The Flyers hit the mid-point of the 2011-2012 regular season on Tuesday with their game against the Hurricanes in Carolina. Thus, its time to reflect back on the first half of the season and analyze how things will play out in the coming months.
In general, it was a good start for Peter Laviolettes team. The Flyers have put themselves in a good spot, within striking distance of the Eastern Conference leaders despite facing some serious injury issues and other inconsistencies.
Here are some areas of interest both looking back and thinking forward.
The Flyers are the only NHL team with eight players in double figures in goals. That type of scoring balance bodes well for the second half and even more so come playoff time. They would appear to be a difficult team to check.
Its ironic that they have such offensive depth. The Flyers featured eight players with at least 19 goals last season, but four of them moved on through trade and free agency.
So, while the faces have changed, the Flyers have been able to maintain the scoring balance. They will need plenty off offensive heroes down the stretch and into the postseason.
Flyer rookies have contributed a league-high 54 points to the scoring equation to this point. I doubt anyone could have foreseen such a dramatic piece of the offensive pie being taken by rookies. However, Read, Sean Couturier and nine other first-year players who suited up in the first half have been critical to the teams success.
The question going forward is whether or not they can keep it up. So often, players experiencing the NHL grind for the first time hit a wall sometime in January and February. The Flyers have come to depend on their rookies, so any tail-off in their collective performance would be quite damaging.
The equation on defense
The news of Chris Prongers prolonged absence was handled in stride by the remainder of the Flyers defense corps. Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn have assumed added ice time. Marc-Andre Bourdon came from the AHL to supply a boost. The Flyers have gone 16-9-2 in games that Pronger has missed, so they have managed to survive his absence.
Still, the question remains. Do they try to continue with the current group and hope for an unexpected recovery by Pronger in time for the playoffs? Or is a move before the trade deadline in the offing? This will be one of the more intriguing issues to follow in the coming months.
As the season got underway, observers saw the Penguins, Bruins and perhaps the Capitals as the biggest obstacles for any team in the Eastern Conference in a bid to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Three months later, the Rangers have emerged as the primary challenge for the Flyers.
Not only are they ahead of the Flyers in the standings, but more importantly, the Broadway Blueshirts have taken all three head-to-head meetings, including, of course, the Bridgestone Winter Classic.
Each game had a different feel to it. However, it cannot be denied that the Rangers made the plays when they had to in every contest. Henrik Lundqvist has allowed a grand total of four goals to the Flyers in the three games.
The Flyers get three more regular-season cracks at John Tortorellas group. If they plan on winning the division, they will have to take at least two of those three. And it certainly isnt out of the realm of possibility that these teams could clash in the playoffs, so it would behoove the Flyers to put a dent or two in the Rangers sudden feeling of invincibility in the rivalry.
Ah yes the goaltending. The Flyers went out and acquired a goalie whose numbers ranked up near the top of the league in just about every category over the last couple of seasons in Ilya Bryzgalov. After years of question marks between the pipes, they had their man for nine years and 51 million. Finally, stability in net.
Instead, here we are at the midseason point, and wouldnt you know it, goaltending is the major issue anyone wants to discuss. Bryzgalov has been inconsistent at best. His save percentage and goals-against numbers are well off his recent years. Furthermore, hes garnered a lot of attention for his sessions with media and the HBO 247 cameras.
If he was performing as he had the last two seasons, much of his off-ice offerings might be considered refreshing. But, when the pucks are going in the net, those comments can take on a whole different tone. Bryzgalov has to be careful not get on the wrong side of his teammates. Its a fissure few teams can overcome.
Thus, in the second half all eyes will be on the guy they call Bryz, both his on-ice performance and his off-ice disposition. If he turns things around the up-and-down first half will be forgotten. If things dont go well, it wouldnt be a shock to see Sergei Bobrovsky get an extended shot at starting time. We shall see.
The first half of the Flyers season featured so many positives. Talented newcomers, including energizing rookies, came together with some hungry holdovers to give this years edition of the orange and black a promising outlook. Theyve won enough and avoided any prolonged losing spells.
They are in position to do some special things. If some of the aforementioned issues turn out positively, the next five months could be exhilarating indeed. There remains a lot of work, but the foundation is there.
E-mail Jim Jackson at email@example.com.