After being a frequent reader of Hockeybuzz for months, I've decided to try blogging a bit about the Flyers as well as other goings on around the hockey world. Just a bit of background information: I am currently playing college hockey in Boston and am in my junior season. I was born in Philadelphia and have been an avid Flyers fan for years. I have spent the majority of my life living in Boston, a great city and a great hockey town. The majority of my focus has been trying to find my way through the endless maze on Wall Street and land a job on a trading desk. But as an English major, I have a deep passion for writing as well. I've never really done much journalism-type writing, so I figured this would be a good forum to try it out.
Enough about me, onto hockey. First off, the Flyers. The Flyers entered the season with a boatload of expectations. Some of these were reasonable considering the length of the playoff run last year and the young roster overflowing with developing talent. I will readily admit that I did (and still do!) expect this team to do great things down the line. Some of our expectations, however, were a bit unreasonable. There is something to be said for the leadership that Jason Smith provided this young group last year. He gave them an identity that they had so desperately sought for a couple years. They were young and inconsistent, but they could play with anyone on any given night, which made them dangerous. The best way to look at these first six games is as a small sample of what is a long regular season. All to often we as fans get caught up in who is playing well and who isn't at any given moment during a long season. I think what we need to remember with these Flyers is that as much as we are wondering what their "identity" as a team is, they are as well. I have no doubt that Mike Richards is the right man to lead this team. I also feel very confident in his supporting cast from a leadership standpoint. Sooner, rather than later, we will see Richards begin to get more comfortable in his role and more consistent in his play. He is very willing (and often able) to be their Superman, but it will take time for him to settle down. Great teams often develop a personality of sorts, and oftentimes that personality is a reflection of their leadership. In due time we will see this team develop into the example Richards sets on a consistent basis.
There are certainly lots of areas to address on the Flyers from a team standpoint. How should the lines be arranged? We have enough depth at defense, but how quality is our depth? Will Biron carry over his stellar play from instances last year, or be inconsistent as he has been so far this year? I don't have the time to address all of these issues, and to a certain extent these questions have been addressed by Bill Meltzer, Tim Panaccio, and many of the other blogs and discussions that you read on Hockeybuzz. What I will say is that as a fan base and as a team the Flyers need to have patience. Patience with John Stevens, and patience with the guys in the lineup. Allow for the team to grow into its own skin, and get the early kinks worked out. Having played hockey my whole life, I understand (as Mike Richards said recently in an interview) that players want to avoid "gripping the stick too tight." I'm not sure what it will take to reverse the current trends, but in time it will come. Reading many of the Flyers fans comments makes you nervous for the fate of this season, but it isn't necessary to panic.
I apologize for that sermon-like piece, but I feel strongly about many of those points. That being said, here are some observations I have about the season so far:
-Clear lack of discipline by the forwards (in both ends of the ice)
-Both goaltenders having momentary lapses at key junctures of games
-Not nearly enough sustained offensive pressure (particularly in the last few games), and a host of "blind passes" through the middle of the offensive zone that lead to quick breakouts for the opposition. (Richards has been a huge culprit here!)
-Poor positioning by both forwards and defense and in the defensive end; our wingers need to get off the boards into shooting lanes and to cut off the cycle
-Prior to the last game, a lack of chemistry between the bottom three lines. The way the lines are currently set up allows for more depth and consistency, and I think we will see a much better effort from those groups (pending Briere/Gagne's status) tonight, especially after getting a game under their belts against San Jose.
-One issue is the play of Glen Metropolit and Arron Asham. Metropolit, when playing at his best, is a vital asset for any successful team. As we witnessed with Boston last year, he can play second line minutes and not look out of place, or he can he strong in a checking role. But from what I've seen of him thus far, he looks uncomfortable/confused in his role. It's too early to make any wild judgments yet, so I'll continue to see which way he is trending as we get a few games deeper. Arron Asham is another free agent who seems to look out of place. What's difficult to understand for non-hockey players is the different mindsets that different roles on the team require. What the Flyers need from Asham is 8-12 minutes of physical, consistent play. As the saying goes, he doesn't need to be extraordinary, but he needs to the the very ordinary things extraordinarily well. It is important to note that these two guys are not reason the Flyers are 0-3-3. But with more consistency from them, Stevens has the freedom to roll four lines more often and take some pressure off of the top lines.
-Lack of quality minutes from some of the defenseman. Having a player (Alberts) benched for more than a period puts a lot of strain on the other pairings. Whether its Andrew Alberts logging 13 minutes or Timonen logging 25 (he has been his typical solid self thus far), we need more quality minutes. This will improve as the team shakes the injury bug, because I think Ryan Parent plays the type of game that is conducive to consistency. The message here is, whatever you are, be a good one!
Finally, some keys to tonight's game:
-Establish a forecheck early. As Bill Meltzer mentioned in his gameday blog, the Flyers have success against the Devils by generating a forecheck and crashing the net on Brodeur. Rebound goals will be key tonight.
-Receive a consistent goaltending performance for 60 minutes. Biron does not need to be spectacular, but he cannot allow himself to have a mental lapse and give up any deflating goals.
-Speaking of deflating goals.... The Flyers need to improve their shifts at the start and finish of each period, as well as following a goal for either team. By controlling their emotions and taking care of this minor detail, they will prevent a lot of headache for themselves and the coaching staff. As fun as high scoring games to be, they do not want to be involved in the type of game they played against San Jose on Wednesday.
-Focus on the breakout. The defenseman need to be sharper on their outlet passes and the forwards need to give them lanes. Part of the breakout relies on sound defensive positioning to begin with, so they will need to be stronger in that aspect.
-Finally, bear down on faceoffs. As much as we get on the centers (and often rightfully so) for not winning draws, much of the blame can be placed on wingers as well. I can tell you that as a centerman, the most frustrating thing is to have a puck sit in your feet for a few seconds only to have an opposing winger gain possession. The Flyers centers need to be more confident in the circle than they have been, and their wingers need to pick them up as well.
Hopefully there will be improvement in a few of these areas. The tools are in place for this team, we just need to see them gain some traction and gain some momentum. One game of consistent hockey will do a world of difference for this club. Enjoy the game tonight, and please do give me feedback. Thanks guys!