The Flyers’ woes since their last 3-game winning streak ended on November 8 have seen them win just three times since in the fourteen games since (3-8-3). The coach has been questioned, silly calls for the captain’s C to be removed from Claude Giroux’s sweater have been posited, and the defensive core has been worked over, analytically, with a fine-toothed comb. What has been mentioned slightly less of late, though it is no less important to winning games, is secondary scoring. The Flyers’ forwards have not produced a whole lot beyond the top line, with the rare exception of a spurt here and there. Last night, the first game in the Flyers’ four-game home stand, provided some hope that all is not lost for this Flyers’ season. At least, not yet.
Against the also-struggling New Jersey Devils, the Flyers received two goals and excellent chances for more from center Sean Couturier and winger Matt Read. The two looked much like they did last season when Steve Downie was placed on their line. First, Read assisted on a short-handed goal by Couturier that eluded Devils goalie Cory Schneider after Read made an excellent pass. Read’s assist broke an 8-game pointless streak. Seven minutes later, at even strength, Couturier returned the favor. Coming in close on Schneider on a 2-on-1 with Read, Couturier fired a pass onto Read’s stick. Read tipped the puck into the back door of the net and the Flyers were up, 2-0, on the Devils. With that, Read’s 11-game goalless drought ended. The Flyers were looking good for the game with the resurgent pair hooking up for two goals in the first period.
The Devils scored the only goal of the second period, as Martin Havlat tipped home a Scott Gomez shot on the power play. The game was never really in danger of being frittered away unlike previous efforts as the Flyers kept out-shooting their North Jersey rivals. The final tally of Shots on Goal was 36-18 and the Flyers outshot the Devils in all three periods by a 2-1 ratio (10-5, 12-6, & 14-7). This was also one of the rare games where the Flyers were penalized less (2 times) than the Devils (5 times). Each team scored once with the man advantage. The Flyers finally scored on their 5th and final attempt in the third period as Wayne Simmonds scored his fourth goal in four games. Jake Voracek capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal with two and a half minutes left in the game.
The Flyers have a much gentler schedule the rest of December compared to the tough schedule they endured in October and November. If they can win six or more of their remaining nine games in 2014, they can get back in the playoff race. While that may further sour the already-sour “go for the tank” portion of the fan base, it also will prevent the locker room from accepting a losing mentality — something that can long endure beyond the scope of one season. I discussed why I disdain the idea of tanking a season in my previous article. What is hoped now is that, much like last season, the Flyers can play some competitive hockey and regain lost ground in the standings en route to their second playoff-qualifying season in a row and sixth in seven years. The team has missed the playoffs just nine times in its forty-seven seasons (forty-eight years of existence, but there were no playoffs in 2004-05 thanks to the year-long NHL lockout).
Getting back to secondary scoring, this is the key to making the playoffs. While Jake Voracek and Claude Giroux are leading the team in scoring, they need others to score in order to win games. Giroux has scored in all but 7 of the Flyers’ 28 games this season while Voracek has scored in all but 6. The Flyers are 0-7 when Giroux is scoreless and 1-5 when Voracek is held off the scoreboard. So, when they are not finding the back of the net, others need to step up and provide scoring to turn the tide of losses when the top line cannot score. If Read and Couturier can use last night as a starting point to the rest of the season and Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl, and Wayne Simmonds (whichever two of the three find themselves on the second line with Scott Laughton) can also contribute offensively, the Flyers will be in better shape when the calendar turns to 2015 this season.
Matt Read has looked like a much different player this year until recently. His shots were not as quick or accurate and his play away from the puck was not as strong as in past seasons. It is suspected he has been dealing with a nagging injury, namely an oblique muscle, because his reach appeared to be affected. If that injury is healed up, Flyers fans should see a return to form and that will make both Read and Couturier look much better in the offensive zone. Read certainly looked more engaged in the game last night, so that bodes well for Saturday’s match against the Carolina Hurricanes. If Brayden Schenn, Simmonds, and Laughton can get going as well, teams will be hard-pressed to defend the Flyers because they could have three lines that threaten to score. That could win over even the most hardened fans of tanking.
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