With six players on the happy side of the 20-goal mark, nine who average better than a point every two games and a top-10 power play and penalty kill, the Philadelphia Flyers would seem like a darn good team to pick from when assembling a playoff pool roster.
But when THN’s staff drags its collection of weary carcasses into our boardroom for our draft early next week, I’ll be avoiding the Orange like their Black was the plague.
And I highly suggest you follow my lead.
To avoid the wrath of those who chuck snowballs at Santa Claus, I feel I must clarify this proclamation is not personal: I harbor no ill will towards the Broad Street Boys or their followers.
In fact, I love watching the Flyers play – they’re chock full of young stars and play an exciting brand of hockey. I even have a Philly jersey in my repertoire: an alternate edition with the silver dot, circa 2002-07.
From a strictly analytical outlook, however, the Flyers’ chances of getting out of the first round are slim to none.
Philadelphia is very likely subject to a Round 1 matchup against the Hurricanes, winners of nine in a row and the league’s hottest team since the all-star break; or the Penguins, who are firing on all cylinders (16-3-4) since hiring Dan Bylsma as coach.
Despite a 3-1-0 record against the Canes this season, all four of those contests came before Christmas when Carolina was struggling to find their footing. The Flyers split the season series with their cross-state rivals at 2-2-2, but there’s no doubt about who the best team in the Atlantic has been since mid-February.
Lining up against either club, both of which will be brimming with confidence entering the tournament, is not what a team that’s developed a penchant for slow starts in games wants to face.
Even if you subscribe to the theory that all regular season predispositions are washed away with the post-season puck drop, the play of de facto No. 1 goalie Martin Biron has to have Philly faithful flashing back to the anxiety-filled playoff days of Robert Esche, Roman Cechmanek and John Vanbiesbrouck.
Biron, a UFA this summer, looked simply awful in an early-April home-and-home against the woeful Maple Leafs, kicking soft rebounds into the slot like he was looking for a pinball bonus. A solid performance against a desperate Panthers team Tuesday aside, the 31-year-old isn’t displaying the kind of form coach John Stevens surely hoped for when he publicly backed Biron as the team’s starter down the stretch.
“To me, it looked like he was lacking confidence a little bit,” Stevens told the Philadelphia Daily News after the games against Toronto. “Marty’s a very good goalie. It just didn’t look like he was confident.”
The Flyers would be in tough to get past either Carolina or Pittsburgh even if Biron was firing on all cylinders, but if he struggles at all you can ring the Liberty Bell because Philly’s down for the count.
IN THE NICK OF TIMONEN
If the Flyers are to prove me wrong and advance deeper into the playoffs, a big reason will be the play of veteran Kimmo Timonen. Video Producer Ted Cooper explores why the underrated blueliner is so key to Philly’s success.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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