Better With Popcorn

Flyers Leave Room For Improvement At the Quarter Mark

After what was looking to be a year without hockey, we found ourselves at the quarter-mark of the 2013 NHL season.

It's already been a fun-filled first three weeks of hockey. Perennial giants are struggling, some super stars are still in search of their scoring touch and even the Chicago Blackhawks have managed to play their first 11 games without a regulation loss.

12 games into the 48-game shortened season, the Flyers find themselves with a 5-6-1 record and 11 points, good for third place in the Atlantic Division.

At that point, they sit behind the first place Devils (7-1-3; 17 points) and second place Penguins (8-4-0; 16 points). It could be much worse, especially since the Flyers were at one point 2-6-0 to start the season.

In their last four games (all home), they went 3-0-1 to climb out of the division cellar and inch closer to .500 hockey. They have picked up the scoring in the process, and their goaltending has been incredible all season.

Here is a look at who has been playing well for Philadelphia, who has been underachieving, and a handful of things they need to improve upon to climb back towards the top of their division and conference.

Why They're 5-6-1

Special teams and third period woes have been the Achilles heal for the Flyers so far.

The Flyers are 17th in the NHL in power play with a 17.3% success rate. For the penalty kill, they have only been able to kill off 77.4% of their chances, ranking them 22nd in the NHL.

The lack of a penalty kill has been a bigger problem for them, especially because they are near the top in penalties. They have amassed 212 penalty minutes, second in the league, and are tied with Montreal with 67 minor penalties, the most in the NHL.

Fortunately, they have been playing much better as of late on the kill. They have killed off 20 of the last 22 penalties they faced in their last five games, an incredible feat considering how bad they were prior.

"Our penalty kill has been unbelievable as of late," said winger Wayne Simmonds, who missed three games due to a concussion before returning on Saturday. "I think we started off a little rocky this season, but we definitely stepped it up – Max [Max Talbot], Feds [Ruslan Fedotenko], Reader [Matt Read], Couts [Sean Couturier] and other guys have done their job.  Obviously Bryz (Ilya Bryzgalov) too, he’s been our best PKer, he’s been our best player for the majority of the year."

Sloppy play in the third period has nearly cost the Flyers five points in their last three games. Compounded with taking bad penalties, this has been an even more frustrating part of the Flyers' inability to play 60 minutes.

In Saturday's overtime win against the Hurricanes, they were outplayed much of the period, losing the shots battle 13-7. It allowed the Hurricanes to tie the game up with a considerable amount of time left, nearly costing them the chance for two points.

It happened in Thursday's shootout loss to Florida, where they gave up the game-tying goal midway through the third before losing their second point in the shootout. 

They have also been battling injuries. Both Scott Hartnell (foot) and Andrej Meszaros (shoulder) are out for the Flyers, but will resume skating this week. The Flyers could see them both return after the six-game road trip.

MVP - Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov

This choice couldn't have been any easier. Despite his team's struggles, Bryzgalov has virtually stood on his head to keep the Flyers in games, and help them climb back to the .500 mark.

In 11 starts, Brygalov is 5-5-1 with 2.27 GAA and .921 save percentage, putting him around the top 10 in the NHL in goaltending. 

"He looks comfortable. He looks in control," said head coach Peter Laviolette after the Flyer 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on February 5. "You know nothing fazes him at this point. It’s good to see. I said this morning that if he keeps playing the same way, we are going to be a dangerous team."

Biggest Disappointment - Center Claude Giroux

To say the Flyers captain has been bad isn't a fair assessment to Giroux. But after how he played last season and what the Flyers expected of him after handing him the "C," you can say that Giroux has been a bit of an early disappointment.

In 11 games, Giroux has only three goals and four assists. He has had three games where he failed to even record a shot on goal.

These are not a representation of what Giroux did last season when his 95 points and 67 assists put him in the top five of the league. They also aren't a representation of what the Flyers expected from him when they named him captain.

A part of the reason for Giroux's inconsistency has been the revolving door of linemates on the top line. Giroux has been paired with Hartnell, Simmonds, Danny Briere, Brayden Schenn and Tye McGinn mainly.

Biggest Surprise - Right-winger Matt Read

After 11 games, Read is the Flyers leader in goals (5) and points (9). Though Read lead all rookies in goals last season, the Flyers weren't expecting him to continue to light up the lamp, especially this early in the season.

Read scored his first hat trick against the Florida Panthers on January 26 and has been playing well ever since. All five of his goals came in the last eight games, and all were against Southeast Division teams.

The Flyers will play against Southeast three times on this six-game road trip coming up. Hopefully that will help Read build on his early season success.

Up Next

The Flyers are about to embark on a six-game road trip that will test them once again.

Starting Monday, they will travel to Toronto where Luke Schenn will return to face his former team. The Maple Leafs drafted him four years ago before trading him to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk.

The following day, the Flyers will head to Winnipeg for another game against a Southeast Division team in the Jets. They will then have another pair of back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday against New Jersey and Montreal.

The road trip will conclude next week in Long Island to face the Islanders on February 18 before traveling to Pittsburgh two days later to play the Penguins. It'll be their first trip to Pittsburgh since last season's playoffs, and first game against the Pens since losing the season opener, 3-1, in Philadelphia.