James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Not very sunny in Philadelphia

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Remember that bit about not panicking too early in the season? That’s easier said than done in some of the more passionate markets that boast teams with high expectations, so don’t be surprised if the anxiety levels rise to surprising heights for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Their record flopped to 0-3-0 on the season with a troubling 3-0 loss to the hated New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, as least temporarily establishing the perennial playoff contender as the worst team in the NHL in this newborn campaign. (No other team has failed to manage a single standings point in three contests aside from the flimsy Flyers.)

Let’s look at a few areas of concern.

BREEZING BY

It’s a natural reflex to blame the goalie when things go wrong with this franchise, so how well do the scapegoat horns fit Ilya Bryzgalov? Here are his stats so far:

Against Penguins (Jan. 19): two goals allowed on 26 shots (.923 save percentage)
Against Sabres (Jan. 20): four goals allowed on 40 shots (.909 save percentage)
Against Devils (Jan. 22): three goals allowed on 26 shots (.902 save percentage)
Total: 3.04 GAA with a .902 save percentage and an 0-3-0 record

Looking at those numbers, only last night’s game is especially disconcerting. Bryzgalov’s overall stats aren’t particularly pretty, yet that’s not a shocker when you’re 0-fer early in the season.

The bigger concern is if the media will start to turn on Breezy - or if he even turns on himself. He’s known as a sensitive, tiger-respecting and bear-fearing soul who might not be ideally equipped for a harsh market.

As weak as the Michael Leighton-Brian Boucher backup option is, one wonders if the Flyers might give someone else a try against the New York Rangers on Thursday (even if it’s just to shake the Etch-a-Sketch alone).

Unfortunately for GM Paul Holmgren, it’s not as simple as it just being all Bryzgalov’s fault. (I also would not get too excited about the possibility of Roberto Luongo coming to town, although there’s no denying that Philly loves to make bold moves.)

SCORING

One thing that’s been special about the Flyers under Peter Laviolette’s watch has been how lesser scorers such as Wayne Simmonds - not just obvious guys like Claude Giroux - have been able to light the lamp more than they have anywhere else.

That really hasn’t been the case so far, however, as Philly has only scored three goals in three games - with two coming from their new captain Giroux.

While I have some concerns about Bryzgalov and bigger ones about the team’s overall defense, Philly’s offense is one thing that should absolutely improve. Still, the ceiling might just flat-out be a little lower with Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk out of town.

One bit of good news: the word is that Daniel Briere could be on his way back sometime this weekend - or at least soon. Briere would give the Flyers more of a one-two punch again aside from the Scott Hartnell-Giroux combo (assuming he doesn’t just line up with that explosive duo) and perhaps bring some struggling players up with him.

Again, though, it’s best not to get too carried away about early results.

Especially promising for the future: the bounces clearly aren’t going Philadelphia’s way right now. Hartnell (13), Jakub Voracek (11) and Simmonds (nine) are three players who are averaging at least three shots per game yet they haven't found the net yet. The law of averages says that those bounces should start going their way more often.

But hey, if someone wants to overreact - particularly with Hartnell - there's nothing wrong with massaging those fears into a trade they’ll regret later.

Overall, I still think the Flyers should be a playoff team - although that Devils squad might just knock them off. My feeling is that the division-heavy shortened schedule will make it extremely difficult for the Atlantic (and other divisions) to send four teams to the playoffs.

So while it’s not the right moment to hit the big red button, the urgency is absolutely building. After the jump, interesting developments from around the league.


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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than two years. Follow him on Twitter.
Email :James O'Brien



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