The 2010-2011 Philadelphia Flyers have one of the best rosters on paper, but so did the previous season’s team. That group largely underachieved through the first half of the season, failing to meet expectations due to chemistry and conditioning issues. This current iteration has passed two critical tests thus far that the former team couldn’t handle, and really only has one major test left- surviving injuries.
The first test was the team’s performance after the annual fall bonding trip. In 2009, the team’s record leading up to the trip was 3-1-1 (they had few games in October thanks to poor scheduling from the NHL) before they faced the Florida Panthers. In the ten games that followed, the Flyers were 7-3-0. They looked sluggish following the bonding trip, but the team was still on top.
This year, the team was 9-4-2 heading into their bonding trip in North Carolina, and went 6-2-2 in their next ten games (including an 8-1 walloping of the Carolina Hurricanes to start the run).
The second test was the team’s performance after a long western conference road swing. This trip proved absolutely disastrous last season, as the Flyers barely escaped from Los Angeles with a win before losing 13 of their next 17 games (two of those wins came against the New York Islanders, which isn’t exactly a vote of confidence in your abilities). It was during those first few games that it was revealed goaltender Ray Emery was playing with an injury.
This year, the Flyers are just wrapping up their ten game road swing and have a respectable 6-3-0 record heading into their match tonight with the New York Rangers. The 6-2 loss to Vancouver was disheartening, as it is the only time these two teams will see each other in the regular season and the Canucks are projected to be the Western Conference Stanley Cup contender.
I don’t see this team faltering in the second half of the season based on chemistry or confidence issues. They will have their “off” days or run into hot goaltenders, but the team has learned from last year what it will take to be the best in the league, day in and day out. What will be a true final test for this team’s success is how they survive in the face of inevitable injuries.
To date, Michael Leighton, Ian Laperriere, Matt Walker, and Chris Pronger are the only Flyers who have been on injured reserve this season. Of those, Pronger is the only player whose absence has really been felt, and even then the team has managed just fine thanks to the defensive depth they have on the roster. Kimmo Timonen, however, has been playing with a sore left hip since the beginning of the road swing, and I have to wonder if he’ll take some time off once Pronger is cleared to return.
Teams like the Detroit Red Wings are the posterboys for dealing with injuries. They’ve had to cope with the losses of Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano and Brad Stuart, along with minor injuries to both of their goaltenders this season, and yet they’re still second in the Western Conference with 62 points.
If the Flyers can survive the remainder of the season as injuries accrue, this team will be in a much better position than they were last year to bring back the Cup. Who knows what this group can accomplish if even the underachievers from last season could make it to the Stanley Cup Finals?