Frank Seravalli: Flyers' midterm grades are in

Posted: January 10, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. - When the final horn sounded on the Capitals and Kings last night in Los Angeles, it officially marked the end of the first half of play in the NHL's arduous, 1,230-game season.

With that, it's time to break out the red Sharpie and pass out grades to the Flyers at the midterm, putting them into perspective with our Nov. 21 report card:

OFFENSE

Through the first 40 games, the Flyers rank second in goals per game (3.43) and third in total goals (137). They trail only Boston in goals per game and the Bruins and Vancouver in total goals. Those are two teams that met in last year's Stanley Cup finals.

With Scott Hartnell, on pace to shatter a career high in points, Art Ross Trophy finalist Claude Giroux and renaissance man Jaromir Jagr, the Flyers may have the top line in the East. They may, in fact, have their first trio of point-per-game players since 1995-96 if Hartnell and Jagr squeeze out just a few more tallies in the second half.

Matt Read is tied for the rookie lead in goals. It's amazing to think that James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier have been so quiet, yet the offense is still this productive. Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are both on pace for career highs in points.

Midterm: A

Quarter: A

DEFENSE

Turnovers are the name of the game - and the defense has been committing too many of them recently. Take, for example, the win over Chicago last Thursday. Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Andreas Lilja all forced brutal passes up the middle and one of them resulted in an early Blackhawks lead. Kimmo Timonen's solid offensive season (third among "D" in assists) has masked his age and lack of speed. Andrej Meszaros has been half the player he was last season. Marc-Andre Bourdon has filled in nicely for Chris Pronger, but with Lilja, the Flyers are vulnerable in depth defense, just as they were last season. Another injury among the top four could be catastrophic.

Midterm: C+

Quarter: B-

GOALTENDING

What happens when you average a failing grade with an A? That's what you get when trying to measure $51 million man Ilya Bryzgalov with partner Sergei Bobrovsky. Yes, Bryzgalov has put together streaks of 6-0-0 and 5-0-1. The problem is that he's just 5-9-2 in the other games. And he's ranked 66th in the NHL in save percentage (.891), just slightly better in goals against-average (3.07). Bobrovsky, 23, has his warts, but he's given up just 12 goals in his last seven starts. It's hard to imagine what we'd be witnessing if Bobrovsky delivered the Flyers a 2-1 win in the Winter Classic instead of a 3-2 loss.

Midterm: C

Quarter: B

COACHING

Handing out Peter Laviolette's coaching grade is perhaps the toughest job for this teacher, since we don't normally get to see the coach and how he proceeds behind closed doors with his players. Still, from the up-close glimpse we got on HBO's "24/7" reality series, there isn't much that Laviolette leaves to be desired in a bench boss. No coach in the NHL has a better points percentage (71-35-16, .713) over the last season and a half.

Midterm: A

Quarter: B+

INTANGIBLES

It would be easy to look at the Flyers' blown third-period leads in three of the last four games and chalk that up to a breakdown or a team flaw. It would also be wrong. After all, the Flyers are still 19-2-1 when leading after two periods. This team overcame too much adversity (10 out of 13 games on the road in December, losing Chris Pronger, the Winter Classic hype) to be considered anything but strong.

Midterm: B+

Quarter: A

SAY WHAT?

The NHL coaching carousel continued to turn yesterday, as Columbus became the seventh team to make a change when they finally showed Scott Arniel the door.

General manager Scott Howson said he waited until now - when the Blue Jackets are 20 points out of a playoff spot - because he wanted to give high-priced acquisitions James Wisniewski (who started with an eight-game suspension) and Jeff Carter (who broke his foot in October) a chance to jell in the lineup.

Instead, Howson waited until Wisniewski (ankle) and Carter (shoulder) will be out of the lineup again for the foreseeable future. Carter has just 10 goals and 17 points this season in 30 games.

Columbus has been out of 30th place in the NHL for just 10 days this season. The Blue Jackets started 2-12-1.

"I thought we were playing pretty good until the middle of December," Howson amazingly told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. "We were going in the right direction. It's gone off the rails since then."

Arniel joins the list of Terry Murray, Randy Carlyle, Paul Maurice, Jacques Martin, Bruce Boudreau and Davis Payne to be fired this season. Ken Hitchcock, who took over for Payne in St. Louis on Nov. 6, is 18-5-5 with the Blues. Since the 2004-05 lockout, 32 NHL coaches have been fired in the middle of the season. Four coaches were fired last offseason alone.

Tweet 'G'

Thanks to a quiet off day yesterday in North Carolina, Flyers forward Claude Giroux (@28CGiroux) is officially back on Twitter. He collected more than 25,000 followers in his first hour.

And Giroux' teammates couldn't wait to poke fun at him.

"For those following @28CGiroux, Apple will be releasing special translator app to help understand his tweets,'' James van Riemsdyk (@JVReemer21) tweeted. Scott Hartnell (@Hartsy19), Harry Zolnierczyk (@HarryZ87), Ian Laperriere (@dooda1414) and Max Talbot (max25talbot) are also on the social network.

SLAP SHOTS

Peter Laviolette is going for his 100th win as Flyers coach tonight in Carolina, where he won the 2006 Stanley Cup . . . After last weekend's split with the Senators, the Flyers are 3-3-1 in the second of back-to-back sets. They have four sets of back-to-backs left: Jan. 21-22, Feb. 11-12, March 10-11, March 17-18 . . . Cam Ward is expected to start in goal for the Hurricanes. Laviolette could counter with Sergei Bobrovsky for the first time in four games . . . Hurricanes wonder boy Jeff Skinner (concussion) practiced yesterday but is still wearing a non-contact jersey.

ON-ICE

STAT WATCH:

* 13: Goals for rookie Matt Read, tying him with last June's No. 1 overall pick, Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, for the league lead among rooks.

116: Combined points for Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell as a line. All three were held scoreless Sunday in Ottawa. Jagr sat out Saturday (groin) but Giroux and Hartnell were also pointless in that game.

CAP SENSE:

Through the first 96 days of the season, the Flyers have spent $1,549,861 over the salary cap of $32,638,703. They have a long-term injury cushion of $1,550,383, which would mean the Flyers have banked exactly $522 in cap space so far. With Chris Pronger, Ian Laperriere and Blair Betts on the long-term injury list, the Flyers could afford a maximum salary of $1,793,231 over the final 89 days of the season. The Feb. 27 trade deadline is just 48 days away.

INJURY REPORT:

Through 40 games, the Flyers have lost 183 man games due to injury:

Ian Laperriere (head): 40

Blair Betts (knee): 40

Chris Pronger (head): 27

Erik Gustafsson (wrist): 21

Brayden Schenn (head, foot): 20

Andreas Lilja (ankle): 12

Jaromir Jagr (groin): 6

James van Riemsdyk (abdominal): 5

Sean Couturier (head): 4

Claude Giroux (head): 4

Matt Read (upper-body): 3

Braydon Coburn (back): 1

Only seven - Kimmo Timonen (225-game streak), Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Carle, Max Talbot and Andrej Meszaros - have played in all 40.

DID YOU KNOW:

That Hurricanes broadcaster Tripp Tracy, who handles the color duties on Fox Sports Carolinas with John Forslund, is a former Flyers draft pick? Tracy, 39, was selected by the Flyers in the ninth round (No. 218) in 1993 as a goaltender out of Harvard. He played two full seasons in the ECHL with a six-game stint in the AHL.

PHANTOMS PHILE

Shane Harper's overtime winner capped off a magical night at Citizens Bank Park on Friday with a 4-3 Phantoms victory over Hershey in the AHL Outdoor Classic. The 45,563 fans in attendance shattered the all-time AHL attendance record. The Phantoms (18-15-1-1), just 4-6-0-0 in their last 10, have slid to ninth in the East.

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