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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Flyers Notebook: Bigger, but are they better?

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 20

The Flyers are better today than they were one week ago. But will they be even better by next week?

After breaking with organizational philosophy and overpaying for Ilya Bryzgalov last summer, the Flyers seem to be moving back to the philosophy that the better the team, the better the goaltending will appear. In other words, barring one of the top three or four goalies in the NHL becoming available, the path for the Flyers to improve is by upgrading the rest of their team.

Defense was an obvious place to begin. And when the Flyers identify something they want, general manager Paul Holmgren aggressively pursues it. The Flyers acquired Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina, two of the most sought-after veteran defensemen, two days apart. Many other teams wanted Grossman or Kubina. The Flyers got both of them.

Grossman and Kubina, acquired from Dallas and Tampa Bay, respectively, replace rookies Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson in the lineup. Bourdon and Gustafsson played reasonably well as rookies called up to replace injured players. But there’s no question that Grossman and Kubina represent an upgrade over the rookie duo.

Not only are Grossman and Kubina more experienced than Bourdon and Gustafsson, but they bring a physical presence missing on the Flyers defense since Chris Pronger was in the lineup. Kimmo Timonen is excellent, but he’s not a physical defenseman. Neither is Matt Carle. Braydon Coburn isn’t consistently physical, leaving Andrej Meszaros as the only defenseman who delivers hard checks.

The arrival of Grossman (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and Kubina (6-4, 258) should make opposing forwards think twice before entering the corners or moving to the front of the net. That should help Flyers goalies Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky, whose struggles have been exacerbated by opposing players moving relatively freely through the Flyers’ defensive zone.

With the defense upgraded, the next step would be to improve the goaltending or forward lines. Unless the Sabres make Ryan Miller available, I don’t see top-level goalie on the market. Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been terrific in 2012, but he has a history of playoff failure.

Furthermore, acquiring another goalie could ruin Bryzgalov’s already-fragile psyche. Unless the Flyers are planning to unload Bryzgalov and his nine-year, $51 million contract, it doesn’t make sense to mess with his mind. For better or worse, the Flyers appear stuck with Bryzgalov.

The Flyers must try to give Bryzgalov all the support they can muster. Upgrading the defense with Grossman and Kubina was a good first step. If they can get a star forward – Rick Nash? Jeff Carter? – before next Monday’s trade deadline to balance out the lines, take some attention off Claude Giroux and keep the puck in the offensive zone for longer stretches of time, that would be an impressive second step.

The Flyers aren’t going to advance far in the Stanley Cup playoffs because of their goaltending. But making their team better can make it less likely their goaltending will cause an early playoff exit.

*****

JAGR IS BACK: Seeing Jaromir Jagr score twice in an 18-second span during the first period Saturday was a welcome site for the Flyers. Jagr, who turned 40 on Feb. 15, had scored just one goal in 2012 before scoring those two quick goals during the 6-4 loss to Pittsburgh.

*****

BEGINNING OF THE END: Gustafsson and Eric Wellwood both scored the first goal of their NHL careers last week. Unfortunately for Gustafsson, who scored during the Flyers’ 7-2 comeback win over the Sabres, he was sent to the Phantoms the next day to make room for Grossman. Wellwood scored his first NHL goal during Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Penguins. With Zac Rinaldo’s two-game suspension over, it’s likely that Wellwood, like Gustafsson, will return to the minors after his first NHL goal.

*****

BRIERE’S DROUGHT: Is it time to start getting concerned about Danny Briere? The veteran center hasn’t scored a goal in his last 13 games, dating back to a Jan. 7 hat trick against the Senators. Briere also missed some games around the All-Star break due to a concussion.

Since returning, Briere has seemed a step off, as if he’s not anticipating the play as well as before. This has resulted in some missed opportunities, as well as Briere being on the receiving end of hits he normally would avoid.

*****

CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE: We almost take it for granted because they’re so good at it, but the Flyers Wives Carnival is an amazing undertaking. Countless hours of hard work go into make the carnival a success every year. This year, the 35th Annual Flyers Wives Carnival, was no exception.

Flyers fans are fortunate to have an organization that puts so much effort into making the carnival a wonderful experience for its fans, as well an organization that gives back to the community.

*****

MAX-IMUM EFFORT: When the Flyers appeared to be in dire straits Thursday against Buffalo, Maxime Talbot rode to the rescue. Talbot scored to cut the Sabres’ lead to 2-1. Then he drew the penalty that led to Wayne Simmonds’ game-tying power-play goal. Talbot scored again later in the game, but it was his energy and effort after the Flyers fell into a 2-0 hole that reversed their fortunes.

Talbot has a career-high 16 goals. As was evident at the carnival, he also is an enthusiastic dancer.

*****

TOUGH AS NAILS: Before scoring the tying and go-ahead goals against the Sabres, Simmonds received 25 stitches in his lips to close cuts opened up when he was hit by a puck during warmups. The tough and resilient Simmonds has 21 goals this season, the first time in his career he has reached the 20-goal plateau.

*****

THE ROAD AHEAD: The Flyers play four straight road games, starting with Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg. The Flyers then travel to Western Canada for games against Edmonton (Thursday) and Calgary (Saturday) before closing out the road trip next Tuesday at San Jose.

With the trade deadline next Monday, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers team that returns from the road trip is the same as the team that leaves on the road trip.





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  1. Philadelphia Flyers posts - Chronological list & links | Philly Phanatics - THE online community for Philly sports fanatics Says:

    […] Flyers Notebook: Bigger, but are they better? (2/20/12) […]

    Posted on February 20th, 2012 at 10:35 pm

  2. Philadelphia Flyers archive - Chronological list & links | Philly Phanatics - THE online community for Philly sports fanatics Says:

    […] Flyers Notebook: Bigger, but are they better? (2/20/12) […]

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