Philadelphia Flyers Mid-Season Report
TEAM: Philadelphia Flyers
1st in Atlantic – 7 points ahead of NYR
1st in East – 1 point ahead of OTT
1st in NHL – 1 point ahead of OTT/DETInjured Players: Dennis Seidenberg (DTD knee sprain), Robert Esche (groin pull Dec 15th), Turner Stevenson (DTD right hip flexor), Eric Desjardins (Right shoulder subluxation, 8-10 weeks as of Dec 7th), Joni Pitkanen (Athletic Pubalgia, 4-6 weeks as of Dec. 5th), and Keith Primeau (concussion, out indefinitely).
Team Point Leader: Simon Gagne leads the team in goals (29). Peter Forsberg leads the team in assists (42), and points (56).
Current Situation: The Flyers started the season as expected; strong. It soon became apparent that injuries were going to play a big part in the beginning of the season, when the heart and soul of the Flyers, Captain Keith Primeau suffering a concussion relatively early in the season. But John Stevens proved that his Calder winning cast of Phantoms are more then able to fill the void left by the injured players. Not only have Richards and Carter played well, but the superb play of the other rookies like R.J. Umberger, Ben Eager, Freddy Meyer, and goalie Antero Niittymaki have kept the Flyers neck and neck with eastern conference rivals Ottawa. Umberger (people laughed when I said he would crack the line-up in my pre season report on the Flyers) has played great and has even managed to get a chance to play on the first line with Forsberg and Gagne. Niittymaki (16-5-0-4) has played simply amazing in the absence of Esche, and played a big part in the huge road win streak just recently ended. Nitty, the Co-defensive player of the week and Calder Cup MVP has proved that Esche isn’t the only star in Philly, and when Esche returns, I think the Nitty/Esche combo will be practically lethal come playoff time. The Flyers have set themselves up to have a strong 2nd half of the season.
Strengths: Right now the Flyers have several strengths that are helping them win games. There road play is amazing, as they come to a close on an 11 game road trip, there 7-1-0-1. The loss to the devils marks the first road regulation loss since 11/14 at Tampa. These wins were possible due to the amazing goaltending of Antero Niittymaki. He’s make key save after key save and kept the Flyers on top time and time again. Also, the Flyers have scored clutch goals, and have been able to hold onto slim leads. All these factors are the keys to there success.
Weaknesses: The only weakness as of late for the Flyers is Special teams. There power play hasn’t been much to brag about. It’s still 10th in the league at 18.5%, but been very inconsistent, and very un-clutch. The penalty kill started horrid, and has gotten slightly better, but is still 27th in the league at a mere 79.8%. The only thing to be happy about there is the fact that they have 10 shorthanded goals, tied for 2nd in the league. The PK has improved though, and the Power play is showing more signs of life, as Forsberg is settling for just an amazing pass instead of the ‘HOLY CRAP HOW DID HE DO THAT?’ passes he was making in the beginning of the year, which is fine by me.
Needs: Right now the team needs to keep playing the way they are, they are on fire. With the uncertain future of Captain Keith, there has been talk of trading for another center. But people don’t realize that Cater, Richards, Handzus, Umberger are all more then able to fill the void, but it’s possible a trade could happen.
Expectations in Second Half: What I expect from the Flyers in the 2nd half of the season is like my new years resolutions: Stay in shape and stay healthy. A lot of the big injuries like Pitkanen and Esche are coming back very soon. If they are not up to standards, the rookies can still play. The Flyers are only going to get better, and if they are just a tad healthier then what they are now, they will be huge favorites. The Esche/Nitty combo, the Balanced Defense with offensive players like Johnsson (first time I’ve seen a hockey play number 1 on ESPN’s top 10 in a long time) and Pitkanen, stay at home goons Hatcher and Rathje, and the superb offensive play of Knuble, Gagne, Forsberg, and the rest of the team will all play part in the future of one of the greatest teams in Philadelphia Flyers history.