Friday, December 19, 2014

Flyers have turned themselves into a team no one wants to play

The defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks arrive in town for a nationally televised Tuesday night meeting with the Flyers, and when they arrive on the ice they are likely to find a team that has suddenly developed the potential to be that "dangerous" playoff team.

Flyers have turned themselves into a team no one wants to play

The Flyers, who swept a home-and-home series with the Penguins over the weekend, host the Blackhawks -- another of the league´s top teams -- Tuesday night. (Tom Mihalek/AP)
The Flyers, who swept a home-and-home series with the Penguins over the weekend, host the Blackhawks -- another of the league's top teams -- Tuesday night. (Tom Mihalek/AP)

The often incoherent, grammatically challenged ramblings of a man who has watched too much sports, listened to too much music and devoured too many club sandwiches.

The defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks arrive in town for a nationally televised Tuesday night meeting with the Flyers, and when they arrive on the ice they are likely to find a team that has suddenly developed the potential to be that “dangerous” playoff team.

After their woeful start to the season, and the firing of coach Peter Laviolette, the Flyers now find themselves a very popular choice as the team nobody will want to see in the first round of the playoffs.

That is -- IF they get to the playoffs.

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The Flyers are coming off a bonus weekend during which they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning first in Philly and then in Pittsburgh. There is some legitimate griping from the undeveloped part of the state suggesting that part of the reason for the Flyers’ success was the Pens’ injury situation.

Point well taken, but there is no getting around the fact that the Flyers turbocharge their game when playing the Penguins. There is also no way around the super rivalry aspect of the series, and there is no way any favored team likes to get into a nasty rivalry matchup in the first round of the playoffs.

It also appears that Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma has a difficult time game-planning for the physical style of either the Flyers or the Boston Bruins. Time and again Bylsma’s Penguins go the wrong way when confronted with such a style, and over the past few seasons it has landed them out of the Stanley Cup hunt faster than expected.

No matter what the injury situation, the Flyers scarfed up four points against a team with superstars Sidney Crosby and Geno Malkin healthy and ready to roll. They also took all those points even with Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre Fleury being a whole lot better against them than he has been in the past.

Thus, injured or not, all of that has to make the Penguins worried about a potential playoff match-up.

In the meantime, the Flyers have no room to sit back and revel in those victories. The Blackhawks roll into Philly on Tuesday night, and then the killer march through March resumes with matches against Dallas, St Louis (twice), Los Angeles, Toronto and Columbus.

It remains a daunting game of hopscotch to get to the playoffs, but the Flyers have some real momentum, and goalie Steve Mason has been sturdy. There is also the matter of captain Claude Giroux discovering that he can indeed be one of the NHL’s premier players and the addition of defenseman Andrew MacDonald at the trade deadline who actually turned into two defensemen.

No, he didn’t bring a twin brother.

However, since acquiring MacDonald and sending Andrej Meszaros to Boston, the Flyers have received a bonus in the form of Luke Schenn. Sure enough, Schenn was already in Philly, but he is now paired with MacDonald and he only has to worry about patrolling his patch of ice on one side of the rink.

At least for now, the result has been a much steadier game from Schenn, and the Flyers have actually been able to somewhat limit the minutes heaped on Kimmo Timonen.

We’re not talking about Norris Trophy candidates here, but we are talking about a defensive crew that has a lot more balance.

The Flyers have also benefitted from a steady hand from coach Craig Berube, who has done a nice job of keeping the ship on course through the shifting winds of the Eastern Conference. It would have been nice to see if Berube had lost his cool at the end of the Pittsburgh game when the Crosby nearly scored on a play that was obviously offside.

Maybe then we would have seen Berube go squirrel on the officials. Then again, no matter what the situation thus far, Berube has maintained a steady hand -- purposely not allowing the Flyers to even think about a “woe-is-us, we-got-screwed” attitude.

Long way to go from here, and the Blackhawks will present a most difficult test, but the Flyers have made it all the way back into the status of a dangerous team. If they could only get a do-over for October, it would be a whole lot more comfortable.

Al Morganti is a member of the WIP Morning Show (94.1 FM) weekday mornings from 5:30 til 10 and a hockey analyst for Comcast SportsNet. His twitter handle is @nufced.

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About this blog
Al Morganti is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about sports and entertainment.

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