RALEIGH, N.C. -- Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, in evaluating his club at the midpoint of the season, said Tuesday hes pleased at how well Peter Laviolettes club has adjusted with six rookies playing regularly.
As the Flyers prepare for tonights game against Carolina, they remain the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with 52 points, four behind the top-seeded New York Rangers.
Im really pleased where were at but we still have a lot of work to do to get where we want to be, Holmgren said from his office at Skate Zone. There are a lot of areas we need to improve, but overall, I think our team, from a competitive standpoint and effort standpoint, has been very good.
We break down, time to time in some areas, but the coaches continue to work on that and were a young team.
That said, he admitted there is one glaring area where the team simply has to be better in the second half, and its not goaltending its his blue line.
We need to defend our turf in front of our net better than we have been, of late, Holmgren said. Guys need to play harder in those areas. We have four guys back there who have played a lot of games and logged a lot of minutes for us. Theyre good players.
I do believe we need to be harder in front of our net, and they are all capable of that. None of them are Chris Pronger in front of the net, but they can still get people out of there.
Over the course of 82 games, those things happen and Im willing to accept that. You dont want to see this on a continuing basis here.
Not having Pronger, who is shelved for the season with post-concussion syndrome, is something Holmgren said the team needs to accept.
Guys need to realize that and step up, and for the most part, they have, Holmgren said.
Holmgren checks in with Pronger once or twice a week. He said his top defenseman has good days and bad days, but isnt making objective progress.
I dont see a light at the end of the tunnel here, Holmgren said. I dont think he does, either.
The Flyers plan to address defense at the trade deadline in late February, but Holmgren said he would not do anything stupid to ruin the chemistry on this club by tearing it apart to land a major defenseman.
Most observers say the Flyers will be in the hunt for either Shea Weber or Ryan Suter, should Nashville decide to move one of those defensemen.
Suter is unrestricted this summer and its highly unlikely Preds GM David Poile can re-sign him, as well as Weber, who is a restricted free agent this summer.
We continue to look like every team as we get the deadline in 48 days, he said. Theres a lot of chatter out there.
Holmgren credited Laviolette and his staff for giving the rookies specific roles to make their transition to the NHL a bit easier.
He also said he was pleased that the veteran leadership among Kimmo Timonen and others picked up in the absence of Pronger.
Youve got to give credit to the older guys on the team for leading the way, Holmgren said.
One of the younger veterans, Claude Giroux, who is very much a candidate for the Hart Trophy, has become a vocal leader on the ice even though he doesnt wear the C.
Giroux turns 23 this week.
Claudes a pretty smart hockey player, Holmgren said. That was one of the things we talked about last summer when we made the changes. Not necessarily that he had to be the leader because there was Kimmo, Chris and Danny Briere.
But we felt he needed to step up in a lot of areas of his game and he has. Hes always had things to say. Hes an intelligent player. He sees things going on and he says what has to say.
Among the rookies, Holmgren said he has been most surprised by 19-year-old Sean Couturier, who is among the better penalty killers on the club.
I dont think any of us had him penciled into our lineup at the start of training camp, Holmgren said. To play the minutes and important role he plays, hes probably, I wouldnt say the biggest surprise, but were happy where hes at.
Because of numerous injuries, Brayden Schenn remains behind others in conditioning, Holmgren said, but has shown progress without getting down on his own misfortune.
Holmgren mentioned the development of Harry Zolnierczyk, Zac Rinaldo and Matt Read, who he said the organization expected big things from and has delivered, as evidenced by his standing among all NHL rookies in several offensive categories.
The dark horse? Holmgren said that no one expected Marc-Andre Bourdon would play the way hes played on the blue line. Bourdon replaced Pronger as Matt Carles regular partner.
Which bring us to veteran goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, whose first season here as the teams 51 million free-agent signing, has been a rocky ride so far.
Bryzgalov has been victimized, at times, by the lack of play in front of him and the many deflected goals where he had no chance, Holmgren noted. He also said he still feels Bryz has not fully settled into what its like playing goal in Philadelphia.
Hes a new guy and for whatever reason, its a pressure-packed town for goalies and hes never faced the media attention hes faced here, prior to this, Holmgren said.
Theres been good signs here, of late. Saturdays game against Ottawa was a good sign. And for two periods in Ottawa, he played pretty good, too Hes still feeling his way but hes seen positive signs here, of late.
Hes a good goalie. He can get better as the season goes on here.
E-mail Tim Panaccio at firstname.lastname@example.org