Progress report on the Flyers

Posted: November 21, 2011

It's hard to believe, but with Thanksgiving just days away, the Flyers (11-5-3) already have reached the quarter pole in their march toward the playoffs. With enough games played to sort contenders from pretenders, that means it's time for the dreaded quarter report card that we used to hate getting:

OFFENSE

Grade: A

For a few hours Saturday afternoon, Claude Giroux held the NHL scoring lead with 26 points before Toronto's Phil Kessel snatched it back that night in a 7-1 win over Washington. Jaromir Jagr is on pace for 76 points, which would provide a better-than-expected return on his $3.3 million salary. Scott Hartnell (17 points) has been rejuvenated, skating with Jagr and Giroux. Matt Read and Max Talbot have combined to score 14 goals. And the Flyers still haven't gotten what they thought they would out of Wayne Simmonds (eight points) and injured rookie Brayden Schenn (no points) from that trade with Los Angeles.

Key stats: 71 goals in 19 games for NHL-best 3.74 goals-per-game average; league-high 28 points by rookies.

Flyers say: "We're a talented team," Simmonds said recently. "From Line 1 to Line 4, every one can score. It's nice."

DEFENSE

Grade: B-

Undoubtedly, the Flyers' defense corps has been steady this season. Their six regular defensemen have combined for a plus-16 rating. But even they would tell you there is room for improvement on a unit that costs north of $23.5 million - or nearly 40 percent of the $64.3 million salary cap. Rookie Erik Gustafsson has brought some much-needed speed to the unit.

Key stats: 57 goals-against in 19 games, 3.00 goals-against-per-game average is 20th in NHL; Kimmo Timonen (11 points) and Chris Pronger (12) are in the top 25 in scoring among defensemen.

Flyers say: "I think we're starting to develop a little chemistry with our goalie," Braydon Coburn said. "I expected it to happen, it's just time and experience, and it develops. It just takes time."

GOALTENDING

Grade: B

He said he was "lost in the woods" on Oct. 27. Now, Ilya Bryzgalov has rounded into the form everyone expected when the $51 million man signed in June. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky has been plagued by two starts against a Winnipeg team that has crushed the Flyers for 15 goals in two games, which has pushed his goals-against average to a league-worst 3.66 among those with a minimum of six appearances. Bryzgalov is on pace for 58 starts.

Key stats: Bryzgalov: 8-4-2, 2.65 GAA, .905 save percentage; Bobrovsky: 3-1-1, 3.66 GAA, .877 save percentage.

Flyers say: "We found out where the problem was and we fixed it," Bryzgalov said. "That's it."

POWER PLAY

Grade: B

To start the season, few power plays around the league could keep up with the Flyers', which got off to a torrid 11-for-40 (27.5 percent) pace. It has since leveled off, but it remains a potent force when given the opportunities.

Key stats: 17-for-94 (18.1 percent), 12th in NHL; multiple power-play tallies in five of 19 games.

Flyers say: "I think you throw up flags on the power play when you can't get set up and other things when it's dysfunctional, but that's not the case," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We've made minor changes to it. We have talented guys on the ice who continue to work at it."

PENALTY KILL

Grade: B

The Flyers' penalty kill got off to a tough start this season, killing just 41 of 51 power plays (80 percent), but they rebounded and went on a 34-for-35 streak (97 percent). They are near the league average, and they have been able to kill penalties without overtaxing their top forwards like Giroux.

Key stats: 80-for-94 (85.1 percent), 11th in NHL; Winnipeg's three power-play goals Saturday disrupted the 34-for-35 run.

Flyers say: "Our penalty kill has been real good for us," Laviolette said. "We've done a better job on a lot of different things, taking care of the puck, staying out of the box."

COACHING

Grade: B+

After a little tinkering at the start of the season, Laviolette has found viable line combinations that have produced serious offensive success. Though he hasn't yet really challenged Bryzgalov by starting him in tough, back-to-back scenarios to see what he is made of, there is plenty of season left for that. The Flyers' discipline could be better, with a league-high minor penalties and penalty minutes per game, but the coach doesn't play the games.

Key stats: 6-2-1 road record; 5-1-3 in one-goal games.

Flyers say: "We have lots of speed, lots of energy, good execution," Laviolette said last week. "We are a press, attacked oriented team [with an] attack oriented system, and I think we have been sticking to it."

INTANGIBLES

Grade: A

The Flyers' locker room no longer feels like a morgue on a daily basis, as it was once described by a player who wished to remain anonymous. With a solid leadership group in place and players like Talbot adding wisdom and keeping things light, team unity could pay serious dividends in the playoffs.

Key stats: 9-0-0 when leading after first period; scored first in league-high 15 of 19 games.

Flyers say: "We are just staying within ourselves," Pronger said. "We are not trying to be too cute. We are not a dance-around, finesse type of team. We need to stay within ourselves and allow guys creativity from there. We need some structure in place for us to be successful."

JAGR UPDATE

Jaromir Jagr skated by himself yesterday, shooting pucks and working on his stickhandling. General manager Paul Holmgren says Jagr remains "day-to-day" with a lower-body injury that is "not believed to be serious." The initial hope was that Jagr would be able to return tonight against Carolina after missing Saturday's game in Winnipeg, but he might have to wait until Wednesday on Long Island or Friday at home against Montreal.

SCHENN CLOSE?

Brayden Schenn skated in a limited role at practice and could be ready to return to the lineup this week. He has been out with a fractured foot sustained Oct. 26 in Montreal.

BRYZ MAKES GOOD

After blasting the city of Winnipeg last winter when his Coyotes seemed destined for a move back to the prairie town, Ilya Bryzgalov apologized upon his arrival there on Friday. Still, his remarks - when he said last year that living in Winnipeg "would be a tough life for a family" - prompted 8-year-old Donovan Collier to attend Saturday's game with a "Boo Bryzgalov" sign. Upon spotting the sign, Bryzgalov - who backed up Sergei Bobrovsky - surprised the youngster with a game-used stick after warmups, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

"I made the sign because he said we have no parks and terrible winters," Collier told the paper. "I think it was very nice of him to give me his stick."

ON-ICE

STAT WATCH

1-7-2: The Flyers' record against the Winnipeg /Atlanta franchise since the start of the 2009-10 season. The Flyers had won 14 straight against Atlanta prior to that - winning 13 of them with Antero Niittymaki in net.

5: Goals for Matt Read over the last four games, the best stretch for any Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg scored five times over three games from Feb. 15-18, 1994.

10: Consecutive games, prior to Saturday, in which the Flyers notched the first goal.

987: Days it has been since Scott Hartnell's last four-point game (March 10, 2009). Hartnell would have snapped that drought on Saturday with a four-point performance but had an assist removed from his total upon further review from the official scorers after the Flyers' 6-4 loss at Winnipeg.

NO. 2 MAKES IT 5

Confirming what was reported over the weekend, the Flyers will be retiring defenseman Mark Howe's No. 2 before a March 6 home game against the Red Wings. Howe, 56, last played for the Flyers in 1992. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto last Monday. He finished his career - and is currently employed as a pro scout - in Detroit, the same franchise where his father, Gordie, starred from 1946-1971 as "Mr. Hockey."

Bill Barber's No. 7 was the last number to be sent to the rafters, way back on Oct. 11, 1990. Barry Ashbee's No. 4, Bobby Clarke's No. 16, and Bernie Parent's No. 1 are the other retired numbers.

UNVEILING TODAY

Just days before their annual matinee on Black Friday, the commencement of the Christmas shopping season, the Flyers finally will unveil their 2012 Winter Classic jersey this morning in the Phillies' clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park.

Numerous prototypes - with even a few good-looking fakes - have been produced by fans since the September announcement made the outdoor game official.

Head to Philly.com/FrequentFlyers to check out the design.

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