Monday, February 11, 2013
Flyers looking to set the record straight
By Pierre LeBrun
TORONTO -- The Philadelphia Flyers begin a season-long, six-game road trip Monday night, a moment in their season that will answer questions about a club that has sent mixed messages about its status in the Eastern Conference.
Are they indeed still the contenders some people believe they are? Or a team in transition that needs its youngsters to grow a bit more before taking the next step?
The next 10 days will tell the tale.
"We’ve got a six-game road trip and we haven’t had a lot of success [on the road], so this is a big road trip for us," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told ESPN.com Monday morning at Air Canada Centre.
A 5-6-1 start has given evidence to both cases, although a 3-0-1 homestand last week helped foster thoughts that things are finally coming together after some early-season hiccups.
"We had a tough start, I think for everybody," veteran Flyers forward Max Talbot said Monday morning after the pregame skate. "But the last four games have been good. We’re trying to build off that."
A 22nd-ranked offense underlines the most obvious issue at hand, although 13 goals during that four-game home stand suggested things are beginning to open up on that front.
"Yes, we started to generate more offensively than we had in the previous games, so that’s a good sign," said Holmgren. "The coaches changed a little bit how we play in our own end and it’s affected our players going on the attack, and they seem to be getting the hang of things."
A 21st-ranked power play is part of Philadelphia’s problem, and until that unit gets going -- the Flyers went 3-for-12 during the home stand -- the Flyers won’t have much leeway on the scoreboard.
"The power play isn’t producing like last year and obviously that takes away goals," said Talbot. "It’s taken a while to find a rhythm and a tempo overall. But we keep building and building, and it’s coming."
I asked a front-office source from another Eastern Conference team to size up the Flyers, and just like Philly’s record, it was a mixed-bag answer:
"They have a pretty good forecheck, good puck pressure," he said. "They can come at you at different times. Their goalie has been good. But it’s not a typical Flyers team. They’re a little bit different than they’ve usually been. They’re not as deep offensively. They rely a lot on [Claude] Giroux and [Danny] Briere. They’ve got those good, young kids like [Brayden] Schenn and [Sean] Couturier that are still making their way, and they’re going to be very good."
If and when the Flyers ever make a trade between now and April 3, my suspicion is that Holmgren will have offense in mind, whether that’s a forward or even an offensive defenseman.
Interestingly enough, the one area that has not been an issue is the one place where everyone was pointing before the season began. Ilya Bryzgalov has been just fine, thank you, his 2.27 goals-against average (11th in NHL) and .921 save percentage (12th) solid numbers indeed.
"He’s been our best player -- by far," said Holmgren. "He’s been great. He’s had a great focus. Every game, he’s been great."
Holmgren had a sense he’d be getting a more focused netminder after the player-exit meetings last spring when Bryzgalov manned up.
"He came in and said, 'I know I [screwed] up, I know I got to get better. Don’t worry, I will,'" Holmgren recalled.
Bryzgalov’s antics last season were a bit unnerving for some of his teammates. But it’s a quieter, more focused Bryz doing his thing so far, and that’s appreciated inside the dressing room.
"He’s been great," said Talbot. "He’s kept us in tight games. That’s what we’ve asked of him and he’s done his job really well. If we can get our offense going and our all-around game going, I think we can be very, very interesting."
The Flyers are a work in progress, which is like a lot of teams after a short camp and no preseason.
The key to a work in progress is to always be inching in the same direction.
"The team that you start with isn’t necessarily the team you’re going to finish with," said veteran Flyers winger Mike Knuble. "When you look at New Jersey and L.A. last year, you have to believe that anything can happen when you get in."