The Philadelphia Flyers have played two games this season and sport an 0-2-0 record. They have been in both contests - losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and a Sunday matinee defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres - but they haven't been able to do enough to garner two points in either match-up. This has not been due to the play of Ilya Bryzgalov, who, so many times last season, was the reason the Flyers fell into the loss column at game's end. It also hasn't been due in part to the long lay-off from the lockout, and the resulting back-to-back the Flyers were dealt to open the season.
There has, however, been one aspect to the Flyers' game that has easily stood out as their biggest problem early on: the club's specialty teams play. Unless that improves, the Flyers could find themselves in big trouble as the year wears on. There have been obvious problems personnel-wise with the Flyers - most notably on the power play - but the harsh reality of the situation is that Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle no longer skate for the Orange and Black and the Flyers are not going to be able to replace what either of those guys brought to what was a pair lethal power play units last year - especially in the postseason. What they can hope for, however, is that guys will step up to plug the holes left by two offensive-minded players. Getting Danny Briere back, hopefully this week, will help. Getting Matt Read back into a playing rhythm similar to last year, which he appears to be completely out of is also crucial. However, through two games, the numbers are somewhat alarming.
The Flyers are 1 for 9 through two games on the man-advantage, with Claude Giroux's rocket being the only marker in a losing effort Sunday. That's good for an 11.1% conversion rate. And, even though it's early, that's good for a spot in the bottom ten in the National Hockey League. So yea, that's not good at all.
Claude Giroux is Claude Giroux, so that's not a concern. He'll continue to make plays happen, and he'll continue to be a wizard with the puck. I had my doubts entering the year about Scott Hartnell, but he's been surprisingly in shape and has looked like he's capable of having another productive year. Wayne Simmonds, who set a career high with 28 goals last year, has also looked terrific, and has brought the most energy on the entire team, by far, through two games. After those three guys, there's been a serious drop-off offensively. Unfortunately for the Flyers, all those players are on the team's first power play unit. The second unit has been horrendous. Matt Read has been non-existent in any form through two games, Brayden Schenn's assist yesterday has been overshadowed by his inability to do anything at any other point through the weekend, and Sean Couturier had a nice re-direction for a goal Sunday, but he's in the same boat as Schenn.
The good news in all this is, obviously, that we're only two games in to a 48-game season. Still, the performance through those two games is alarming, especially given the fact that the practice time for the team will be few and far between with how many games will be condensed into such a short time frame. And the power play isn't the only issue.
The Flyers' penalty killing ability has been downright awful through two games. In fact, the Orange and Black have already surrendered five goals while being down a man this year, including giving up a three-spot to the Sabres on Sunday. That can't happen, like, ever. Especially not to a team who has numerous questions regarding their blue line.
Of course, the blue line is a serious problem. Luke Schenn has made some nice plays through the first weekend, but also took three penalties on Sunday - two of which resulted in Sabres goals, including the game-winner. Nicklas Grossmann has appeared slower than last season, and has shown close to zero ability to move laterally in his defensive end when defending against the rush. Kimmo Timonen is aging - quickly - and one has to wonder how many more shots this man is going to block before he finally succumbs to one.
The overall special teams statistics through the opening weekend look like this:
POWERPLAY: 1/9, 11.1% (20th)
PENALTY KILL: 4/9 penalties killed; 44.4% (24th)
More importantly, the most important statistic for the Flyers is "2". As in, the number of games they've played and the number of losses they have. In a league in which a team's specialty teams performance can directly effect their wins, losses, and consequently their playoff hopes, the Flyers need to get this area of their game under control - fast.