What to Make of This Flyers Team


The highest high one night, followed by the lowest low the next. A scintillating win over your most hated rival in what was considered a benchmark game, followed by a stinker of a loss to one of the Eastern Conference’s bottom dwellers. It was natural to expect a letdown from the Flyers against the the Florida Panthers after beating the Penguins in Pittsburgh. But you know what was most annoying? The Flyers didn’t play like it was a classic letdown game. They had their legs, they had jump, they brought intensity. People said they came out “flat” last night, that they weren’t ready. I didn’t see it that way. The Flyers carried most of the play and generated tons of scoring chances — they either were stoned by goalie Scott Clemmensen or simply missed the net (see: Couturier, Sean). It happens. Yet, still, that didn’t make the loss any less disheartening and exasperating.

This team. This freaking team. It’s maddening. The only thing about the 2013 Flyers that’s consistent is their inconsistency. You never know what you’re going to get from one game to the next. I understand there will be peaks and valleys with a young team, especially in a compressed season, but the hiccups are still frustrating, especially when you allow yourself to believe they’re about to take that next step. And I say this all as someone who viewed the Flyers as a fringe playoff team. I still do.

Coming off a 7-0 shellacking of the Islanders on Monday afternoon in which Claude Giroux backed up the harsh words he had for his teammates after a listless loss to Montreal, the Flyers undoubtedly regarded Wednesday night against the Penguins as a measuring stick for their standing at this point in the season. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game started off a carbon copy of last April’s first round playoff series between the two teams. The Penguins pounced on the Flyers from the opening faceoff and took the play to them, swarming in the offensive zone, controlling the puck and firing shots at Ilya Bryzgalov. Even before putting two goals on the boards to take a 2-0 lead, it appeared as though the Penguins were going to run the Flyers right out of the Consol Energy Center. Not even a patented Peter Laviolette timeout could stem the tide. Then, just like in the playoffs, the Flyers suddenly found their legs and slowly started to turn the momentum in their favor. It started with two dominant shifts from Claude Giroux’s line. It continued with the mad scramble that resulted in all five Penguins players and Tomas Vokoun sprawled out in the crease as Niklas Grossman deposited his first goal as a Flyer. Exactly a minute later, Wayne Simmonds made a power move to the middle and slid a puck past Vokoun, off a Penguins defender’s stick and into the net. All of a sudden, it was 2-2 and the raucous crowd — as well as their beloved Penguins — was swept with that “here we go again” feeling of dread. Thunderous body checks (see: Rinaldo, Zac), a fight between Simmonds and Tanner Glass, flurries of scoring chances, end to end action and general craziness ensued. It was beautiful chaos, and it only intensified as the game progressed into the second and third periods, down to the very end. It was Flyers-Penguins, the most electrifying and entertaining rivalry in professional sports. No, really. As far as pure entertainment value goes, there’s nothing I’d rather watch than Flyers-Penguins.

A few notes from the game:

Those Penguins sure do spend a lot of time falling down on the ice….

To everyone who thinks Claude Giroux is being adversely affected by the “pressure” of wearing the “C” on his sweater: Shut up.

Jakub Voracek, who’s locked into VoraBEAST mode, is evolving into a stud before our eyes and should be a staple on Giroux’s wing for at least the next, oh, five years. In addition to his powerful skating ability, he’s got the lower body of Jaromir Jagr and is just so incredibly strong on his feet and on the puck. His balance is marvelous. His vision and passing are brilliant. If the shot ever comes around, we’ll have ourselves a true superstar. Gotta love how Jake The Snake plays hockey, happy he’s one of ours.

I believe in Brayden Schenn’s talent, but he’s too careless with the puck in dangerous areas. More than a few times against the Penguins he made high-risk plays near the blue line in the offensive zone that almost resulted in odd man rushes the other way.

Wayne Simmonds, who recorded a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (+1), is simply THE MAN. Cliche as it is, Simmer was born to play hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Don’t care what the detractors say, I’m a huge Zac Rinaldo — aka Rinaldo Smash — fan and value what he brings to the table.

Ilya Bryzgalov has been the Flyers’ backbone so far this season, but he was leaky against the Penguins. While I can forgive him for Brandon Sutter’s tying goal, I cannot for the third and fourth goals. Neither of those two should’ve gone in. Both Tyler Kennedy and James Neal’s goals went through Bryzgalov, thanks to the crease between his arm and his body (see: lazy technique), as he was moving side to side. Then last night, against Florida, Bryz just looked tired, which I can understand. After all, it was less than 24 hours after the emotionally and physically draining track meet against the Penguins, and he has played more minutes than any other goalie in the league. Bryzgalov lamented last season that he’s much more comfortable carrying a heavy load and playing 80% of games, but this strike-shortened schedule is a different animal entirely. It sure seems like he’s on his way to getting worn down. After letting up four goals to Florida last night and getting pulled, Bryzgalov’s save percentage has plummeted to .900 (27th in the league), and I still have literally no faith in him to stop a breakaway.

General note: Sean Couturier’s confidence on offense is budding, and his rapid development is coming. I can feel it. He’s getting chances, just has to start making good on them. Needs to add that intelligently selfish component to his game and shoot the puck more.

Next up: Flyers try to get back on track against the Winnipeg Jets at the Wells Fargo Center tomorrow afternoon at 1 PM.