star candidate.
Ryan Parent - Incomplete: I hope he gets a chance to stay with the big club. He was excellent in the playoffs and deserves a spot. I see him as the wild card on this defense corps. Not because anybody doubts his talent, but because nobody is talking about him right now.
Scottie Upshall - B: In my opinion, the most improved player this season. The most consistent forechecker and best skater on the team. He's cut out the dumb penalties and always works hard. If he had better hands he'd be a force.
Simon Gagne - A-: Gags has been unbelievable so far. Picked up right where he left off last season, and is among the league leaders in points and +/-. Explosiveness is impossible to stop, and he is finally blossoming into the superstar he's always had the potential to be. Let's hope the dehydration alibi is the truth.
Glen Metropolit - C: Been bounced around a lot with the injuries and having a tough time finding chemistry, but plodding along. He has the ability to play on any line, and has been pretty much the guy we thought we were getting in the offseason.
Andreas Nodl - C+: Seems to be having trouble finding chemistry with linemates, and has been lackadaisical defensively at times. He could use another year of seasoning in the 'A' before he's ready for prime time.
Joffrey Lupul - D: Clearly has better game with the ladies than he does on the ice. They actually showed video of Lupul flirting with two blondes in the front row during the game on Thursday. I know Peter Zezel could do it, but at least he won faceoffs. Only thing Loops is winning are points in the healthy scratch sweepstakes.
Jeff Carter - A: Wow. He looked like this briefly last season when Richards was out of the lineup. Briere goes down and Carter takes off. Does the team needing somebody to be The Man motivate him to actually be The Man?
Mike Richards - B: Tried to do too much early in the year. He's making the adjustment to wearing the "C" but he'll be fine. This dude's been a captain since birth. Isn't great at anything, just good at everything. Has the potential to win an Art Ross AND a Selke. Philadelphia, you've found your Steve Yzerman.
Scott Hartnell - C: Get benched and move your feet. Stop moving feet and throw a glove. Move your feet, play physical, crush guys, score goals. Stop moving feet, make dumb decisions, take stupid penalties, hurt the team. One night you are the Scarecrow without a brain. The next night you are the Lion without a heart. I just want you to be Scott Hartnell. I like him better.
Mike Knuble - B-: He's been much better than I expected. Definitely looking younger than 36 years old. 3rd on the team in even-strength goals, 4th in ice time among forwards. I still wouldn't be opposed to trading him in the right deal, but I wouldn't actively seek to trade him either.
Riley Cote - C: He'll fight anybody, and he'll win about half of them. But Josh Gratton made me realize how little Cote brings to the table otherwise. Gratton was capable of playing a regular 4th line shift, can skate, hit, and handle the puck a bit. Cote can't really do any of the above. If Gratton were a little bigger, Riley would be out of a job.
Darroll Powe - B-: What can you really say about a guy whose played a total of 36 minutes? Personally, I like Kalinski better.
Arron Asham - B+: Quickly becoming one of my favorite Flyers. Why? Because he doesn't have a ton of natural talent, but he works his tail off every shift. A good forechecker and a responsible defensive player. He stands up for his teammates, but he's smart about it. Doesn't end up in the box at bad times, and can play big minutes when needed.
Danny Briere - C-: I just don't like Danny. Didn't like him in Buffalo, where his point production was a product of the freewheeling system. About half his points come on the power play, and his plus/minus has been atrocious since coming to Philly. I do realize that plus/minus can be a misleading stat (see Brind'Amour, Rod) but Danny has shown me nothing to prove that to be the case with him. He does produce goals, but he often produces them for the wrong team. I think Danny can be a good player on a team with a run-and-gun approach. That team is not the Philadelphia Flyers.
So there you have it. I think the Flyers have a chance to contend this season. The three areas that must be improved are defensive zone coverage by forwards into the transition game, even strength scoring, and consistency in goal. The first two issues are interconnected, and can be improved with coaching and discipline. The goaltending is another issue, but Marty has proven he can do it in the playoffs.
This team most definitely has the talent. Let's hope they can find the heart.