Friday, November 12, 2010

The Flyers Are Really Good

The Flyers absolutely routed a Carolina Hurricanes team that went into last night as winners of three of their last four games. The 8-1 trouncing was led by Jeff Carter's hat trick.

But this was hardly a one-man show. Far from it. In actuality, there wasn't a single Flyers who had a bad game. Mike Richards scored his first short-handed goal of the season shortly after getting stuffed on a shorthanded breakaway. Claude Giroux continued to dazzle with insane moves and notched two assists, including the lone helper on Richie's shortie. Nikolay Zherdev continued his inspired play since getting benched, scoring the final goal of the contest for his efforts. Andreas Nodl had another strong game, playing nearly 18 minutes and getting an assist to keep JVR on the healthy scratch list. And Darroll Powe quietly did all the dirty work that he does so well.

The fourth line gave tremendous effort, as Blair Betts dominated in the faceoff circle and PK. Dan Carcillo played intelligent, penalty-free hockey besides his fight and had an assist.

And Jody Shelley got his first point as a Flyer with a helper and was rewarded with 12 minutes of ice time, the most he's received all season.

And the best line of all was without question the trio of Briere, Hartnell and Leino. Danny Briere matched Carter's three points with two goals and an assist. Scott Hartnell had one goal disallowed and one that actually counted thanks to a gift by backup goaltender Justin Peters, who took over for a pulled Cam Ward after the score reached 4-0 in the second. And Ville Leino was probably the best skater in the game. He was making plays that made Giroux say wow, like his patient backhanded pass to Hartnell for the goal that was disallowed, and like his sick pass to Briere on his first goal. He was a magician out there, looking every bit like the player who burst onto the scene in the playoffs last year. This line is scary good.

But as good as Leino was, and as dominant as the Flyers were — all six defensemen were outstanding as always as well, especially Andrej Meszaros, who originally was credited with Carter's second goal but wound up getting an assist when it was determined Carter tipped it, not to mention Pronger, Timonen and Coburn each getting assists as well and everyone playing awesome defense — it was Sergei Bobrovsky who stole the show and drove the Canes nuts.

He made 35 stops on the night, and he did it about as effortlessly and efficiently as a goaltender can. There were only about three times all night that Bobrovsky wasn't in great position and right on point. Other than that, he was just about always square to the shooter, making the saves look easy. He suffocated every shot, rarely surrendering a rebound. He came out to challenge and cut down angles. And when he needed to be, he was spectacular too.

I'm not sure what more I can say about the guy other than he's been awesome. Incredibly awesome. That has to be a scary thought for the rest of the NHL. For the first time in forever, the Flyers look like they've found the marquee goaltender they've long been looking for.

Last season, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher and before them Ray Emery did a great job, played some of the best hockey of their careers, and helped the Flyers get all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. But the mediocrity of the Flyers' goaltending came through in that six-game loss to the Blackhawks. Now, the Flyers don't seem to have that question mark in net. Sergei Bobrovsky is the answer.

On this still young season, Bob has been putting up insane numbers. He's 9-2-1 as a starter. Those nine wins are second behind only Washington's Michal Neuvirth, another impressive rookie netminder. He has a 2.09 goals against average, among the league leaders in the NHL and better than any other rookie backstop. And his .931 save percentage, also tops among rookies, places him sixth in the league, behind guys like Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick and Jaroslav Halak. He's been among the elite goalies in the NHL, better than the Ryan Millers, Roberto Luongos, Martin Brodeurs and Mikka Kiprusoff's of the world. And he's just 22 years old.

He's been flat-out incredible, and he, along with a beefed-up defense, makes the Flyers an infinitely more complete team than last season's version that finished just two wins short of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup. The scoring balance is insane with six players already registering double-digit points, five guys with five or more goals and 11 guys with at least two goals on the season. They're third in the NHL in goals per game, averaging 3.30 a contest, trailing only Washington and Detroit.

The defense is six deep, and there is not another team in the entire NHL that can match the Flyers on the blue line with combinations of Timonen-Coburn, Carle-Pronger and O'Donnell-Meszaros. Combined with Bobrovsky, that has made the Flyers one of the hardest teams in the NHL to score against, evident by their 2.18 goals against average, good for third in the East and fifth overall.

Then you add in that their power play is converting 20.3 percent of the time and they're killing 86.4 percent of their penalties, and you have as complete a team as you can possibly have in this league. That's why the Flyers have been off to such a hot start, sitting at 22 points through 16 games, trailing only Washington in the entire NHL.

It's still extremely early, but right now the Flyers aren't just good. They're one of the best teams in hockey. Something tells me Peter Laviolette won't let that change anytime soon.

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