Coming into Form
Yes, it’s still only preseason.
I must preemptively strike myself each and every time I get too excited about the 2010-11 Flyers. Unfortunately for the team, their points won’t be carried over into the regular season this year (but with Gary Bettman running things, who knows?). Nikolai Zherdev and Jeff Carter’s goals won’t be put into the official statistic databases. There is most definitely something to be said for all of this. The real season begins in Pittsburgh on October 7, 2010. With that being said, I’m extremely pleased with what I’ve seen this preseason. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with me, that’s saying something.
Wednesday night the Flyers defeated the Islanders’ ‘B-Team’, 3-1 with two goals from Jeff Carter, one from James van Riemsdyk and a 32 save effort from Sergei Bobrovsky. All three players have been exceptional this preseason, especially Bobrovsky who holds a 1.37 GAA in eight periods of play (thanks to @DetailsDiva for the periods played info). I don’t think there’s any debate the young man has the skills to play in the NHL, but now’s not the time. Although, I do think it’s likely he remains on the roster until Michael Leighton returns to the team after his back is healed. That may not happen, as Johan Backlund returns to the fold for the franchise. The youngster was dressed as the backup Wednesday and it’s entirely possible that the team will leave him to sit behind Boucher while Bobrovsky begins his tutelage with the Phantoms. There’s really no reason to believe one thing or the other at this point, as the franchise is keeping the cards close to the vest.
Another positive this preseason is Braydon Coburn’s play. Coming into the season, I wondered whether we’d see the Coburn from the playoffs last year, a fierce competitor who earned himself a great contract. Or if we’d see the Coburn who was less than impressive most of the regular season, even inspiring some critics to nickname him, ‘the human turnstile’ (okay, maybe just me). Luckily, Coburn looks like he’s back to his playoff ways. When he plays like he has something to prove, he can be quite the force on the blue line. The worry was that maybe after getting a fat paycheck, he’d have nothing to prove. So much for conventional wisdom; he’s playing well above what is required from a fourth defenseman.
Ville Leino and Blair Betts got their first taste of preseason action Wednesday, as both of them returned from injury. Leino started out right where he left off last season, assisting on both of Carter’s goals. He took a couple of big hits, but also made some beautiful moves with the puck. Overall, he seemed to be fatigued in his first full game. That’s about what was expected. Barring a setback, he should be ready for the regular season. Betts did what Betts does. I didn’t hear his name called much, which is pretty much status quo for a fourth liner and penalty killer. Although his play will be important to the team moving forward, I wasn’t too concerned with watching his every move against the Islanders.
Carter has been fantastic, I must admit. He’s playing around the net instead of firing wrist shots every which way. If he can keep it up, there’s no reason why he can’t duplicate or even surpass his 46-goal season from two years ago. JVR continues to look like the talent that many Flyers fans expected when he was drafted with the second overall pick in 2007 (yes, I remember who was drafted first, don’t remind me). Last year, JVR showed flashes of great play, but as the rookie season does to so many others, he simply got worn down. Giroux and Zherdev look downright unbelievable on the same line, and as I’ve said before, I don’t think there’s any way that Laviolette can ignore their chemistry. I hope and fully expect to see them on the same line on opening night. If so, they could help to create one of the most potent third lines in the league.
Aside from Michael Leighton and Ian Laperriere’s injury news Tuesday, most of the problems the Flyers have going into the season are good problems. They’re problems that many other teams in the NHL wish they had. Should the team keep Bill Guerin, a veteran with two Stanley Cups under his belt? Or should they give a roster spot to one of the youngsters that have performed so well all preseason? What do they do with Bobrovsky? The kid looks unbelievable but he needs more time, should he start as the backup or with the Phantoms? How will Laviolette balance the lines with all the offensive talent that he has at his disposal? While these are all problems that will be answered by the beginning of the season, they’re good ones to have. Remember, it’s only preseason.
And that’s the worst problem of all.