No parade just yet

Posted: October 24, 2011

AFTER A PERFECT 3-0-0 start - with wins against the defending Stanley Cup champs in Boston and the losing Cup finalist Vancouver - some were ready to etch the Flyers' names onto the 2012 Cup.

We hope they meant in pencil.

Now, after the first set of back-to-back losses, including a 5-2 drubbing by Washington and a sad and sleepy 4-2 defeat on Saturday to a St. Louis team on that had played overtime hockey in Carolina on Friday, some alarmists in South Philadelphia are already sweating.

Did anyone actually think the Flyers would skate until June without a losing streak?

"We're seven games in," captain Chris Pronger said yesterday, laughing. "I don't think anyone is pushing the panic button. We knew it was going to be a work in progress with this team. We weren't going to go 82-0."

Yes, the Flyers have looked good - and bad - during their first weeks. Few thought that this new-look team, with just nine players remaining from the squad that went to the Stanley Cup finals 16 months ago, would be able to look so complete, so fast.

And it's easy to look so complete when many of the teams you are playing against in the first 15 games of the season are in the process of searching for their own identity.

Pronger hit the nail on the head, though, when he said that the Flyers "need to find consistency."

Right now, the Flyers have kinks in their game that are easily treatable. They are not well-disciplined. They are tied for the second-most minor penalties in the NHL, having been whistled for 40 minors through just seven games. They spend an average of 18 minutes per game in the penalty box, third most.

The Flyers haven't done some of the little things that matter, like winning faceoffs. They topped St. Louis, winning 59 percent of the draws, to set a season-best. But they are still 24th in the league in faceoffs.

And they've been a bad home team. Granted, the Flyers haven't exactly had an easy home slate, with Vancouver, Los Angeles, Washington and St. Louis all coming to town in October. But they've collected just three out of a possible eight points at the Wells Fargo Center, where they will play five of their next seven games.

The Flyers have been outscored, 16-11, in four home games. They've been unstoppable on the road, going 3-0-0, outscoring opponents Ottawa, Boston and New Jersey by 12-3.

"We didn't have the same consistency that we did on the road," Pronger said. "That's a problem. As much as we are road warriors, we need to be homers."

What does all of that mean? So far, there are no deep-rooted, glaring flaws with this Flyers team. The offense is fourth in the league. They are in the top half in 5-on-5 goals-for/goals-against ratio at 1.08. The power play is fifth in the league.

Ilya Bryzgalov has had his moments. Like Saturday's breakdown behind the net with his defense, the one that led to St. Louis' back-breaking goal, which will happen with a new goaltender joining an already established defense corps.

"We have to establish it because it needs to be very simple," Bryzgalov said after the game. "It needs to be a simple three words so everybody understands everybody and we're all on the same page."

That doesn't always come overnight.

"You have to work at it," Pronger said after the game. "We've got to do a better job at communicating with [Bryzagalov]."

Chemistry doesn't happen overnight, either. That will come with more games played. Coach Peter Laviolette was forced to jumble his lines with the addition of Brayden Schenn on Thursday, trying to find minutes and linemates to help him continue his development.

"I think any time you bring in five or six new guys, you're not always going to have something that clicks right away," Scott Hartnell said. "We've just got to work hard and work together and make it tough on the [opposition]."

The sample size has been limited. This first losing streak, if you even want to call it that, is the first taste of adversity for a team that will undoubtedly face more. The real tests have yet to come.

Down to five

Winnipeg returned rookie forward Mike Scheifele to his junior team in Barrie, Ontario, leaving Sean Couturier one of just five players from the 2011 draft class remaining with their NHL team through the first 3 weeks of the season. Scheifele had one goal in seven games.

Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (seven points) and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog (five points) have likely locked up permanent spots. The Devils and Senators are probably waiting to see how positive or negative the team environment will be for defenseman Adam Larsson and forward Mika Zibanejad, respectively, before making a decision this week.

The Flyers have until before Thursday's game against Winnipeg to decide whether to keep Couturier, 18, or send him back to juniors, at which point this season will count as 1 year used on his 3-year entry-level deal.


For more news and analysis,

read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

 

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