Flyers at the Halfway Point: Awards, Surprises, Concerns

Flyers at the Halfway Point: Awards, Surprises, Concerns

The 2011
portion of the Flyers' 2011-2012 season was to be the great unknown
when the team took the ice in October. No one knew exactly how the
surprising reshaping of the team would work out, as it's never so simple
as putting good players together and letting them play (ask the
Eagles).

Overall though, it's hard not to be anything but pleasantly
surprised with their fast progress and overall state at the season's
midway point. The fact that we can even be disappointed at their recent
slumps — which pale in comparison to what we've seen from previous
iterations — shows how good we actually believe they can be. There's
obviously still plenty of room for improvement, particularly in goal and
in their own end. But, after this off-season, if you were told the day
before the new campaign started that the Flyers would be four points out
of the conference lead, you'd have been OK with that, right?

So how did they get here? What do they need to do stay at near the
top, or get over the hump? A look at the mid-season award winners and
trendsetters below.

MVP: The birthday boy, Hearst,
Ontario's own Claude Giroux. Were it not for a concussion sidelining him
a handful of games, he might be leading the league in scoring as he has
at several points this season. Forget the Bobby Clarke Trophy… G is a
near-unanimous early favorite for the Hart, gaining nods from Puck Daddy,
ESPN, and NHL.com, among others. With the previous faces of the
franchise traded away last summer, Giroux may have already ascended to a
place that eluded them—true superstardom. The immediate belief
surrounding the trades of Richards and Carter was that they were a
combination of a culture change and a salary shedding for the signing of
a goalie. The biggest impact so far? The Flyers became Claude Giroux's
team.

Early Ashbee: The loss of Chris Pronger for the season and
possibly beyond still looms large, but where would this team be without
Kimmo Timonen? A stalwart in all situations, Kimmo continues to be a
steadying presence on a blue line that often hasn't played to its
on-paper depth.

Calder Kids: Matt Read was TSN's Bob McKenzie's pick for the
NHL's Calder Trophy (top rookie), a pick that turned some heads. Read's
been through a few NHL camps and never stuck. Why would this season be
different? Would Read even be the top rookie on a team that included 8th
overall pick Sean Couturier and top prospect Brayden Schenn? Well, Mac
was on to something, because Read is tied for the goals lead and fourth
in overall scoring among freshmen to date. Still, Cooter has shown that
he could be at least as valuable to the team, while not having quite the
same Calder allure. Playing in a bottom-six (mostly fourth line) role
and killing penalties every night, while still notching seven goals,
Couturier is right there with Read in a toss-up for most impact from a
rookie so far. It'll be exciting to see whose game rises fastest in the
second half, including Schenn.

Comeback Player of the Half Year: I think you could have
called this one for Jaromir Jagr before the season even began. First,
not many other Flyers would even qualify. But Jags has had a remarkable
first half, the perfect complement to Giroux in his season of
ascendency. Injuries have slowed him down, a situation that is certainly
a concern in the second half, but Jagr has so far proven to be one of
the best off-season acquisitions any NHL team made.

D2D (Disappointment to Date): Hard to look past Ilya
Bryzgalov on this one. Usually a huge contract to a goalie doesn't start
looking bad until a few seasons in, but Bryz has been one of the few
bleak spots in an otherwise positive season for the Flyers. Before I say
another word about him though, the defense in front of him is a close
second — very close. I can't remember ever seeing a team let up so many
goals on deflections, second efforts, ricochets, and all other kinds of
"bad bounces." Off the top of your head, how many goals would you say
have been credited against Bryzgalov that he simply had no chance on due
to something related to the traffic in front of him or a failure to
clear out the slot and crease area? Subtract that from his total and I'm
sure his mind-bogglingly poor stats are far closer to acceptable.

Still, Bryz simply hasn't been an elite goaltender, and that's what
the Flyers are paying for. He's lacked confidence as seen in post-game
scrums (although you can decide how much weight you want to put into
that, as well as 24/7 comments) as well as on the ice, where he seems
beaten on some second efforts before they're even past him. The good
news is, if he can turn it around at all, the Flyers become very
dangerous. With Bryz's stats currently worse than they've ever been, the
Flyers are still well within striking distance of first place in their
division, a slot that currently holds the conference lead as well. He
doesn't need to be perfect (which some assumed he would after the Flyers
appeared to give up so much scoring as well as forward line defense),
he just needs to be better.

Best Moment
This is gonna be subjective, I hope you don't mind. Sitting in the first row of the 200 level in right field chanting for Bernie Parent, who was in goal for the Flyers at the time. I've been a Flyers fan my whole life, but never seen the franchise's greatest legends play. Well, before the Alumni Game, that is. Call it meaningless if you want (and me a sap), but it had as much meaning to me as any other game I've seen. Along with that, we saw Eric Lindros' Philadelphia history conclude with a previously unwritten happy ending. He was the Flyers for a formative part of my hockey fan life, and it felt right to see him back where he belonged.

One other moment I'll throw in — seeing the Flyers dance to that Knock Knock song after a big win on 24/7. Did you not just f*cking love those guys right then? One thing I'll always appreciate about hockey is the pure joy these guys share in being teammates. After a goal, the smiles are so wide, so sincere. The best part of 24/7 to me was being in the locker room when no one else is in there. Pretty stark contrast to Postgame Live when the inquisitions begin.

Worst Moment
Hearing Chris Pronger's scream of pain after
taking a stick to the eye is second only to hearing the news that his
season was over, with speculation that his career might be as well. A
storm of concussions is sweeping through the NHL, and we're not sure
what the sport will look like after more destruction mounts. Pronger
clearly still has plenty of years left in his body, but perhaps not his
head, and that's a very sad thing. It's also a reminder that age and
circumstance may have nothing to do with a career-ending concussion. A
visor might have stopped this from happening. But what of Giroux's?
Couturier's? There's not much you can mandate in terms of penalties or
equipment that would change the fact that we are simply learning more
about head trauma than we previously did. It's a great thing for health,
but the sport will never be the same.

Surprise Positives
Scott Hartnell is tied with
the league's MVP for most goals on the team, and is once again skating
with the team's top line, albeit with two completely different
linemates. Peter Laviolette called him the top power forward in the game
in reference to whether he should be an All-Star. More than a pest,
Hartnell doesn't see nothing wrong with a little Muck & Grind, and
he's truly been a bright spot for the Flyers on and off the ice. He's
emerged as a leader on a team that will need guidance through whatever
rough patches remain on the schedule — and there will likely be some.

Youth Movement: Eleven rookies have played for the Flyers so
far this season, with a handful playing nearly every night. The current
season has been pretty fun for the most part, but the future with this
club is pretty bright as well.

Concerns Going Forward:
The Flyers' defense probably
tops the list, even above Bryzgalov. First, I think Bryz recovers and
puts together a great stretch of performances before this season is said
and done. If he doesn't, the Flyers have a backup many believed would
be a capable starter. Only problem there is, if Bryz doesn't step up,
Lavy may resort to his natural tendency of riding the hot hand not
matter who's getting paid what. He may already be doing that, with Bob
starting the the Pens game, the Winter Classic, the win over Carolina,
and tonight's game against the Islanders, per Frank Seravalli.

But as we said before, the defense has absolutely let its goalies
down too often. There's too much traffic in front, and too many lost
assignments leaving opposing forward ready for second effort gimme's.
It's not just on the actual D-men either, the forwards need to tighten
up as well.

Kimmo must stay healthy. We can rattle off some fine
defensive names in Meszaros, Coburn, and Carle, but with Pronger gone,
the defensive depth lives and dies with Timonen. Not that we'd be
comfortable with any of the above hitting the press box either…

Ditto Jagr. How much of a problem is that groin going to be
the rest of the way? The G Unit hasn't quite been the same the past few
games (very small sample), and Jagr has seemed to be laboring.

Can JVR turn it up? The
second half of this season is huge for James van Riemsdyk, who has not
emerged as a star in line with the trajectory set in last year's
playoffs. A possible hip injury may be one reason, but not one most fans
will be willing to accept, and maybe not Lavy and Homer either.

Last year's lessons. The Flyers were the top team in the
league through January 2011. Then the world exploded. Nothing that's
happened so far this season necessarily has an impact on what happens
next. Hopefully the guys who are still here remember that and can impart
it to the guy who weren't.

Your Turn.
There's a lot we've left out here, hoping
you'll help fill in the blanks. What were your pleasant surprises?
Disappointments? What has you most excited for the second half, and what
are you worried about?

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

CLEVELAND -- Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night despite missing starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.

Leonard scored six in OT, including a game-sealing dunk with 4.9 seconds left, as the Spurs regrouped after a late collapse in regulation.

David Lee, making a rare start in place of the injured Gasol, added 14 points as San Antonio improved to 18-4 on the road.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scored 29 apiece for the Cavs, who had the last shot in regulation and had plenty of opportunities in the extra five minutes. Cleveland still had a chance to tie it in the final second of overtime, but Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer (see full recap).

Lillard, McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Boston
BOSTON -- Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Thomas nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in OT, pushing Boston ahead by one, but Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws to move Portland back in front.

Lillard then drove the lane, was fouled and hit the free throw. Mason Plumlee had a short jumper in the lane and a free throw in the closing 24 seconds (see full recap).

Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105
NEW YORK -- Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

Carmelo Anthony's attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

Eric Bledsoe added 23 points for the Suns, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points, Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14 (see full recap).

Dekker scores career-best 30 leading Rockets past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 30 points, James Harden added 29 points and 10 assists and the Houston Rockets leaned on their usual 3-point offense to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-95 on Saturday night.

Eric Gordon added 21 points as the Rockets built the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before easily coasting home.

Dekker, making his first career start in place of the ill Ryan Anderson, made 12 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Houston shot 51 percent overall and 38 percent from distance.

Marc Gasol scored 32 points and Mike Conley added 15 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four.

Memphis struggled shooting the entire night, finishing at 37 percent and unsuccessfully tried to follow the Rockets' long-range attack but converted only 9 of 34 from outside the arc (see full recap).