Putting it all together
PhiladelphiaFlyers.com columnist Jay Greenberg gives his take on first 8 games
Plenty of time, Claude Giroux decided, after sneaking a look up at the clock to consider his best options. There were four seconds remaining in the second period, 20 minutes and four seconds left in the contest, plus another 74 games in the season.
A 2-6 start closed the walls in quickly on the Flyers during a 48-game schedule in 2012 and they missed the playoffs, But in this season, a full season, even at 1-7 the Flyers have plenty of steps remaining to reach full stride, as over 82 contests, teams, both good and bad, inevitably do.
Do the Flyers have time? Not the question. Whether they have enough team is more to the point.
Giroux threw the puck at Wayne Simmonds, who deflected it past Marc-Andre Fleury with two seconds remaining, sending the Flyers to the locker room Thursday night back in the game, with reason to feel fortunate to be down only 2-1.
Suddenly reenergized, they began to do all the things they didn’t while being badly outplayed in period two, like competing along the wall, dumping the puck, going to the net, and actually hitting the net, which has been one of their biggest issues.
Save Braydon Coburn, who was stripped on Sidney Crosby’s putaway goal, the Flyers looked composed, determined, and -- 10 productive days into Craig Berube’s new program -- ready to start climbing in the standings. But they also continued to struggle to bury their chances, which, in light of their getting to the net more often, continues to reflect their inability to put the puck in it.
Giroux, who picked up his third point in three games, is starting to come alive, and the Flyers still are not scoring enough to even get the games to overtime, not that they are likely to win some of them.
“It’s just a matter of time,” said Giroux. “We just have to believe it before we start playing that we are a good team and when we do we will start being dangerous.”
Of course the Flyers, who have an almost unbelievable 11 goals in eight games, will score better than this. No question Vinnie Lecavalier, who may return when the Flyers next play six days hence, will help, particularly on the power play, and probably when less is required of Giroux he will begin to produce more.
Their best player missing too much of camp, injuries to two key players (and now perhaps a third in Kimmo Timonen) plus a coaching change borne of an underconfident team have created a perfect storm to blow the Flyers to the worst eight-game start in their history.
Still, as they picked it up considerably in the third period Thursday night, that wasn’t just Fleury, bad luck and jittery hands that kept the tying goal out of the net through repeated point-blank opportunities.
Where have you gone Danny Briere? And we don’t mean the 2013 version either. The Flyers desperately need a guy who can bank one in off the goalie, not bank one off him over the glass. They lack a bona fide, pull-the-puck-back-out-of-a-jam-and-put-it-wherever-he-wants-it-go finisher.
That guy is not Wayne Simmonds, who will get his share of effort goals like Thursday night’s, nor is it Jake Voracek, who wouldn’t be playing the point on the power play if he was as good a shooter as he is a passer. In his rookie year, Matt Read showed a touch in tight, currently looks only up-tight, so there is more there, and we’ll see what develops in Brayden Schenn, who, keep in mind never topped 32 goals in a season in junior.
But other than Giroux; 33-year-old Lecavalier, who hasn’t topped 30 goals in his last five seasons; and Scott Hartnell, who was looking more than one year removed from a 37-goal season before he got hurt, where are the proven goal scorers? And if Timonen, who has struggled in the early going, will be out for any length of time, Mark Streit becomes the Flyers only offensive defenseman standing.
Of course, for lack of firepower off the wing, the Flyers can join a large club that includes their conquerors Thursday night. Chris Kunitz, who has never broken 30 goals, is the best the Penguins have to offer Sidney Crosby.
So it is in today’s NHL. The long-lead pass to the breaking winger who has a step on the defenseman and the wherewithal to beat a goal from 30 feet out has disappeared from a game where the object necessarily has become to throw the puck at the net and hope something good happens.
That still occurs more for some guys than others, of course. Even at full strength, the Flyers will need one more.
Meanwhile, Steve Mason continues to be the team’s best player by far, not to say that’s a bad thing two decades into the Flyers’ goaltending odyssey. While it is a little early to declare Mason The Answer At Last probably it is not too soon to ponder the possibility of a sad irony: What if the Flyers finally have a goalie and have turned into a team that can’t score?