Now that the Flyers are five games into the new season with a six-day break coming up, let's take a look at what's been happening.
The Flyers are 3-1-1 so far, for 7 out of a possible 10 points. (They should have 8, but I'll take 3-1-1 over 0-3-3 any day of the week.) They are 2-0 on the road and 1-1-1 at home. They have outscored the opposition 19-14. Their power play has been good and their penalty kill has been even better.
Since we've been all about the stats lately here at BSH, let's break down what the Flyers have done. Here we'll see that there are some areas where they have excelled, and some where they need adjustments sooner than later.
1. The Competition: The Flyers have played 5 teams who all made the playoffs last year - Carolina, New Jersey, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Anaheim. If you told me going into this stretch that the Flyers would come out of it with 7 out of 10 points, I'd be happy with that. The last two games were disappointing, however: They did not show up for the Pittsburgh game and they blew a late lead against Anaheim. Still, the Flyers have been playing well for the most part.
2. Team Scoring: Here is one area where the Flyers need some improvement. By breaking things down period-by-period, we can see when the Flyers are at their best. I did not include the shoot-out goal since it does not count in the standings:
Period GF GA
1st 3 2
2nd 11 5
3rd 4 7
OT 1 0
Totals: 19 14
The Flyers have been a patient first-period team, scoring on chances they've been given. The only 2 first-period goals against came during the Pittsburgh game, when the Flyers had a bad night all around. I'd like to see them get more goals early on to help set the tone for games, but for the most part they've done a good job starting games off.
It's the Lindros Era all over again! The Flyers are a dominant second-period team. They outscore their opposition by more than 2-1 during the second. They can do that all year as far as I'm concerned.
But the problem lies in the third period, of course. You're not going to win a lot of hockey games by being outscored in the third period. The other troubling thing is that the Flyers give up more goals as the game goes along. That trend needs to stop.
3. Team Defense: As we've said, this is an area where the Flyers have shown some growth but still need to improve. Currently they're giving up almost 3 goals a game, which they need to cut down. Even considering their being outscored in the third period, the Flyers have done pretty well in protecting leads by establishing a forecheck in their opponent's end of the ice. As the team gels, watch for them to get better at that.
4. Individual Scoring: Just under 1/3 of the team's goals have been scored by Mike Richards - he's got 6. Jeff Carter has 4, and Danny Briere has 3. Other scorers include Pronger, Laperriere, Powe, Hartnell, Timonen, and Carle, all of whom have one goal apiece. It's good to see our defensemen contributing early on, as they definitely need to score more than they did last year. While Claude Giroux has not scored yet, he has set up a few goals with his passing, as has Simon Gagne. But the Flyers really need to have players like Gagne, Giroux, and Hartnell putting pucks in the net if they're going to be successful. Gagne in particular has been snakebitten, but something tells me he'll still get 30 this year. Once he gets one in, he'll be more of a factor.
5. Individual Defense: Matt Carle leads the team in +/- with 4. Offensively, he is tied with Richards and Carter for 8 points. Chris Pronger has 5 points, is a +3, and has been playing well in Orange and Black. Carle and Pronger have been logging big minutes too, and they seem to get better every game. They could well be the most dynamic defensive pairing we've seen here since Howe/McCrimmon, but then again we have a lot of hockey left to play.
After those two, we've got some issues. Timonen is having his usual production (5 points) but he is -2 in the standings. This is in part due to the poor play of his defense partner, Braydon Coburn, who is -3 (worst on the team) and has not started the year off well. Ryan Parent is also a -2, but I've begun to see some positives from his play. I think Parent will be an effective "shadow" defenseman rather than a physical one; he seems to be at his best when he can keep an opponent along the boards. Newcomers Danny Syvret and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen are each a -1; neither has stood out for any reason. Timonen and Coburn - ESPECIALLY Coburn - need to step up their defensive play if the Flyers are to be successful.
6. Goaltending: The jury is still out here. Ray Emery has looked good more often than not, but he is still readjusting to the NHL after spending a year abroad. When Emery has had good games, the Flyers have gone 2-0-1. When Emery has had off nights, the Flyers have gone 1-1. As long as Emery plays to his ability and the Flyers make the most of his good nights, then starting goaltending should not be an issue. Still, we've got a lot of hockey left to play and we have yet to see Brian Boucher start a game. Boosh did not have a good preseason and needs to show the Flyers that they made the right move in signing him.
7. Coaching: John Stevens and his assistants have had the guys ready to play on most nights. Stevens also seems to be implementing a more up-tempo system and a more aggressive way for the Flyers to protect leads (again, by establishing a forecheck in the offensive end). The system has met with mixed results so far, but Stevens is trying to teach new tricks to his old dogs - the guys who played under him for the past several years. Additionally, new players are trying to fit in, so there's a lot more adjusting going on than meets the eye. We can only watch and wait to see how things progress overall.
Special teams have been very good for the Flyers. Nine of the Flyers' 19 goals have come on the Power Play, so they're averaging nearly 2 PPG per game and scoring on nearly 1/3 of their chances. (The Flyers are 9 for 31.) The PK has also been strong, giving up only 3 goals on 27 chances. Perhaps most importantly, the Flyers have given the opposition fewer power plays in each game. Carolina had 8 chances; New Jersey, Washington, and Pittsburgh had 5; and Anaheim had 4. If the Flyers continue to cut down on penalties and keep scoring on the power play, only good things can happen.
So let's be realistic here. The Flyers are not where we'd like them to be yet, but as Chris Pronger said after tonight's tough loss, "We’ve done a lot of really good things... There’s certainly no reason to panic." There is room for improvement, but I think Pronger is right. The Flyers have made several strides in the right direction in these first five games. If the positive trends continue and the negative ones are corrected, the best is yet to come.