What a difference a month makes. The last time we checked in with the Philadelphia Flyers they were setting records for offensive ineptness. Now the team is riding high after a three-game winning streak, including a statement effort against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
So what has happened? And how has it happened so quickly?
Last Saturday, the Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Hall said that the Flyers “had been described as fragile.” That fragile Flyers team “came out and played really hard and won a lot more battles than we did.” But that was after three games and two goals. The last of which was an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to the Devils.
The numbers say the offense has come alive. Eleven goals in the last three games, an absolute explosion when you consider the Flyers had only managed four goals in the previous five games.
But there is something else afoot.
For the first time in a long time the team looks like it has an identity. And that identity is one where the team plays pounding defense in front of solid goaltending. That’s a style of play the Flyers simply couldn’t employ in the Ilya Bryzgalov era, one characterized by its shoddy net-minding. But now, with the tandem of Steve Mason and Ray Emery between the pipes, goaltending hasn’t been an issue. And in front of the net, the hulking masses of Nicklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros — and even 38-year-old, 6′ 7″ Hal Gill — have looked like assets rather than liabilities.
The team is playing more cohesively, working together to move the puck efficiently out of their own zone and down the ice. Whether this is the result of a closed-door player meeting after that hapless Devils shutout, or the fruits of coach Craig Berube‘s system, remains to be seen. But Wednesday night, Berube and his staff of Ian Laperierre and John Paddock thoroughly outcoached the Penguins’ Stanley Cup winning coach (and Team USA head-honcho at the 2014 Winter Olympics), Dan Bylsma. Granted, for the Penguins, the matchup was just another November game while the Flyers seemed hell-bent on proving something. Time will tell, as it’s far from sunshine and rainbows for the team.
The Flyers still need to get captain Claude Giroux firing on all cylinders. And for more consistent success, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier will have to become bigger contributors. But the Flyers have discovered a tandem in Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier that has combined for 13 goals. That’s 40 percent of the team’s tallies so far.
Lecavalier might wind up doing for Schenn what Jagr provided to Giroux — a veteran who can put the young star in a position to excel. And with that, there’s an offense, an identity and hope.
Quite a difference a month can make.