Merry Christmas, Peter Laviolette (thanks to @sunnyschmuck for the picture)
After beating the Canadiens tonight, the Flyers stay atop the NHL. We break down the good and the bad thus far.
1. Goalie situation: The Flyers goaltending has been outstanding. Sergei Bobrovsky has been a pleasent surprise as a rookie, and Brian Boucher is 5-0-1 in his last six starts as backup goalie. So what's the problem? The Flyers activated Michael Leighton from the LTIR yesterday, leaving three goalies on the Flyers active roster. When will Leighton just go away? The fact of the matter is that the Flyers have no need for Leighton. It is likely that the Flyers play Leighton in a game or two to prove he is healthy, and move him to any willing suitor. Boucher has superceeded expectations as back-up, and Bob is the goalie of the future. Leighton is the odd man out. While Boucher said that "I'm sure there will be plenty of work for all of us," I'm sure he was thinking, "Get Leighton the hell out of here."
2. Powerplay Troubles: For whatever reason, the Flyers just have not clicked on the powerplay thus far. Despite scoring the eventual game winner with the man advantage last night, the Flyers have only connected at a rate of 16.2% (good for 17th in the NHL). However, the #2 team in the NHL, Pittsburgh, is only a percentage point better. Its ironic how two of the top offensive teams in the NHL struggle to score when the opposition is a man down.
3. Salary Cap Woes: Every fan knows that the Flyers have very little wiggle room in regards to the salary cap. But here is the good news: The Flyers have arguably the best defensive corps in the NHL, good goaltending, and plenty of offensive depth. Unlike in years past, the Flyers will have little need for cap room to acquire that "extra piece" as the deadline approaches. When a forward goes down to injury or suspension, the Flyers have two replacements waiting in the wings (see Eric Wellwood and a rotation of Jody Shelley, Nik Zherdev, and Dan Carcillo). Some have speculated that the Flyers could move someone like Zherdev at the trade deadline, but I believe that the Flyers like the depth they have up front and are unlikey to deal someone. Leighton is the most likely player to be moved in upcoming weeks, which would only help clear more cap space.
1. Offensive Depth: With Nik Zherdev's tenth goal of the season last night, the Flyers are the first team in the NHL with five players in double-digit goals. And Zherdev is a healthy scratch some nights. Tuesday's edition of DNL asked the panel, "Who is the Flyers MVP to this point?" The only difficult part about answering the question is who to pick with so many Flyers having good seasons (see Claude Giroux and Mike Richards for starters).
2. Defense: As stated above, the Flyers have one of the best, if not the best, top 6 defenseman in the NHL. And Chris Pronger only gets better as the playoffs approach.
3. Peter Laviolette: Since taking over for John Stevens last season, Lavs has his men ready to go every night. And if the Flyers aren't playing up to speed, Laviolette isn't afriad to let his players know. His approach has led the Flyers to accumlate 45 points thus far.
The Flyers are well on their way to making the playoffs again this season, and possibly winning their first division championship since 2004. However, with the two best teams in the NHL in the Atlantic, the Flyguys have their work cut out for them. Nevertheless, the NHL season is just beginning to heat up, and the race will be exciting to watch heading into 2011.