there were few bright spots in the Flyers' playoff appearance. They
bounced a hated bunch of Buffalo Sabres in the first round, but at no
point during the regular season's stretch run nor their two rounds of
postseason play did they resemble a team that could win the Stanley Cup.
The "run" will forever be remembered for the club's inability to settle
on a goaltender, a problem they immediately sought to remedy in the
off-season to follow.
The one true positive we could take from the playoff
experience was the elevated play of James van Riemsdyk. JVR was at
times the best player on the ice, and nearly always the best Flyer. He
was dominant with the puck, using his size to shield off defenders while
also showing great stick skills, scoring seven goals in 11 games. The
tallies came when it really counted too, with a goal in each of the last
three games of the Buffalo series, followed by three goals over the
first two in the Boston matchup, when the team was in shambles around
After the Flyers were bounced and Paul Holmgren
overhauled the roster, the hope was that JVR's progress would continue
in his third NHL season. For a variety of reasons, most notably
injuries, it did not. But a number of players have stepped up their
games, including veterans like Scott Hartnell, Max Talbot, and Wayne
Simmonds (still just 23, but technically a vet) while Claude Giroux
brought his to the Hart Trophy level. For the Flyers to enjoy any
success this regular season and in the playoffs though, their deep cast
of rookies will need to be major contributors.
Surprising rookie Matt Read is a big part of the
Flyers' scoring depth and will be called on to continue lighting the
lamp, while first-round pick Sean Couturier will be charged with slowing
the league's hottest attack. Along with Eric Wellwood, a handful of
rookies are critical to the Flyers' chances for eliminating the Penguins
and could prove to be breakout performers in the playoffs, but for the
purposes of this post, let's take a look at why Brayden Schenn should
continue his rise when the bright lights are on, emerging as a
difference-maker like JVR did last year.
Pedigree and Stepping Into PotentialMike
Richards is one of the league's best two-way forwards, gritty, and the
club's former captain, so the price for his services was going to be
high. Schenn was seen as an elite NHL prospect when the Flyers acquired
him along with Simmonds, and we've lately begun to see why. He picked up
a huge goal against the Pens in the season finale before the game went
to the zoo, and he played some of his best hockey of the season. Harry Z
may have been the name added to the lineup when Giroux was scratched,
but Schenn took it on himself to be the force that replaced G.
Not just a scorer, Schenn's shown no reluctance in
mixing it up. You may have seen a clip or two about him nonchalantly
crosschecking Sidney Crosby to the ice in the penultimate Flyers-Pens
game of the season series.
Briere's BackAlthough he had a down
season production-wise and has had to battle injuries up to and
including the final week of the season, Danny Briere is a primetime
playoff performer. He makes those around him excel too, as we saw when
he centered the previously quiet Ville Leino and the previously slumping
Scott Hartnell two springs ago. They went on to be among the most
productive lines in Flyers postseason history. Now flanking Danny? A
versatile power forward having a career year and a fifth overall pick.
Hopefully Danny is healthy after taking a jarring hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale. He is expected to be ready for game 1.
has been crashing crease parties like a boss, resulting in some tip ins
and garbage goals for #17 (not to mention one off his FACE), but also
some screened efforts from others. He's also been tireless in pursuit of
pucks along the boards. Both could result in some good opportunities
for Schenn, as well as Briere.
Shadow of the G UnitThe Penguins will be
trying to get their best defenders on the ice when Giroux, Hartnell, and
Jaromir Jagr take their shifts. That should provide a slightly better
set of matchup circumstances for Briere's line. Every skater will be
feeling the pressure of postseason hockey and the energy of a packed
building, but there could be an advantage to not being the guy
everyone's expecting to carry the team.
In all, the Flyers appear ready to dress six
rookies: Schenn, Read, Couturier, Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo, and defenseman
Marc-Andre Bourdon. Reliance on rookies isn't often cited as a means
toward a successful Stanley Cup run, and the Flyers are certainly
counting on young players not to wilt in a playoff battle against the
team believed by many to be the favorites to win it all.
Will these rookies have enough to hold off a veteran
group that includes some of the league's elite, players who know what
it takes to win for two spring months?
Who do you think is the most likely Flyer to have a breakout performance in the postseason?
Hopefully this isn't one long jinx for Schenner...
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