On December 4, 2009, the Philadelphia Flyers were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, struggling to win games, and looking lost. GM Paul Holmgren, without warning, gives the boot to coach John Stevens, and immediately hires Peter Laviolette. The Philadelphia media howls, the fans protest, and the players seem confused to be losing a leader that they loved and respected. After the first few games under the new coach, the results are the same, and Philadelphia begins to lose patience with their team’s management. Fast forward five months, and captain Mike Richards is lifting the Prince of Wales Trophy as the Eastern Conference champions, and bringing his Orange and Black to within an overtime goal of Game 7 of a Stanley Cup championship.
Now let’s go to October 7, 2013. The Flyers are in last place in the Eastern Conference, struggling to win games, and looking lost. GM Paul Holmgren, without warning, gives the boot to Peter Laviolette, and immediately hires assistant coach Craig Berube as the replacement. The Philadelphia media howls, the fans…well, you can guess the next few steps. First few games are messy, then suddenly the team finds its way.
We’re now 22 games into the season and the Flyers are one point out of an Eastern Conference wild card playoff spot. Sure, it’s difficult to say this will be a mirror of 2010, with Claude Giroux lifting the Prince of Wales Trophy in May 2014. And no one saw it coming back in 2009 either, when they began to win some games.
But this year seems different, for some reason. After the first couple weeks of learning Berube’s new system, the Flyers look like a team determined like no other team Philadelphia has seen in decades. And more importantly, they seem to have solid, consistent goaltending for the first time since Ron Hextall. Even during their early season slump, Steve Mason was playing like an all-star. Now, going into the second quarter of the season, Mason is among the league leaders in goals against average and save percentage. He has yet to allow more than three goals in a game this season, and Saturday night’s victory against the Islanders, he is finally at .500. The team is finally playing like one in front of him.
The Flyers are winning games with the same tactics that helped them in 2010 – depth on offense, smart, defensive hockey, and a system that forces everyone to be moving and pressuring the opposing players at every second of play. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves with predictions of a Broad Street parade – after all, it’s Philadelphia. But the Flyers have proven that they are a team to keep an eye on as we continue through the campaign.