Philly Phaithful
Better With Popcorn

Midseason Report Card

John Russo and Jordan Kuhns made their picks for midseason report card awards. On some categories they agreed rather civilly. But on others, the disagreement couldn't have been any more clear.

That is why they had to put their differences aside and work together to bring to you some of the Flyers' studs, duds, and surprises among other things through the first 41 games of the 2013-14 season.

At 20-17-4, and second place in the Metro Division with 44 points, there were certainly a lot to choose from.

First Half Stud - Steve Mason 
By John Russo

This pick was almost too easy to make. The play on the ice may have been inconsistent, but the play in the crease has been consistently good. It's obvious that without Steve Mason the Flyers would not have been able to compensate for scoring droughts and fits of defensive woes quite a few times this season. 

Mason is 16-10-4 with a 2.37 GAA and .928 save percentage in 30 starts (31 games). These numbers carried over from an impressive seven-game stint last season being acquired at the deadline that earned him the one-year tryout. Mason has competed with Ray Emery, who has been solid, but has emerged as the clear starter of the Flyers.

Many skeptics went into this season believing Mason would revert to his struggles in Columbus if Philadelphia's make-shift defense couldn't play well in front of him. Instead Mason has reverted to his Calder-winning rookie campaign in 2008-09, despite the defense still struggling at times. If Mason keeps this play up the Flyers will hold onto its playoff spot.

First Half Dud
Jordan: Andrej Meszaros

Andrej Meszaros and the word "injury" have become monogamous with one another. He played in 11 games last season due to two shoulder injuries, and two seasons ago missed a chunk of time with a back injury. These ailments have caught up to the 28-year-old defender. No longer does he present a well-rounded game that made him a solid defensive option three seasons ago.

Just the opposite. Meszaros could not secure a consistent spot in the lineup, playing just under 17 minutes a night, and scoring just five points in 21 games. Of those five points, none have come on the power play. He used to bring the hammer from the top of the umbrella, but no longer. He is a shell of his former self, and someone the Flyers could be very happy to wring their hands clean of at season's end.

John: Luke Schenn

A lot of pressure was put on Luke Schenn to perform. Not because he's a young defenseman, but because of who the Flyers game up for him - newly honored Olympian James van Riemsdyk. While JvR went on to blow up in Toronto, Schenn has struggled to match the solid success he had in the 2013 shortened season.

Let's face it, Schenn has been really bad this year. Schenn is a minus-6, which is the worst rating among Flyers blue liners. His ice time has fluctuated between 15-18 minutes a game, and he's had several games where he didn't skate 20 shifts. Logging time like that is hardly what is asked of from a defenseman with his expected value. 

Biggest Surprise
Jordan: Giroux’s slow start

Remember when "x player has more goals than Claude Giroux" was a thing? Not just everyone in Philadelphia, moreso everyone league-wide, wanted to know what happened to the Flyers' young captain. How could a young player precipitously fall so quickly?

Not only did it take six games for Giroux to score his first point, an assist against Detroit, but it took him 16 games to score his first goal against a floundering Edmonton Oilers team. Giroux's slow start proved to be the cherry on top of an offense that could barely score two goals a night for an extended stretch. Since his slow start, Giroux has been nigh unstoppable. His 37 points and four game winning goals have pushed a Flyers team in need of a spark in the right direction.

John: Raffl’s rise

It's been written on here a bit recently, including a great piece by Daniel Spevak a few days ago. And enough can't be said about how Raffl, a player who was praised by beat writer Anthony SanFillippo, despite nobody knowing what to expect from, went from mystery to top liner.

Raffl has just two goals and nine assists on the season, but all but one of those points came in the month of December when Raffl joined Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the top line. Raffl can move the puck as well as Giroux and Voracek can. There were times where Raffl looked to be on the same wave length as the two star forwards, and it has not only elevated his game but theirs as well. Even with players getting healthy Raffl has remained on the top line, and will continue to do so if his play keeps up.

Most Disappointing Free Agent - Mark Streit
By Jordan Kuhns

Granted, Mark Streit has scored seven points in his last nine games, but his overall body of work has not exactly proven to be the caliber expected of a defenseman making over $4 million for the next several seasons.

Known more of an offensive-puck moving defenseman who can quarterback a powerplay, Streit has only one power play goal and seven power play assists. Two seasons ago, he could not be stopped with three power play goals and 20 power play assists.

Streit could produce more. Granted, his role on the Flyers is not of the first pair defenseman variety at either even strength or on the power play, but he was brought in to do a lot more than give the puck away at the worst times possible (see: 3-2 overtime loss vs. Carolina).

It's looking up for Streit lately with his production and solid play and increased ice time, but as a whole, the Swiss has not exactly been the Flyers' best defenseman by any stretch.

Best Moment - Flyers come back to beat Columbus, 5-4, on Dec. 13
By John Russo

This come back may be the big turning point for the Flyers. The win put them at 16-15-4, their first game with more regulation wins than losses. And despite losing the following game, 6-3, the Flyers have won four of the last five games and have been impressive.

I turned to fellow writer Dave Strehle during the second intermission when the Flyers trailed 3-0 and said that this team has the ability to score goals in bunches. I told him that I guarantee if they make it 3-1 that they will make it 3-2 right after. And on cue, Voracek and Braydon Coburn scored 62 seconds apart to make it 3-2.

Despite a Columbus goal to make it 4-2 with 11:25 remaining in the game, the Flyers score again in bunches. With 4:39 left in the game, Erik Gustafsson put home a juicy rebound to make it 4-3. Then Giroux performed his magic, scoring with 3:46 left and 1:48 left to give the Flyers a 5-4 win. Oh, and his game-winning goal looked something like this.

Worst Moment
Jordan: Flyers lose, 7-0, to Washington on Nov. 1

A franchise-worst start hit its lowest point after losing 7-0 on home ice to the Washington Capitals. The Flyers showed no fire. Fans called for Paul Holmgren's job. An ugly scene got even uglier in the contest's closing minutes. A line brawl erupted with Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Downie finding dance partners right away (both Lecavalier and Downie were injured). Ray Emery skated across the ice to fight an unwilling Braden Holtby.

National pundits called this Broad Street Bullies being Broad Street Bullies, and our own John Russo was appalled. Philadelphia Daily News writer Frank Seravalli named Emery the game's third star, creating even more controversy around an event the Flyers would love to soon forget. Perhaps they have. It still remains the one of the Flyers' worst moments in a first half full of them.

John: Lavy’s firing

A lot of people don't really associate this with bad anymore due to the team's revived play, but a lot of ugliness came with the firing of Peter Laviolette. First, many felt the move came too late, as a change in the offseason would have given the Flyers better coaching options. The timing was off, and it gave people a reason to wonder if Craig Berube was destined to be the next Flyers coach all along.

But another thing came out of it, and it really scared a lot of fans, and that was a clear look inside the madness that is Ed Snider's mind. Snider denied vehemently that the Flyers did not need a culture change, a culture that hasn't won a cup in 38 years. It was the quote heard around the hockey world, and it frightened fans into thoughts of a permanent banishment from hoisting the Cup until Snider steps down. Yes the Flyers have recovered from a 1-7 start, but there are still a lot of Snider's messes lying on the floor. If improvements aren't made, whether it's this season or in the following years soon, people will look back and appoint Laviolette a martyr in Snider's mad world.

Top Forward
Jordan: Vincent Lecavalier

GM Paul Holmgren pulled off a critical move this past summer by signing former Tampa Bay Lightning captain and franchise centerpiece Vincent Lecavalier to a long-term contract. Holmgren bought out declining forward Danny Briere's bloated contract. Needing to replace those points, Holmgren signed a pro's pro. Lecavalier has yet to disappoint in an orange sweater. Eight of his points have come at even strength, and seven have come on the power play by unleashing a wicked slap shot from the top of the right circle.

Perhaps the only negative stems from the various injuries that have plagued him this season. He suffered serious facial injuries after a fight in November, and then a non-displaced fracture in his back. Most importantly, Lecavalier gave the Flyers a fighting chance early in the season by providing most of their offense. He has not scored since November 29, but in October, when this team could not collectively score goals to save their collective lives, he scored five goals.

John: Sean Couturier

Statistically, Couturier is only seventh among Flyers forwards with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists). But he has been an incredible main stay on the Flyers third line, which for a good chunk of this season, has been a consistently successful unit. After the acquisition of Steve Downie and the veteran's placement on the third line, Couturier saw his game completely elevate. Matt Read has been a better player, and so has Couturier.

Couturier's defense has always been his defining attribute. Since his rookie season, Couturier established himself as one of the best forwards in the defensive zone in the NHL, an incredible feat for the 21-year-old. He's now becoming more comfortable in the offensive zone, a trait that he's unfortunately kept hidden with the lack of confidence his first two seasons. Now he's dominating the offensive zone with his tenacious forechecking abilities and willingness to hunt down the puck. Couturier has provided a spark for this team at forward, and it's made him the most dominant and consistent forward on the Flyers through 41 games.

Top Defenseman - Nicklas Grossmann
By Jordan Kuhns

Shortly after acquiring Nicklas Grossmann from Dallas, Paul Holmgren rewarded him with a multi-year contract extension. As a result, Grossmann has not only added a letter to his last name, but he has excelled as a nasty stay-at-home defender as well.

Grossmann leads the Flyers with 102 blocked shots, which has proven to be his bread and butter. He blocked 82 shots in 30 games last season, and 152 shots two seasons ago. He has proven to be a critical shutdown defenseman, and an expert penalty killer for the team.

Not to say many defenseman on the Flyers have been exactly great either offensively or defensively, but Grossmann has proven to be a reliable option that can play upwards of 20 minutes a game. Silence is golden when it comes to defensemen. If nobody is talking about them, that means they are doing their job correctly.

Player to Step Up in the Second Half
Jordan: Brayden Schenn

Brayden Schenn recently snapped a streak of no goals in 16 games before scoring four points in his last three contests. Two of those points were not only goals—they were huge goals. One tally knotted up a late 3-2 deficit against Vancouver leading to a 4-3 shootout win, and the other proved to be the game winner in a 4-1 win over Calgary. Craig Berube finally found a good set of wingers for Schenn, placing Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell on each flank. All three are producing at an extraordinary rate due to what Berube mandated that line to do—work hard.

Consistent secondary scoring almost always signifies a strong team. Schenn will need to lead the way in that department. His potential is sky high. Once upon a time, Schenn dominated his age group at the World Junior Championships with 18 points in 7 games. At just 22 years of age, he has plenty of improving to do.

The second half of this season would be the perfect time to show that improvement at a consistent pace.

John: Jakub Voracek

Voracek had been a disappointment, along with Giroux, heading into the month of December. But the play of him and the captain have increased with the addition of Raffl. Voracek is second on the team with 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists). Voracek has been scoreless in his last two games after coming off an eight-game point streak (six goals, nine assists).

Voracek will need to continue his success in order for the Flyers top line to continue its dominant play into the 2014 half of the season. He's a dynamic player with and without the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. If Voracek wants to match the pace of his impressive 46-point effort in the 48-game schedule of 2013, he will need a strong second half to not only do so, but make the Flyers a playoff contender.

-----

John Russo
Editor; Featured Writer
Twitter: @Roose_TCL@TCLFlyers
Email: russo@thecheckingline.com

Jordan Kuhns
Featured Writer
Twitter: @MSBN_Kuhns@TCLFlyers
Email: jordan@thecheckingline.com