Since the start of the season, and especially after Braydon Coburn went down, there has been a real fear among Philadelphia Flyers fans that this team could be bad. And not just "miss the playoffs" bad, but "sleeper candidates for Connor McDavid" bad.
Tonight, we were reminded what a truly bad team looks like.
The Flyers took down an undermanned Edmonton Oilers team at the Wells Fargo Center by a score of 4-1, and the outcome really never was in doubt. From the start, the Flyers' top line of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl absolutely took over the game, driving play and generating quality scoring chances on nearly every shift.
It was Voracek who starred tonight, scoring two goals and jumping into a tie with Sidney Crosby for the league scoring lead. Jake has been something of a "best kept secret" for Flyers fans over the past two years - people around the league knew that he was good, but by watching him nightly and delving into the numbers, it was easy for Flyers fans to make a case for him as one of the game's truly elite wingers. This year, he's intent on making sure that everyone knows it.
Giroux added an assist of his own, Brayden Schenn set up his brother for a goal via a high-effort forecheck behind the Oilers net, and even new Swiss Army Knife Pierre-Edouard Bellemare chipped in with a goal despite fourth-line minutes.
It remains to be seen whether the Flyers are a true playoff contender. They'll probably need above-average goaltending, a healthy Braydon Coburn, and continued solid play from Michael Del Zotto and Luke Schenn to have a good chance.
But with forwards like Voracek and Giroux especially, but also guys like Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, it's tough to see this team as one of the worst in the league, whether they ice Nick Schultz, Justin Schultz, or even Dr. King Schultz on the blueline.
Ten more observations on the game:
- Despite his fantastic start, I'm still hesitant to say that Voracek is better than Giroux. While Jake may have the edge at 5v5, Giroux is one of the league's best power play pivots, is a great penalty killer and is trusted to help close out games defensively by his coaches.
- But here's the thing - I'm not convinced that Voracek couldn't do the same. I'd love to see Voracek try to carry his own power play unit away from Giroux, would be intrigued to see him on the ice in late game situations, and wonder if he could succeed on the PK as well (although the injury risk is probably too great). In any case, the Flyers should really find a way to get him more than 14:40 even strength minutes per game, which is his current average.
- In his first game as a Flyer, I thought Carlo Colaiacovo looked extremely solid. He especially shined in the defensive zone, where he made quite a few crisp and decisive passes to help Philadelphia exit their own end with possession. For as long he stays healthy, I think he'll be pretty useful.
- Edmonton is a team with skill to burn, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins showcased in the second period when undressing Mark Streit and Zac Rinaldo for the Oilers' only goal. But man, are they a train wreck in their own zone. Puck watching, players out of their lanes, bad passes - you name the issue, they have it.
- Steve Mason had his best game since the season opener against Boston. He got bailed out a few times in the third via the goal posts, but he also made a ton of very tough saves from the second period through the end of the game. The Flyers are going to give him every chance to succeed this year, and here's to hoping that his save percentage continues a steady creep upwards.
- I'm not sure what has gotten into Nicklas Grossmann, but he's pinched more over the past three weeks than he has in two-plus seasons. Hasn't looked half bad doing it, either. He had a well-earned assist on Voracek's first goal, as he dropped below the faceoff circle to keep the play going only seconds before the tally.
- Giroux got a fair amount of PK ice time tonight (2:34 minutes), and looked predictably strong in a role he has long excelled in. When asked about whether it was the start of a trend after the game, Berube explained that with Adam Hall gone, Giroux is the only righthanded faceoff man on the team who can play the PK, and the situations tonight warranted a righty on draws. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if Giroux continues to get increased shorthanded minutes over the next few weeks.
- Michael Raffl got hurt blocking a shot late in the third period. Ron Hextall came out after the game and said that they would know more tomorrow about his status. Fingers crossed.
- Brayden Schenn didn't have a great possession statistics game (-10 Corsi) but his forecheck and pass to set up his brother's second period goal is exactly the type of high-effort play that the Flyers are going to need from him if he is going to live up to his potential. Even for one play, it was great to see.
- R.J. Umberger did not have a standout game on the day that Kevin posts an article criticizing his play, but he did finish with a positive Corsi (53% Corsi For), so take that Christmann.
Comment of the Night
The Oilers assistants are both the creepy dancing guy from the Six Flags commercials.