So, I think I’ve been pretty disciplined with my hockey posts here this year. I know for most people hockey starts sometime in April. Are there people who think the sport is actually called, “playoff hockey?” I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I can’t get too fired up for hockey in October and November, but when the Flyers run off a 9-0-1 streak in relative anonymity, I feel like it is finally time to give them a quick shout.
On my way home from watching the Eagles game last night I was listening to Tony Bruno’s national radio show. After touching on the Vick game, and yet another Flyers blowout, he jokingly referred to Philly as the city of champions. I don’t think one World Series gets you that distinction, but things could certainly be a lot worse. Sixers aside, it looks like the other 3 teams are in pretty good shape, and the Flyers could be sitting better than any of them. After their big run through the playoffs last year I wondered if that was the beginning of something good, or just one of those runs in hockey where everything comes together and a goaltender gets hot. Given past history, I was fearing the latter. It looks like I could have been wrong.
Admittedly having watched from a less than die-hard perspective, it appears that what were once always the Flyers’ weaknesses have become their strengths. It starts with the goaltending. The Flyers spent another off-season not getting a big name goalie. There were grumblings about some older free agents, but nothing materialized and it looked like Leighton was going to get a chance to validate his playoff run (save game 6). Almost as an afterthought, the Flyers signed a Russian goalie named Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky played in the elite KHL league, but was saddled with a terrible team and had less than impressive stats. At best we were thinking, maybe a project?
Fast forward to almost a quarter of the way through the season, Leighton has been hurt and “Bob” is sitting at 11-2-1 with a 2.01 goals against and 93.4 save percentage. Pretty impressive numbers for a 22-year old rookie. Obviously we are a long way away from the games meaning something, but Bobrovsky is already building a cult following, and has me saying things like, “a shifty Russian was just what this team needed.” What I like about Bobrovsky is that either by nature, or because he doesn’t know any better, he doesn’t seemed to be bothered or impressed by much. Opening night, in Pittsburgh, opening a new building against one the NHL’s most dangerous offenses? No big deal for Bob, and it’s been that way since.
The other main criticism I’ve had with the Flyers over the years is that they didn’t have a superstar. No offensive player that could take over the game. They had plenty of skill players, but they all seemed to operate just under the star level, and when big moments came up, there wasn’t anyone to take the spotlight. Last year in the playoffs the Flyers displayed a souped up version of their balanced attack. Giroux, Leino, Briere, Gagne, Richards…suddenly there was just enough balance that the Flyers became a very tough match-up. Combine that with a dangerous power-play and they didn’t need an MVP candidate to be successful.
My biggest hope for this season was that Giroux or Leino would maintain their playoff level of play through this regular season, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by both. Giroux leads the team in points and is on pace for 45 goals. Could the Flyers actually have a guy finish in the top-10 in points? Or could Giroux become a real superstar? And, for his part, Leino is leading the team in assists. They are part of an attack that looks like it could include 4 or 5 thirty goal scorers. With the depth of the lines, it seems like each night at least one line has some room to operate.
So, when the Michael Vick euphoria wears off (not sure if that will ever happen at this point), remember we’ve still got a hockey team in this town, and don’t look now, but they are rolling…