The Philadelphia Flyers Reality Check: Getting Better But Not Quite the Best Yet

The Philadelphia Flyers lost to the Boston Bruins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs some weeks back.  Although both rounds were admittedly crushing, overcoming the Buffalo Sabres and then falling to the Boston Bruins, the Flyers have shown significant signs of improvement over the past four years.  Despite Philadelphia becoming a winning sports town since the turn of the millennium, even the Philadelphia Flyers cannot escape the Philly playoff curse — at least not quite yet.  Heck, even the Philadelphia Eagles with their new prodigal son Michael Vick could not escape the curse as the Philadelphia Eagles fell to the Green Bay Packers this past football season.  Football…well, that’s another subject to breach whenever the lockout and legalities become resolved.

The Philadelphia Flyers as a team improved since 2007.  In 2007, two years after the NHL lockout, the Flyers placed as the sixth seed into the playoffs as they entered into the Stanley Cup playoffs.  That year, general manager Paul Holmgren made significant free agent moves, including the acquisition of Danny Briere, Joffrey Lupul, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and then captain of the Flyers, Jason Smith. They defeated the Washington Nationals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with Joffrey Lupul’s power play goal.  Then they defeated the Montreal Canadiens with their dominant offense.  However, the curse would finally catch up as they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.

In 2008, the Philadelphia Flyers moved up to the fifth seed of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and with the much-cheered Mike Richards now as the captain of the Flyers.  Unfortunately, they would face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.  Despite winning the first two games of the series, they ultimately lost to the Penguins again despite having one of the most potent offenses in the NHL.  The curse strikes again…

In 2009, things have begun to change.  John Stevens was removed as coach for the Flyers after mediocre play, and Peter Laviolette was hired to that position. Goalie Brian Boucher suffered a hand injury, and journeyman Michael Leighton took over the position.  Despite these changes and difficulties during the regular season, they placed as the seventh seed into the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Although worse in terms of standings than previous seasons, they got past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by defeating Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.  In the second round, they faced a familiar foe in the Boston Bruins. In the exchange in goalie duties between Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher, the defense remained strong for both goalies as both goalies had shutouts in this second round series.  The Philadelphia Flyers had finally overcome the Boston Bruins.  But another familiar team would show up on the Philadelphia Flyers home ice — the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals.  They defeated the Canadiens in five games and finally enter the Stanley Cup finals since 1997.  Now they faced the Chicago Blackhawks and their reputed offense. The Flyers fought and dragged the series until their sixth game as Patrick Kane scored four minutes in overtime to finally eliminate the Flyers and acquire the Stanley Cup trophy for the Chicago Blackhawks. And the curse reveals itself again…better late to the party than never…

Now it’s the 2011 playoffs, and the Flyers placed as the second seed into the playoffs and clinched the Atlantic Division title since 2003-2004.  First things first, they overcame and defeated the Buffalo Sabres as the Flyers constantly switched between Sergie Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher as goalie.  However, lightning could not strike twice as the Philadelphia Flyers faced the Boston Bruins yet again in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Unfortunately, due the Flyers inconsistencies all-around, the Boston Bruins eliminated the Flyers in the second round of the playoffs.  The Flyers lack of a mobile defense, lack of goalie consistency and perhaps lack of overall team chemistry when it was needed most were the nails in the coffin. And the curse yet again…

The Philadelphia Flyers are not as bad as Philadelphia sports fan and media make them out to be.  They have gotten steadily better, but for better or worse, the duo of the Boston Bruins and the Philly playoff curse always seemed to hinder the Flyers.  Last season and the previous season, the Flyers have demonstrated revealing inconsistencies, particularly late in the season.  Head coach Peter Laviolette should decide on a permanent goalie for the upcoming season first — whether it’s Sergie Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton or whoever.  Peter Laviolette doesn’t quite have the luxury as Andy Reid does with the Philadelphia Eagles during their switch between quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick last season. With their potent offense, Laviolette has to manage injuries throughout the season and ensure that the Flyers have depth at those positions.  Lastly, the Flyers have to focus on demonstrating depth, mobility and consistency on defense.

With Game 7 tonight between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, whoever wins will face the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup finals.  With the Lightning seemingly battling against the odds, tonight’s game should be close and tight.

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Philadelphia Flyers Free Falling Against Boston Bruins: Deja Vu All Over Again

This is the second round of the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and again, the Flyers are falling behind 3-0 with tonight’s game quite possibly sealing their end in the playoffs.  This time, however, it’s against the Boston Bruins.  Flyers goalie Brian Boucher has been underperforming as well as the rest of the Flyers team against the Boston Bruins.  Admittedly, their goalie Tim Thomas has been fantastic and relatively consistent against the Philadelphia Flyers.  Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas has been playing much better against Philadelphia than during the regular season overall.  In the regular season, Thomas had a .916 save percentage and 2.42 GAA; and against Philadelphia in the playoffs, he’s had .952 save percentage and 1.86 GAA.

Comparably, Flyers goalie Brian Boucher has been having problems with the Boston Bruins offense.  In game 1, he had a low .783 save percentage, and in the most recent game, he had a .800 save percentage.  Throughout the series so far with the Bruins, he’s had a low save percentage of .846 and a very high GAA of 5.26.  Both are far below his regular season averages of .916 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.  Unfortunately, Brian Boucher is the best hope between him and Sergei Bobrovsky as Michael Leighton appears to be injured.

Admittedly, part of the problem with the Flyers in the playoffs are the goalies, but there are far more underlying problems.  Although the Flyers have led the Bruins in total number of shots over the past three games and total winning faceoffs over the past two games (except Wednesday’s matchup), they have lost in their takeaways as Boston has led or tied over the past three games.  But the recent collapse in game 3 was partially because simply the Flyers could not win their faceoffs as Boston had 43 over the Flyers 12.

Tonight’s game is do or die for the Philadelphia Flyers as they face off on Bruin’s home ice at TD Garden Arena.  Although they have been aggressive offensively, the Boston offense has simply been more efficient with their shots on goal.  It will be a nailbiter for Philadelphia hockey fans for certain.  Philadelphia fans won’t be going down alone though.  With the veterans Detroit Red Wings on the ropes against the San Jose Sharks, they could face elimination on the same night as the Philadelphia Flyers.

Brian Boucher and the Philadelphia Flyers Go to Round 2 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Is the Goalie Controversy Over?

With the Philadelphia Flyers defeating the Buffalo Sabres and continuing to round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, head coach Peter Laviolette and his Flyers fought hard and won last Tuesday, despite bending in the third period by Brian Boucher by allowing two points.  With the rotating goalies during these playoffs, it is a bit disconcerting since this is a vital position.

Of the three goalies, including Michael Leighton and Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher is currently the best goalie statistically.  He has played 34 games with 10 wins and 8 losses.  As a goalie, he has an admirable 2.4 GAA and a 91.6 save percentage currently.  Compared to his fellow goalie teammates, Michael Leighton presently has a 4.0 GAA and an 88.9 save percentage; and Sergei Bobrovsky has a  2.59 GAA and a 91.5 save percentage.

Into the Stanley Cup playoffs so far, Brian Boucher has been the best performer.  In the six games that he has played, he’s had four wins and one loss with a 2.10 GAA and a 93.4 save percentage.  Sergei Bobrovsky comes in second with a 3.38 GAA and a 87.5 save percentage.  And with Michael Leighton holding the rear, he has a 3.44 GAA and a 86.2 save percentage.

Brian Boucher has been performing better statistically than his career averages, and with Laviolette’s blessing, he should continue his goalie duties as he is the best of the trio currently.  Sergei Bobrovsky should remain as his backup.  The Stanley Cup playoffs aren’t easy and definitely more physical than the World Series and quite possibly the NFL playoffs.  The Flyers have a hard road ahead of them, and with goalies decided now, it will make the Flyers better as they can develop chemistry and formulate more effective gameplans against their opponents.