I think Flyers nation breathed a collective sigh of relief to see our battered boys pull out the big W tonight on the shoulders of Tom Sestio and Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz almost literally stood on his head to keep the red-hot Lightning at (Tampa) bay and Tommy-boy proved he belongs in the line up by scoring 2 important goals. The best take-away from this game is that we can play right along with those teams that are currently at the top of the standings. More importantly, 2 wins have been strung in a row! The game before that, the Power Play finally clicked. Altogether, some great signs of improvement! I believe the team is finally beginning to settle into the season and adjust to the injuries. Danny B is looking better with each game, which tells me that he came back not 100%, but is continually getting closer. Giroux may be generally absent on the scoresheet some nights, but not on the ice. He draws a lot of attention, a lot of ice time, and makes that other team work! The biggest difference this year over last year is that he's now the man with the target. Moving Briere to his line has been a great decision, as it now gives the opposing team someone else to have to focus their attention on. With the departure of Jagr, there wasn't really anyone with the puck handling skill left to distract teams when Giroux is on the ice. Without that secondary magic-maker, its much more of a target on his back. I think he's doing well at adapting to this, with or without Briere, and you'll soon see a lot of opportunities for his linemates to make magic happen once he's opened up the ice for them.
With the improvement of the team learning to play together with some pretty impactful pieces missing, I think you'll see the offense break out some more. We saw some hints of that in the Carolina game, but then we saw those defensive breakdowns of old. I have a very tough time believing that we can have a balanced game under Lavy. Getting Mez back healthy will be a huge boost, but until then, the players need to take it upon themselves to properly backcheck and get the quick line-changes in so they can maintain the high-pace offensive push while still being defensively responsible. It's actually not helping the cause that Bryz has been all-star caliber again lately. They've been able to get away with some pretty dismal defensive play and he's been the man to bail them out. Amazing how much things change in a year! We are finally getting the goaltending savior that Snider paid for! Hopefully once he gets past the amnesty buy-out risk, he continues to have the motivation to play the same.
Speaking of goaltending, last night proved just how bad Leighton really is. In the previous Flyers/Lighting game, everyone had a field day with picking apart his slow reaction time and poor positioning. He's a great AHL goalie but just not someone I want in the net for an NHL club. In the 2010 playoffs, he played well above his level. The Chicago series was much more his normal game and there really should have been no surprise that he let up the cup-clinching goal. He's a weakness to be exploited. I'm very happy that Brian Boucher is back with the club and can't wait for him to finish rehabbing with the Phantoms. I truely see him supplanting Leighton as the #2 man in net. Bouch may not be a number 1 anymore, but he's got incredible skill and plays amazingly while cold. He can start for a few games and keep you in it if there is an injury or a guy just needs some time off. Believe it or not, at the AHL level, I do see Leighton as being a good piece to have to keep that team competitive.
My final point as to why I'm feeling pretty good about this team...the record does not accurately portray the team's play. There have been a lot of losses that have been close games with a few horrendously timed lapses or just not having all the pieces clicking at the same time. The Flyers have had better starts than last year and there have really only been 2 games where they were just flat the whole time. The first 2 games of the season, I really feel could have gone either way. There has been a recent outcry over the poor officiating recently when it comes to goaltender interference penalties. I really felt Flyers got the short end of that stick, as have several other teams. And the worst part is, these are times when it has a huge impact on the final outcome of the game. I'm not trying to complain and blame them, but I am pointing it out as a factor that was out of their control and thus makes me feel more confident in the team moving forward.
Often overlooked is the emotional effect of game changing calls and circumstances. I relate it to the power outage at the superbowl. A team that was rolling lost a great deal of adrenaline when they had to wait a half hour and do nothing, giving a panicked team a chance to relax and regroup. A big goal that either ties it or put you ahead that gets called off (especially when you know it shouldn't have) can really deflate you. Hopefully this will be educational for them to get back to what they used to be sooo good at, which is shrugging that off and coming from behind. With so much young talent on the team, and players who weren't here in 2010, there is a history that is being rebuilt and relearned. The resolve of this team will continue to improve, and the points will come.