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Flyers D staying focused

Flyers blueliners working as one unit to help Flyers climb back in the standings

Friday, 01.03.2014 / 11:00 AM / News
By Jay Greenberg  - philadelphiaflyers.com
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Flyers D staying focused
Flyers blueliners working together as one unit to help Flyers climb back in the standings

Those who were fast to write off the Flyers as a playoff team usually cited their lack of foot speed on defense. But obviously, you don’t go 19-10-4 in the last 33 games with four pylons and a couple of Jiri Latals back there.

Even considering the improved systemic help from the forwards and goaltending by Steve Mason that barely has faltered, you gotta give this D a lot better than a D when you grade the reasons for the Flyers’ surge.

Outside of Steve Mason, Nick Grossmann has been the Flyers’ most consistent player, getting a piece of the opposition forwards and providing a strong measure of mental peace whenever a cycle gets going in the Philadelphia end.

Braydon Coburn has his gaffes, but is a more confident and effective player than he was a year ago. After a bad start, 38-year old Kimmo Timonen is showing in his final season he still can handle 20-plus minutes a game and quarterback a decent power play.

Mark Streit, who was contributing practically nothing in the first two months besides an unfathomable giveaway to cost the Flyers an overtime loss in Raleigh, is making some plays now and has been in place defensively.

Luke Schenn, who doesn’t turn well, got spun on Colorado’s winning goal Thursday night in Denver. But playing on a team that still has given up seven more goals than it has scored, Schenn is only a minus seven for the season with a variety of last-pair partners.

Erik Gustafsson is young and with experience may find another level. And in his injury absence, the Flyers are 4-1 with Andrej Meszaros, who, coming off two seasons of intense physical issues, is playing 14-to-19 minutes. So how badly can he be doing?

Hey, you were expecting Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Bill Nyrop?

Better as a whole than as the sum of its parts, the Flyers defense has been decent, comparable to that of most of their competitors for a lower-tier playoff spot.

But of course the unit lacks a Chris Pronger or a Mark Howe, or more to the point to where the Flyers want to be in 2014, it is missing a Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson or Kris Letang.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Gostisbehere, Morin & Hagg get to know each other during Flyers prospect camp last summer.

 WATCH:
Morin at 2013 Prospect Camp
 WATCH: Hagg drafted by the Flyers
 WATCH: Gostisbehere Profile

Considering the Flyers relative youth up front, even better than the above would be a homegrown version of Anaheim’s Cam Fowler, the kind of guy who could give Philadelphia 10-12 years of presence in its own end. It appears that if Sam Morin, the Flyers’ No. 1 pick in June, makes it big, it will be more as a shutdown type than a big point producer, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Morin is not the extent of the Flyers’ prospects on defense. Shayne Gostisbehere (third round 2012) is an offensive-minded guy and Robert Hagg (second round, 2013) and Valeri Vasiliev (seventh round 2012) are playing for their country’s teams in the World Junior Tournament.

But Gostisbehere is 5-foot-11, which might make him the next Timonen but not the next Pronger, why the Flyers constructed an offer last summer for Shea Weber they hoped Nashville would have little choice but to refuse.

Alas, the Predators raided their piggy bank and matched, so Streit, 36, became the Plan B, which still begs another Plan A for this season’s trading deadline and probably beyond. Because there is not a first-pair caliber defenseman in the NHL who will become an unrestricted free agent in July, Paul Holmgren is going to have to look for the next defensive leader of the Flyers in a trade. Considering how few guys exist with legitimate No. 1 potential, good luck to the GM in that.

In the meantime it is reassuring to see Grossmann, signed through 2015-16 at a cap-friendly $3.5 million per, performing like a core player and a relief to see that Coburn, signed through 2015-16 at $4.5 million and Streit, signed through 2016-17 at $5.25 million per, have picked up their games.

The Flyers are demonstrating they can make the playoffs with what they have, but for this franchise, entrance into the post-season is the minimum. It will be unreasonable to expect the maximum until the Flyers get a 25-or-26 minute-a-game defenseman who makes the ones they have better.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
C. Giroux 82 28 58 7 86
J. Voracek 82 23 39 11 62
W. Simmonds 82 29 31 -4 60
S. Hartnell 78 20 32 11 52
M. Streit 82 10 34 3 44
B. Schenn 82 20 21 0 41
M. Read 75 22 18 -4 40
S. Couturier 82 13 26 1 39
V. Lecavalier 69 20 17 -16 37
K. Timonen 77 6 29 5 35
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 33 18 7 .917 2.50
R. Emery 9 12 2 .903 2.96
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