A Matter of Defense
While the Philadelphia Flyers have a successful record halfway through the season, there are still things that need to be improved upon down the stretch -- namely, defense.
The Flyers are 26-13-4 heading into their 43rd game of the season. They have the offensive depth it takes to make them Stanley Cup contenders, but a team needs to be balanced throughout the entire roster to go all the way.
The struggles of Ilya Bryzgalov has been highly publicized.
He is not playing at the level expected of him.
However, the 128 goals allowed by the Flyers so far this season have not all been Bryzgalov’s responsibility. The defense has struggled, and struggled mightily in some cases.
In their conference, the team is fourth in goal differential with +16 (144 GF, 128 GA).
Comparatively, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers lead the conference in goal differential with +69 (150 GF, 81 GA) and +32 (122 GF, 90 GA), respectively. Those solid numbers have plenty to do with the strong goaltending of both teams, but if the Flyers were doing a better job in their own zone, they wouldn’t need to constantly depend on their scorers to ensure a win.
From problems with clearing the crease, to problems with turning the puck over and blocking shots, the Flyers defense has faltered at times.
Troubles were be expected in the absence of Flyers captain and head defenseman Chris Pronger while he sits out with post-concussion symptoms. However, the team has now been without Pronger for 29 of their 42 games this season. His absence can no longer be used as an excuse.
The players are aware that defensive struggles have been an issue.
“These 6-4 and 5-4 games, that's not us,” Kimmo Timonen told reporters after Tuesday night’s victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. “You're not going to win a Stanley Cup playing like that. It's more 2-1 and 3-2 games. We have to learn and play like that."
At this point, it’s about time for something to give. So what can be done to fix the problem?
One option is to split starts more evenly between Bryzgalov and backup Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky has been strong this season, going 10-3-1 in 14 starts with a 2.42 GAA and a save percentage of .921.
While Bryzgalov has been the victim of some bad bounces and unlucky deflections, he also hasn’t been playing up to par. If the defense is struggling, he needs to be better, and lately, he hasn’t been.
In all likelihood, the Flyers will acquire some help for the defense via trade. Some names that have been recently tossed around include Carolina’s Tim Gleason, Toronto’s Luke Schenn, and Nashville’s Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
Either Suter or Weber would be a welcome addition to the Flyers’ roster, but both would come at a high price. A player like Gleason or Schenn may be a more economical option.
Whatever the team decides to do, it needs to be done soon. Heading into the stretch, the Flyers will need consistency and support from all players.
At the moment, the team is not measuring up when compared to the Bruins and Rangers, both dangerous teams that are built to make deep playoff runs.
If the Flyers do not find a way to improve on defense, they will undoubtedly struggle down the stretch and into the postseason - if they are indeed contenders come early April.