In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I take a look at the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils rival currently holds the sixth position in the Eastern Conference. But the team has gone through some adversity as of late, losing three goaltenders and their leading scorer, Jeff Carter. Can this team succeed in the playoffs without those integral pieces?
The Flyers have some solid, but not great, forwards on the team. With the injury to Jeff Carter, the team lost their leading scorer and one of their best goal scorers. One of the best forwards on the team is Mike Richards. The young captain has 28 goals and 30 assists through 76 games, and his play on the penalty kill and powerplay are stellar. He’s one of the better two-way forwards in the game today. After Richards, the Flyers have several role players. Simon Gagne, who could be a great goal scorer, has only played 52 games this season. The same can be said for Danny Briere. What I don’t like about the Flyers is the injury risk throughout all of their lines. Gagne usually has one major injury per year, and Briere hasn’t been fully healthy since signing with Philadelphia (8 years, $52 million with a no trade clause). Both of these guys can make plays and put the puck in the net. With one major weapon already down, another injury to a scoring forward would sink this team.
The Flyers first defensive pairing of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle are extremely good. Both defenseman combine for a plus/minus rating of 41. Pronger leads the team in assists, and has chipped in 10 goals during the season. But that has been one of the only bright spots for the Flyers defense this year. They rank near the middle of the pack in goals against, allowing 202 so far this season. They also rank 25th in shots against, with 2,184 shots taken against their goalies. Coming into the season, the team had high hopes for their defense. But so far those expectations haven’t been met, and they have underperformed this season.
Philadephia has dressed four goaltenders this season, and only one of them remains healthy today: Brian Boucher. The first starter, Ray Emery, was enjoying a great comeback season But an abdominal strain – and the resulting surgery from the injury – knocked him out for the season. Next came Michael Leighton, who looked terrible in Carolina. The Flyers got lucky again, as Leighton played exceptionally well with the team. But an ankle injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. They even gave rookie John Backlund an opportunity, but he was injured during his first ever start. Now, their playoff chances rest on Brian Boucher, a goalie who has never started more than 45 games in a season. His career save percentage is under .900. Clearly, goalie is the weakest link of this team. The Flyers cannot depend on Boucher to bring win them a series. He’s the weakest goalie coming into the playoffs. This will, without a doubt, hold back Philadelphia in the playoffs this year.
So, where do the Flyers sit coming into the playoffs? They seem to be one of the weakest teams qualifying for the playoffs. They’re missing their leading scorer, and the defense has been underwhelming all season. Now, they need to depend on a career backup who has never played well in the N.H.L. The Flyers look like the surest bet to be a one and done in the playoffs this year.
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