For the Flyers, and the rest of the NHL’s playoff-bound teams, the Ides of March represents yet another benchmark on the schedule. However, the 15th of March, as it did for Julius Caesar, carries a little more significance. Just one month seperates the NHL from its annual grueling battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
For some teams, this one month warning is a reminder that every game has enormous importance and every point matters. This is of course true for the Flyers. But, with 14 games remaining, the Orange and Black are getting hot at the right time.
In the weeks before the trade deadline, the Philadelphia defense corps was in need of revamping. The poor play of the second to last line of defense was rubbing off on the last line: Ilya Bryzgalov. So, two veteran defensive defensemen, Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina, were added. The defense improved. But, frustration set in for the Flyers during the last few games of February. In each game, one component of the team seemed to be missing. Struggling goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov would show promising signs of improvement, allowing just one goal (as he did against San Jose on February 28th). And then the usually potent Flyers offense would have an off-night, failing to find the back of the net.
The opposite seemed just as likely.
February 18th against Pittsburgh, the Flyers offense scored four times, only to be undone by a porous performance from Bryzgalov, who allowed five goals (at least three of which could be considered “weak”), before being pulled for backup Sergei Bobrovsky.
But that was the last we would see of Bobrovsky for three weeks.
Whether it was coach Peter Laviolette’s decision to start him in 13 consecutive games–despite multiple poor performances–or simply something that clicked in his head, Ilya Bryzgalov strung together a remarkable stat line in what would become the Flyers first winning streak since January 12th.
Lead by Bryzgalov’s 3 shutouts, including an astounding 136 consecutive shutout minutes, a save percentage of .965, and a 1.00 goals against average, the Flyers won the first five games of March.
The Flyers winning streak was snapped Sunday however, as Sergei Bobrovsky made his first start since February 12th. While the loss should not be laid solely on Bobrovsky’s shoulders, the last six games should help solidify Bryzgalov’s role as the team’s go-to goaltender.
Moving away from their troubling inconsistencies, the Flyers locker room finally appears to be gelling. Hockey is an unpredictable sport, and the timing of the Flyers’ spring surge comes as a surprise.
In fact, the Flyers’ 5-1 record in the month of March primarily comes without huge blueline pillars, Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, and the newly acquired Pavel Kubina. Filling their skates are rookies Erik Gustafsson and Brandon Manning, and veteran presence Andreas Lilja. When the rookies have slipped up, or Lilja has showed his age on a 1-on-1 rush, Bryzgalov has been there to make the big save, earning his $51 million salary.
The Flyers’ success has not all been driven by the defense, though.
As they have been all season, the Flyers are very close to the top of the NHL in goals for. Today, they are second behind only Boston, with 220 goals scored. While Claude Giroux’s 55 assists leads all players, and Scott Hartnell sits at 6th in the league with 32 goals, the Flyers didn’t reach this impressive goal total by relying on two or three players.
The depth in Philadelphia is among the best in the league, with six players with at least 15 goals. All six of these players will likely eclipse the 20 goal mark. Career years from role players Max Talbot and Wayne Simmonds, with 18 and 22 goals respectively, have contributed immensely to the Flyers world-class depth. Factoring in Matt Read’s 19 goals (tied for the top spot among rookies with Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog), the Flyers pose a scoring threat on just about every shift.
As the age-old NHL axiom says, it is imperative for a team to enter the playoffs on a hot streak. And the latest NHL.com power rankings has the Flyers sitting comfortably at 4th in the league. When the heart of the Flyers defense returns from injury, and the offense continues to chip away at its fervent pace, the Flyers will indeed be hot coming down the home stretch.
Whether it is 19 year-old rookie Sean Couturier coming up with a big clear on the penalty kill, 39 year-old Jaromir Jagr doing his signature salute after scoring yet another top-shelf powerplay goal, or 31 year-old Russian netminder Ilya Bryzgalov kicking away a quick wrist shot in overtime, the pieces of the Stanley Cup jigsaw puzzle are starting to fall into place for the Philadelphia Flyers.