The Philadelphia Flyers enter the game today at home against the St. Louis Blues on a 11-3-1 roll in their last 15 games. Along the way they have beaten the likes of the Washington Capitals, L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche, and the Chicago Blackhawks. Today is one of the toughest tests yet. The St. Louis Blues(8-1-1) represent the best team in the Western Conference right now and they only got better at the trade deadline with the acquisition of goalie Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres. They are coached by one time Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock who runs a defense first system, and he works it to darn near perfection. Only the L.A. Kings, and the Boston Bruins have a lower goals against total. It’s the kind of style Flyers head coach Craig Berube would like to instill in his troops as well. “Sound team defense will lead to more offensive opportunities” is the mantra they like to preach. The Bruins, and the Blues live it; and it shows in the standings in their respective conferences. The Philadelphia Flyers though are coming around.
For most of the season now the Flyers would either have to get great goaltending or mainly just try and outscore their opponent to win games. The talent on the roster was there; it just looked like it the fit wasn’t right. This is not meant to be a shot at the defensemen only. Nope. The team as a whole was not pulling its weight defensively. They would have games here and there that would show signs that they could put it together, but nothing showing that they could do it on a nightly basis. A hard-nosed defense-first style is a very un-selfish, a very disciplined approach to hockey. IF you have the horses to run that race it is also a very successful one. The Flyers have the players to do it; they just have to fully commit to it. It has been no more evident than in their last ten games or so.
Look no further than the heavily bearded Sean Couturier(or great nickname I read on Twitter “The Wolf of Broad Street”) , and Matt Read line. They have been, for the most part, put up against the oppositions best and excelling at it. They are have been unselfishly helping out the defense and making the opponents work for every inch of ice. That kind of play filters its way through the whole roster. It’s no secret that the team goes as Claude Giroux goes, but when the Flyers stick to the defense-first mentality they are able to roll out all four forward lines with success. The top defense paring does not have to be always be out on the ice and eat up extra minutes. The team can evenly balance all three lines of defensemen keeping everyone fresher. In the process the goals have been coming from everywhere, and the chances against have been relatively minimal. That is what wins championships. If they revert back to their old ways than the playoff aren’t even an option. If the Philadelphia Flyers can stick with it than there is no telling how far they could go.
Ken Hitchcock said it best the other day when he said that if he were in the eastern conference he’d be nervous having to play the Flyers. “They (Flyers) are going to be a bear in the playoffs”.
***Congratulations goes out to 2013 second round pick defensemen Robert Hagg on his signing his entry level contract. He is going to require some time in the AHL this year and next, but the solid two-way defensemen his a lot of skill that if he could put it together more consistently; could make an impact in the NHL someday real soon.
***The acquisition of Andrew MacDonald is proving to be a very successful one. He is a pending free agent and I’m hoping the front office locks him up for the foreseeable future.
***I may be in the minority here but I have to give some props to the play of Luke Schenn lately. He is one of the players that has benefited the most upon the arrival of MacDonald.
***For those that are not all that familiar; the undrafted college free agent season is upon us. Undrafted players are either long-shots or just simply late bloomers as is the case with Flyers forward Matt Read. This year the biggest name out there is UMass Lowell River Hawks defensemen Christian Folin. He is very high on the Flyers radar right now and for very good reason. After doing some homework on him he looks to be very NHL-ready and his style of play would be a great addition to the team next year. Problem is he will be sought after by quite a few other NHL teams. The sophomore has been rumored to want to stay and play all four years in college, but I get the feeling that his stock won’t get much higher than it is right now so a move to professional hockey is coming this year. Fingers crossed the Flyers land him.