So far, Flyers have found the right mix

Posted: November 22, 2010

The Flyers have passed the quarter pole of the season. As they stalk the pace for the points lead in the NHL, it's hard to not consider them one of the elite thoroughbreds in the pack.

With a win tonight, the Flyers will tie for the league lead in points. They are on pace to finish with a 51-23-8 record, which would give them their first 50-win season since 1985-86 and put them in sniffing distance of their first President's Trophy in franchise history.

They have proven that they can skate with the top teams - heading to overtime twice already with Washington, the incumbent holder of the trophy for the league's best regular-season record.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

As Braydon Coburn said, they don't dish out any medals for the best team through the first 20 games of the season. Washington would even tell you that a trophy for the best regular-season record doesn't mean much. The Caps surely would trade their trophy for a Game 7 win in any of the last three postseasons.

"We always have high expectations for this team," Coburn said. "And we always want to be on top. But it's a quarter mark. There's no awards for being where we are right now. I think we've got a long ways to go."

Right now, the signs are abundantly positive - even if the sampling size is not. Even though teams change and mature as fast as teenagers, 21 games is enough to gauge the temperature of a team that struggled through ups as high as the Rocky Mountains and depths as low as Death Valley.

Most importantly, the Flyers seem to have addressed most of the inconsistencies that plagued them throughout last season. Aside from their lifeless loss in Columbus on Oct. 25, they have put themselves in a position to win every game.

And even in that game against the Blue Jackets, they only lost by one goal.

In his first full season as Flyers coach, Peter Laviolette has been quick to temper the Flyers' early season success.

"I can't say that I'm disappointed," Laviolette said. "There's a chance [tonight] that we're playing for first in the league. I'm not going to sit here and say that it's no good. For all teams, there is a process to get to the playoffs - which is ultimately what we're trying to do.

"Our team has competed hard on most nights and won a lot of hockey games."

Laviolette's hate-to-lose attitude is palpable when you talk to him - and see how it has rubbed off on his team - and when you ask him about any one of the Flyers' six losses. He doesn't even need to think about the opponents, the scores or the details. Weeks later, they remain painful.

"Do I wish that we could redo the three-game stretch at home where we lost to teams that had played on the night before?" Laviolette asked. "Do I want another couple cracks at Tampa Bay? Sure I do. It's not perfect."

In this writer's humble opinion, the biggest litmus test has been passed when an outsider like Jody Shelley - a veteran of more than 550 NHL games - is pleasantly surprised with the Flyers' in-room disposition.

And his expectations were high, signing with the team after watching them skate in the Stanley Cup finals.

"Them going all the way to the finals, you know they have a good team, but you don't know how they will approach the season," Shelley said. "I think we're ahead of where I thought we would be, to tell you the truth. When you come in and there is no mention of last year, it's pretty impressive to be a part of team like that.

"There are all kinds of reasons or excuses to not show up for some games. We've got a great group here. We don't have those excuses."

For once, the Flyers have no chemistry issues or divisiveness in the locker room to feed the rumor mill. In fact, Shelley said it has been the team's biggest asset.

"It's really interesting to see how the team is put together," Shelley said. "You wonder what it's going to be like. Scott Hartnell, you hate playing against the guy. Same with Dan Carcillo. And Chris Pronger. But it works. No one let's anything fester, anything that is said needs to be said. Pronger doesn't let any little thing go. Same with [Mike] Richards. It's amazing to see how the team works."

It's working just fine. There are still 61 games to decide whether they finish the marathon race more like Affirmed or more like Big Brown.

ON-ICE

STAT WATCH

1: Saturday was the Flyers' first shootout since April 11, when they topped the Rangers on the final day of the regular season to head to the playoffs. Brian Boucher turned aside Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

0-for-15: Claude Giroux's power-play goal in the first period on Saturday in Washington snapped the 0-fer streak with the man advantage. The Flyers were 1-for-9 overall on Saturday.

7-in-8: Andreas Nodl now has points in seven of his last eight games, the only exception being last Tuesday's shutout in Montreal. He has goals in two straight games.

Plus-22: The team's goals-for, goals-against ratio leads the NHL.

WHO'S IN NET?

Over the last few games, the Flyers' goalie game has almost been like the age-old "Who's on Third" joke. Brian Boucher will make his second straight start tonight against the Canadiens.

THE WEEK AHEAD

vs. Montreal

Tonight, 7 o'clock

There is no shortage of story lines for this game, as Mike Richards and P.K. Subban will square off for the first time since they traded jabs in the media last week after the Flyers' 3-0 shutout loss in Montreal. Carey Price has surprisingly started to win the hearts of Canadiens fans with three shutouts in his last six games.

at Minnesota

Wednesday, 8 o'clock

Minnesota seems to have improved after a listless end to their 13th-place season last year. Amazingly, Cal Clutterbuck - with seven goals in 19 games - is on pace to double his 13-goal total from last season. Defenseman Brent Burns has six goals already, too. Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen have been dishing the puck to those guys.

vs. Calgary

Friday, 1 o'clock

The Flyers will host Calgary in their annual Black Friday matinee. The Flames, who were in Detroit last night, have carried up the rear of the Western Conference for much of the season amid wavering opinions in town on whether or not to trade star Jarome Iginla and start the rebuilding process. Miikka Kiprusoff has been solid in net, despite the poor record.

at New Jersey

Saturday, 1 o'clock

The Devils are reminiscent of the Flyers in 2006-07. They can't possibly be this bad, can they? It has been a rough start for the Devils (5-13-2). Ilya Kovalchuk, the $100 million man, has a pathetic 10 points in 19 games. Andreas Nodl has more goals.

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