As the Philadelphia Flyers started out 4-0-1, all seemed to be right in the world. Claude Giroux was playing out of his mind and on pace for 60+ goals. Rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier were looking like seasoned veterans. Ilya Bryzgalov looked like the answer the Flyers have been looking for in goal since, well forever, and Wayne Simmonds was Wayne Training his way through the competition. Two big wins over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks gave this team all the early praise they could handle, and they did it all without top rated prospect Braydon Schenn. Yet here they sit now, 4-2-1 getting outscored a combined 9-4 in losses against the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues. Right now, the team needs to get back to basics.
It is unfair to point the finger at Brayden Schenn disrupting the chemistry of the team, as the lines were juggled to make room for his call up. In his NHL debut against the Capitals, they Flyers looked like a team who had lost their way. After an early spurt of agression, the Flyers found themselves in a late 1st period collapse. Instead of going into the locker room up 1-0, they were down 2-1 and never really recovered. Against the Blues, the Flyers were playing from behind a team they should have easily beaten. Poor pass selection, poor finishing and poor communication doomed the Flyers.
Instead of manipulating all their lines, keep what works. The line of James vanRiemsdyk-Claude Giroux-Jaromir Jagr has struggled at times as Jagr is still looking for his first goal and JvR still looking to find consistency on a personal level, has managed to create chances. As they say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. JvR will continue to improve and the goals will come. Jagr is a veteran of the game and knows what he has to do to get rolling. The second line of Jakub Voracek-Danny Briere-Wayne Simmonds wasn’t the most successful line, as Briere is still looking for the magic he had with they now departed Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell. Up until last season, Briere was a bit of an underachiever in the regular season, but always stepped up in the playoffs. Simmonds has been invaluable to the Flyers during even strength and on power play. Voracek has also had a bit of a slow start, but when playing on a new team that’s to be expected.
The third line of Hartnell-Sean Couturier-Matt Read has been a pleasant surprise, thanks to the play of Couturier and Read. Read is currently third on the team in scoring, and is looking like he’ll live up to TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s rookie of the year pick. Couturier has consistenly earned his playing time, particularly killing penalties, but with his recent “demotion” to the 4th line, his future with the big club remains in question. There is no doubt he has earned the right to stay up in the NHL, but he will need to play more than forth line minutes to develop and make the first year of his entry level deal worthwhile. If he is to stay with the big club, perhaps a move to the wing would be beneficial to him, and sliding Schenn into the third line center position. The fourth line has been solid enough for forth line minutes, but in the last two lackluster games, the high energy play of Zac Rinaldo has been missed. Few can create havoc the way he can, but he needs to play smarter, as his own reputation will work against him with questionable calls.
Defensively the team has played adequately. The amount of deflection goals the Capitals scored is a bit of an anomaly. As Bryzgalov himself pointed out, however, they need to simplify their communication so they are all on the same page. Nowhere was this more evident than the gaffe between Bryz and Brayden Coburn that led to the back breaking goal in the St. Louis game saturday night. If the D-men and the goalie aren’t on the same page, those kind of mistakes are going to plague this team all season long, and make for a lot of panic inducing moments.
So, what happens now? Should the Flyers send Schenn back down to the Phantoms? No they shouldn’t. Despite his numbers, the kid is ready to play in the NHL. The possibility of moving him, or Couturier, to the wing makes the most sense. Much like Jeff Carter being the odd man out of the lineup last year, that title has now been bestowed on Scott Hartnell. The north-south, uptempo system coach peter Laviolette has implemented is simply passing by Hartnell. Without wanting to sound like I’m throwing another log on the trade Hartnell fire, if anyone deserves to be demoted, it’s him. His notorious poor decision making has directly led to at least two goals in this mini “slump.” It’s not time to trade him yet, as it’s still early in the season and he’s been a 20+ goal scorer three of his four seasons in Philadelphia. It’s entirely possible he can turn it around. In the meantime however, it’s time to get back to basics. With the tag line “It’s all about Chemistry” being thrown around, the Flyers need to go back to what works.