What did we learn about the Flyers this season?

What did we learn about the Flyers this season?

This week, we’ll be taking a look back at the Flyers’ season and a peek at what lies ahead. Today, a look at what we learned about the Flyers this season.

Throughout the journey that is an 82-game hockey season, you can learn plenty of things about a hockey team. You can learn even more about that team when it’s the Philadelphia Flyers because they are known for almost never doing things the easy way.

That was especially true during their recently-completed campaign, which was one of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history.

With that said, what did we learn about the Flyers over the course of this season?

We learned that this is an incredibly resilient bunch.

This group persevered through a 1-7 start to the season - the worst start in franchise history, no less – and a coaching change after three regular-season game yet still dug out of that hole to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also set a franchise record for come-from-behind wins in the third period. You can never count this group out or write them off no matter how bad things look.

We learned that Craig Berube is a pretty darn good NHL head coach.

After Peter Laviolette was canned after an 0-3 start, Berube took over and the team responded to his way of coaching. Including playoffs, the Flyers went 42-27-10 under Berube this season. As you may be able to tell, the team adjusted well to his style and thrived in his system. He won’t win the award, but he certainly deserves consideration for coach of the year with the job he did turning around the club.

We learned that Claude Giroux is a superstar, if we didn’t know that already.

Giroux, a Hart Trophy finalist, didn’t score a goal for the first six weeks of the season but still finished with 28 of them. Add in his 58 assists and finished third in the league with 86 points, behind only Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. Giroux was the catalyst for the Flyers’ turnaround as he led the league in points after Dec. 11. And he had a knack for putting those points up in spectacular fashion. Remember his spinning, game-winning goal against Columbus or his filthy overtime snipe against Chicago? He’s the heart and soul of the team and will continue to be going forward.

We learned that Jake Voracek is a burgeoning playmaker of elite proportions.

He finished with career-highs in both goals with 23 and assists with 39. His chemistry with Giroux on the top line is undeniable. He was arguably the Flyers’ best player in the series with the Rangers and was one of the Flyers’ few consistent threats while showed fire and grit. The scary thing for the rest of the NHL is that Voracek is only 24-years-old and will just keep getting better.

We learned that the Wayne Train doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon.

Simmonds led the team with a career-high 29 goals. He was a power-play machine with 15 goals on the man advantage. Not only that, he stepped up in a leadership role, too. You may not have noticed, but he wore the “A” when Kimmo Timonen missed a few games this season. That shows the respect he has from his teammates and coaching staff. He’s only 25-years-old and his game is just going to keep getting better.

We learned that Steve Mason could be the savior in net that we’ve long yearned for.

Mason snatched the No.1 goalie slot at the beginning of the year and never let it go. He finished with a 33-18-7 record, .917 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average in 61 regular-season games. He was phenomenal the entire season and earned the three-year contract extension he received in January. He was spectacular in the series against the Rangers in the four games he played. The last time Mason had a season like the one he just had was during his rookie year in Columbus when he won the Calder Trophy. After that season, he sort of faded into anonymity. The goal for him is to keep his level of play up next season to prove he’s consistent enough to be an elite goalie.

We learned that the Flyers’ offense has depth but needs to be more consistent.

The Orange and Black had seven 20-plus goal scorers in the regular season, most in the NHL. But outside of Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds, none of those guys were consistent. Scott Harntell, Brayden Schenn, Vinny Lecavalier and Matt Read each suffered elongated goalless droughts. Read gets a little bit of slack because he played on the highly-effective defensive shutdown line with Sean Couturier and rarely saw power-play time. But the rest of the top scoring forwards need to be more consistent to allow space for guys like Voracek and Giroux to go to work without the opposition’s best defenders draped all over them.

We learned that Giroux and Voracek still need a proven sniper on their wing to become a truly dominant line.

No disrespect to Hartnell, he did the best he could on the line and played well enough, but he’s obviously not that sniper. Giroux and Voracek are both pass-first guys who need a real finisher alongside them to open up that space for them. That’s the first step over the hump for the Flyers to become an elite team.

We learned that the Flyers’ blue line needs a retooling.

The series with the Rangers really exposed this fact. The Rangers skated all over the Flyers’ defense in the series and magnified the Flyers’ blue-line deficiencies. They desperately need speedy and puck-moving defensemen. Kimmo Timonen is in the process of deciding whether he wants to retire or return for another season. If he comes back, he can’t be the team’s top defenseman anymore. He just can’t hold up in that spot. Braydon Coburn had one of his usual up-and-down years but really struggled in the playoffs. Could he be trade bait? Luke Schenn seemed to find his game toward the end of the year but he’s a stay-at-home, physical defender. Same with Nick Grossmann. Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald are here for a while and certainly helped but they aren’t going to put the Flyers over the top.

The question here is whether general manager Paul Holmgren goes out of the organization for a quick fix or takes the patient approach and lets kids such as Sam Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere develop. The Flyers need an answer, though, because the blue line is still their most glaring weakness

What did you guys learn about the Flyers this season?

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."