Pretty much since the beginning of the franchise’s creation, the Philadelphia Flyers were a team opposing squads didn’t want to face. For decades now, it was because the Broad Street Bullies could pound pucks into the net and faces into oblivion, and not necessarily in that order.
But with one quarter of the 2008-09 season gone, the Flyers are a team I don’t think other Eastern Conference foes want to be seeing in the playoffs this spring and it’s more so because Philly’s finest look like such a confident bunch.
And it hasn’t been an entirely easy road, either. Starting goalie Martin Biron was shelled in his first appearances of the season, giving up at least four goals in three straight regulation losses. But Biron, who was such an important piece of the Flyers’ march to the Eastern Conference final last season, has righted the ship as of late, going 4-0-1 in his past five games and putting up an exemplary 2.20 goals-against average in that span.
Injuries have also been a challenge for the team, as Philadelphia is currently missing top-line center Daniel Briere as well as defensemen Ryan Parent, Randy Jones and Derian Hatcher (who in all likelihood is closer to retirement than the ice).
In their place, others have stepped up. Jeff Carter leads the league in goals with 15 (tied with Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek), while rookie Luca Sbisa’s jump straight from junior to the big show took some of the heat off the loss of Parent.
Then, there was a very underrated trade.
In acquiring puck-moving blueliner Matt Carle from Tampa for depth defenseman Steve Eminger and Perpetual Chaos Machine Steve Downie, the Flyers added a player not in the traditional Flyers mold, but a very capable defenseman nonetheless.
After a strong rookie campaign and a little sophomore slump in San Jose, Carle fell out of favor with the Sharks and, for salary cap reasons, with the Bolts as well, after just 12 games this year. For better or worse, Downie always had that old-school Flyers mentality, which is why it was surprising to see him go so soon in his career.
But maybe that’s what Philadelphia’s brass has realized: fighting is still cool, but unpredictability and huge suspensions can’t be tolerated anymore. The Flyers are still in the top five of the league when it comes to major penalties and are on pace for more fights than last season, but far fewer misconducts. Downie, Ben Eager and Jesse Boulerice, three of the more ornery (and to varying degrees, psycho) Flyers of ’07-08 are all gone now.
The real acid test however, is how the team looks on the ice and recently, it has been poised. The Flyers are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and though they are still sitting tied for third place in the Atlantic Division, that’s still good for a playoff spot right now. And as long as you’re in, you can win.
As entertaining as last year’s first-round playoff victory over the Washington Capitals was, the Flyers were one bad bounce away from Alex Ovechkin and friends heading on to the second round instead. Philadelphia tightened up defensively against Montreal, but the Habs lost that series due to Carey Price’s lame glove hand. The less said about the Pittsburgh series, the better.
This year, the Flyers won’t need any help from their rivals. Assuming the team maintains its cool and doesn’t suffer any catastrophic injuries, I get the sense this squad has that unbreakable quality to it.
A Stanley Cup in Philadelphia? At the least, the Flyers look like they’ll get a shot at the chalice.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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