Red-hot Flyers could be darkhorse in the East

Ken Campbell
Victorious Flyers

There is not an NHL team that takes more penalties or fights more often than the Philadelphia Flyers do. And lately there aren’t many teams that have been winning games with the regularity they have displayed.

And as a result, the Flyers have transformed a season that began as an unmitigated disaster into one in which they could be a force in the Eastern Conference. After defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 for their 10th straight win at the Wells Fargo Center – all of them in regulation – the Flyers find themselves firmly in possession of a playoff spot in the east.

They’ve gone 8-2-0 in their past 10 games overall and since getting off to the worst start in franchise history at 2-10-0, the Flyers have put together a 21-7-4 run to pull themselves out of the abyss and into the ranks of legitimate playoff contenders. Remember, we’re talking about the Eastern Conference here. Is there anyone out there at this moment who thinks the Flyers are not capable of beating any team in the east in a seven-game series?

There are a number of reasons for the Flyers return to success, the most paramount being that aside from firing coach Peter Laviolette and replacing him with Craig Berube, GM Paul Holmgren did not go into panic mode after the Flyers poor start. In fact, the only deal he made was to reacquire Steve Downie from the Colorado Avalanche for Max Talbot. He showed faith in his core players and they rewarded him by rebounding nicely, none more than captain Claude Giroux. Discuss amongst yourselves whether the Canadian Olympic team is better off with Rick Nash than Giroux, who waited just a little too long to show the Canadian team management why he is one of the league’s elite players.

The Flyers are getting all kinds of balanced scoring with six players in double figures in scoring and 12 in double figures in points. Quick, who is Philadelphia’s top goal scorer? Go to the head of the class and collect your gold star if you guessed Wayne Simmonds. Half of those goals have come on the power play.

And finally, who would have thought that Philadelphia would be a place where a goalie would go to actually revive his career? After so many train wrecks and good careers gone south in the Philadelphia, Steve Mason has 18 of the Flyers 23 wins so far this season and has posted a .922 save percentage. The tricky thing now for the Flyers is what to do with Mason in the off-season. After being dealt to the Flyers last season, Mason signed a one-year deal worth just $1.5 million and undoubtedly deserves a raise when that deal expires.

Largely because the Flyers have been shorthanded 175 times this season – second most in the NHL – they also give up almost 30 shots a game, so Mason is obviously earning his keep. But how long and how much do you commit to a goaltender with such a checkered past? On the other hand, how do you not sign Mason to a long-term deal if you believe he has finally come to save you from your long history of goaltending ills?

Those are questions the Flyers have some time to answer. Barring a complete collapse, they’re a playoff team in a conference where anything can happen, and often does. Just four years ago, this same team came within two wins of winning the Stanley Cup after finishing seventh in the conference and qualifying for the playoffs on the last day of the season. That 2009-10 team finished with 88 points, while this year’s version of the Flyers is on pace for 93.

Which is something of a miracle considering the depths they were occupying just over two months ago.

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.