Inside the Flyers: What Flyers need to contend for the Cup

Groundskeepers at Bright House Field roll out the tarp as rain ends the game after 61/2 innings.
Groundskeepers at Bright House Field roll out the tarp as rain ends the game after 61/2 innings. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff)
Posted: February 28, 2014

The teams that have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup - such as St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim, and Boston - are at the top, or near it, in at least one of the two critical categories: goals scored and goals allowed.

Most are among the leaders in both categories.

Which brings us to the Flyers, who own a four-game winning streak as they restart their season Thursday against San Jose at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers are in the middle of the pack in both offense (2.70 goals per game; 16th in the NHL) and defense (2.75 goals-against, 17th) and do not look like a team that can go deep into the playoffs.

Yes, the Flyers (30-23-6) deserve credit for overcoming the worst start (1-7) in franchise history and putting themselves into a playoff spot with 23 games remaining.

Yes, they are peaking at the right time, have good chemistry, and should make the playoffs.

Yes, Claude Giroux has battled past an awful start and has again been playing like an all-star.

But if the Flyers are going to make a serious run at a Stanley Cup, they are going to need everything to fall just right.

This team has flaws, lots of flaws, and if it is going to win its first Cup since Gerald Ford was in the White House, it will need a long list of developments to overcome its lack of speed, its mediocre (at best) defense, and its habit of taking too many penalties.

That said, the Flyers are creating good vibes. They are getting excellent goaltending from Steve Mason, solid production from all four lines - putting Scott Hartnell on the top unit and dropping Michael Raffl to center the fourth line has worked well - and the defense has made strides recently.

 There has been a lot of talk in the locker room lately about how the Flyers were in a similar spot in 2010 - in danger of not playing in the postseason - and how they got hot at the right time and reached the Stanley Cup Finals.

That's all well and good, but that team had Chris Pronger, who happened to still be one of the game's most dominating defensemen.

This team has a patchwork D that is led by a player, defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who is about to turn 39.

So what has to happen for the Flyers to still be playing in June?

Upgrade the defense before Wednesday's trade deadline.

General manger Paul Holmgren, whose job may hinge on whether the Flyers make the playoffs, says that he expects to make only minor moves and that he likes his defense. It is a smokescreen? Perhaps. But he owes it to his team and the fans to try to add an impact defender.

It seems ludicrous to think Nashville would trade Shea Weber (who would like to play in Philly) since it front-loaded its 14-year, $110 million deal. But Holmgren might make a less-glamorous move by acquiring, say, the Islanders' Andrew MacDonald, a minutes-eater who leads the league with 192 blocked shots and has a small cap hit ($550,000).

Get a rejuvenated Vinny Lecavalier.

Slowed by injuries and a position switch, Lecavalier needs to become more productive as a left winger. If he returns to form, it would be like picking up a quality forward at the trade deadline.

Avoid a wild-card spot.

Assuming they get into the postseason, the Flyers must finish second or third in the Metropolitan Division so they don't have to face probable division winners Boston or Pittsburgh in the opening round.

Ride the hot hand of Mason.

Mason, 25, arguably the Flyers' MVP, hasn't been in the playoffs since his rookie season (2008-09) with Columbus.

Display better discipline.

The Flyers have taken a league-high 15.2 penalty minutes per game and have committed the second-most minor penalties (260) in the NHL.

All the penalty minutes drain older players such as Timonen, coach Craig Berube said, but also affect the younger penalty killers such as Matt Read and Sean Couturier.

"They're out there killing a lot and then they go out against the top lines in the third period and they get worn down at times because they kill too much," Berube said. "And that includes the defense."

Gain momentum from a favorable schedule that has them playing 14 of their final 23 games at home.

Yes, there are extremely tough games against Boston (two), Pittsburgh (three), St. Louis (two), Chicago, San Jose, and Los Angeles, but the Flyers showed they could compete against top teams with recent road wins over the Sharks, Kings, and Avalanche.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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