By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — The Phillies finished what was expected to be a promising season losing 89 games and finishing 23 games behind first-place Atlanta. The Eagles were just throttled by the Denver Broncos, giving up the most points in a game since 1972, and don’t seem to be heading toward the post-season (though the NFC East could make it interesting). We know what the Sixers will bring and the theme of their season—losing on their way to [Andrew] Wiggins.
Postseason hope now rests with the Flyers, beginning tonight, when they host Toronto.
Gone is headcase malcontent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and shopworn Danny Briere. In are center Vinny Lecavalier, defenseman Mark Streit and goalie Ray Emery.
But can the Flyers reach the postseason, with the NHL’s new realignment? It’s certainly going be much harder with Detroit and improved Columbus now in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers finished out of the playoffs for only the ninth time in franchise history last year, ending the NHL’s truncated season 23-22-3.
Entering this season, the Flyers are one of the NHL’s biggest enigmas. Claude Giroux didn’t clutch the superstar mantle so many predicted he would last year. Injuries decimated this team, but can the goalie combo of Steve Mason and Emery really solve the Flyers’ net issues?
Can Streit, at 35, be the kind of two-way defenseman he was for the Islanders? He’s coming off a very subpar year. Can warhorse Kimmo Timonen, at 36, pull out another quality season? Those are two staggers queries than need to be answered.
One thing is certain: The Flyers will score. Last year, they were ninth in the NHL averaging 2.75 goals a game and third in power play percentage (scoring at a 21.6-percent clip). Lecavalier, Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn are all capable of scoring 30 goals or more. The Flyers first two lines (Hartnell – Giroux – Voracek; Brayden Schenn – Lecavalier – Simmonds) are among the best in the NHL.
Their third line of Scott Laughton – Sean Couturier – Matt Read isn’t bad, either. Couturier has shown flashes of brilliance and Read scored 24 goals in his rookie season two years ago.
But the Flyers could be an icy microcosm of both the Phillies and Eagles. They’re similar to the Phillies as a team stuck in its ways, relying on older recycled talent (Lecavalier and Streit) to carry them—thinking they’re what they used to be (Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, ect.). They will be, or should be, an explosive offensive team, like the Eagles, dependent on offense and very flawed on the defensive side (their 2.90 goals-against per game was 23rd in the NHL).
Goaltending and defense will be the keys to success. The problem is the Flyers appear to be the wayward home of stray dogs. Mason hasn’t been the same since he won the Calder Trophy in 2009, and lost his job in Columbus last year to Flyers’ castoff Sergei Bobrovsky, who only went on to win the Vezina Trophy last year as the NHL’s best goaltender (think the Flyers would make that trade again if they could).
Emery played a backup role winning a Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks. And though he finished 17-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average, he didn’t appear in a single playoff game for the Blackhawks and hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since playing for the Anaheim Ducks in 2010-11, a series the Ducks lost.
Can the Flyers squelch the postseason drought Philly’s four major pro franchises currently face?
Too many questions lean toward no.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.