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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 MTL 61 40 16 5 167 135 85
2 NYR 60 38 16 6 190 148 82
3 NYI 62 40 20 2 200 173 82
4 TBL 62 37 19 6 203 167 80
5 DET 60 34 15 11 176 156 79
6 PIT 61 35 17 9 176 152 79
7 WSH 62 33 19 10 184 156 76
8 BOS 60 29 22 9 158 158 67
9 FLA 61 26 22 13 145 172 65
10 PHI 62 26 25 11 164 181 63
11 OTT 59 26 23 10 167 161 62
12 NJD 61 25 27 9 137 161 59
13 CBJ 60 26 30 4 157 189 56
14 TOR 61 25 31 5 170 185 55
15 CAR 59 22 30 7 134 159 51
16 BUF 62 19 38 5 120 207 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Voracek 62 19 45 4 64
C. Giroux 61 18 41 2 59
W. Simmonds 62 24 18 -2 42
M. Streit 62 8 32 -4 40
B. Schenn 62 12 23 -3 35
S. Couturier 62 12 14 -2 26
M. Del Zotto 50 7 17 -7 24
M. Read 62 5 18 -9 23
M. Raffl 47 13 3 4 16
V. Lecavalier 44 7 9 -9 16
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 11 13 7 .925 2.26
R. Emery 10 10 4 .893 3.15
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