Well, its not quite the start of the season the Flyers had envisioned. Like every team in the NHL, the Broadstreet Bullies were hoping to jump out of the gate quickly and forge ahead in what will no doubt be a crazy sprint towards the playoffs. Whoops. It's as if they lined up at the starting line, stretched out, and as the gun went off, they fell to the ground while holding a hamstring.
While two games does not constitute a full season (thank heavens), it does provide a serving sample where key areas, ranging from good to downright ugly, can be pinpointed. While players seemingly announce in unison that they need to execute a specific game plan to warrant success, observers know that in order for a team to be a winner, it must overcome its failures. With that in mind, here are several key areas of note that permeated in the losses to the Penguins and Sabres.
- To say that the play of Ilya Bryzgalov would be under a microscope all season would be like proclaiming that Yuengling needs to be available in New Hampshire. Thank you, Captain Obvious! While fans may have yet to stop cringing every time the puck comes across the defensive zone blue line, the Russian netminder has kept the Flyers afloat during periods of lackluster and sloppy play. Bryzgalov has looked composed, focused, and has challenged shooters by being aggressive in his crease. Unlike last year when he fought pucks coming his way, he has looked sharp and ready. The shots he has let past him this season have not been his fault at all, but rather through breakdowns from his teammates in front of him.
- Welcome to the NHL, Scott Laughton. The rookie has shown already that he is more than capable of playing with the big boys, for he has looked strong in his positioning and has played well defensively. Due to an injury to fellow forward Zac Rinaldo and the fact that the club was playing less than 24 hours since losing to the Penguins, the young center was presented with increased ice time. Despite the added pressure, Laughton played within himself and allowed the Flyers top 6 forwards a much needed rest.
- How bad could the Flyers be on special teams? So close, that it almost found its way to the "ugly" category. Throughout the first two games, the team struggled in both ends of the ice, horribly failing to set up their power play and imitating a chinese fire drill while shorthanded. The numbers do not lie. So far, the Flyers have had the man advantage nine times and have capitalized just once. That equates to a success rate of 11%. It doesn't get much worse than that. Or maybe it does. In the first 6 periods of action, the Flyers have yielded 5 goals out of 9 total times of being shorthanded. Ouch. Even us non-math majors know that the special teams need to be corrected if the club is going to have any chance of skating on par with the upper echelon teams of the NHL.
- With an abbreviated training camp and a condensed schedule, it should not come as a shock that the team has looked sloppy and discombobulated during long stretches of play. All four lines have struggled mightily to establish a prolonged and successful forecheck, which is the trademark of any Peter Laviolette coached club. Without setting the tone and not utilizing their designed systems to their fullest, the Flyers have given the opposition the right to control the tempo of play and forced the Orange and Black to counterattack.
- In trying to lure back fans to watch nationally televised games, the NHL has leaned heavily on the stronger markets to shoulder the burden. For the Flyers, it meant having a home opener against their cross state rival Penguins on Saturday afternoon and then booking it to Buffalo for a nooner against the Sabres the following day. Having less than 24 hours to recuperate and rest before taking to the ice in upstate New York proved insurmountable as the Flyers lacked the legs in the third period on Sunday. The Sabres, while not looking all that fresh at that point either, just had a little too much for the team to handle. When it was all said and done, the Flyers allowed 3 unanswered goals in the final stanza and lost 5-2.
- Blaming the officials for a loss is often immature and a sign of a sore loser. So naturally, I am going to do it. In watching the game against Buffalo, the referees blew two instances that took the wind out of the Flyers sails. The first, was a phantom goaltender interference call that negated a goal that would have knotted the score. While Ruslan Fedotenko did make slight contact with goaltender Ryan Miller, replays illustrated that it was not intentional and it did not prevent the netminder from making the save.
The other instance was late in the third period with the Flyers trailing by two goals. With the puck being lost amongst a goal mouth scramble, a whistle was blown just as it was about to cross the goal line. Had either goal properly stood, it could have altered not only the momentum of the game, but quite possibly the outcome. It is imperative to note that while the referees did not have their best on Sunday, they, just like the players, are also coming back from an extended lockout.
Now is not the time to push the panic button and proclaim that the sky is falling on the heads of the Flyers. This well coached team has too much talent to fester in the lower depths of the standings. While the special teams have been anything but that, there are enough positives to rally around and stop the bleeding before it gets worse. Teams go through growing pains throughout a season. Unfortunately for the Flyers, it was a pulled hamstring at the starting line that has caused them to fall behind the pack. If they can slap an ace bandage on it and numb the pain with some pain medication, the team can get back out there and compete to its fullest potential.