Making the grade: Flyers season report card
All season long — from the time they started off 0-3 and fired coach Peter Laviolette , then plummeted to 1-7 under Craig Berube — the Flyers battle cry was “Just let us get into the playoffs, then you’ll see what we can do.’’
Well, we saw. Against the speedier, quicker-to-the attack, demonic shot-blocking Rangers, the Flyers found themselves again almost constantly battling uphill. Following the trend of the regular season they dug early holes for themselves five of the seven games, leaving little margin for error on the comeback trail.
To their credit, the gritty Flyers somehow managed to force it to a seventh game before ultimately going down. Perhaps had they been playing that one on home ice rather than the hostile territory of Madison Square Garden, things would’ve been different — although to be fair, both the Wild and Kings won a Game 7 on the road. That’s where all those early season losses and a 3-8 record in shootouts factor in, since just two points seperated them over 82 games.
Despite stellar goaltending and a penalty kill that stopped the Rangers the last 21 times they skated shorthanded, for the 39th straight year the Stanley Cup won’t be coming to Philadelphia.
Yes, the Flyers did have seven 20-goal scorers during the regular season, but as feared that kind of balance transformed into mediocrity when the Rangers were able to focus on shutting down the big guns. Not only was Hart Trophy finalist Claude Giroux kept under wraps most of the series and Scott Hartnell, Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier scored zero times. Major disappointment Vinny Lecavalier and Matt Read did only one better, while the defense actually accounted for four goals.
During the season you can get away with an off night from your stars, because someone unexpected might step up. In a short series, where every mistake is magnified and the margin for error shrinks, you need those stars to shine. That just didn’t happen. Grade : C+
How many times did Flyers fans throw up their hands in disgust watching a Philadelphia defenseman turn the puck over in the defensive zone, usually leading to a Rangers’ scoring chance? And it wasn’t always due to heavy forechecking pressure. Sometimes the Flyers just appeared to cough it up for no good reason.
Any objective observer could see that defenseman like Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and newcomer Andrew McDonald were constantly under siege. Not only did the Rangers’ relentless pressure force them into mistakes, but those times they did successfully clear it into the attack zone New York showed a remarkable ability to get it right out and counterattack. Over seven games the amount of puck possession was tipped heavily in the Rangers’ favor.
The Flyers defense was at its best on the penalty kill and did generate its share of offense as well. But for the most part it was on its heels, which eventually proved its undoing. Grade: C
When the season started most expected free agent acquisition Ray Emery to get the nod in goal over Steve Mason, who’d flashed brilliance in limited time when he came over at the 2013 trade deadline. But give credit to Laviollete, who must’ve seen something special in the 2009 former Rookie of the Year, Mason.
He made him No. 1 right from the start and then Berube followed suit. From the beginning Mason justified their faith, proving to be the Flyers long sought answer at the game’s most crucial position. When he couldn’t go the veteran Emery generally held his own, which turned out to include the first three games of the playoffs after Mason suffered a concussion from a late-season hit in Pittburgh,
Emery singlehandedly won Game 2 at the Garden, snapping a nine-gane MSG Flyers losing streak. Then once Mason took over in Game 4, Philadelphia goaltending was never better. The fear going into the series was Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist might be the difference. Turned out he wasn’t even the best goalie on the ice.
That was Mason, who was spectacular in three of his four starts, giving Flyers fan one comforting thought heading into next season: They finally have a goalie to believe in. Grade: A-
The Flyers have never been a team that wears down the opposition with relentless forechecking. Their prefer winning the game along the boards, getting into the cycle game, then swarming the enemy net for deflections and rebounds. On the other hand they’ve been susceptible to teams dumping the puck into the zone, then sending their speedy wingers in to bottle up the defense and force turnovers.
Over the long haul of an 82-game season the Flyers’ cautious style under Berube was pretty effective, certainly more so Laviolette’s frantic approach which wasn’t best suited to this team. But in the playoffs the Rangers’ often left them staring at their skates with their counterattacks, while the plodding Flyers offense needed time to set up. It wasn’t a good tradeoff. Grade: C
Tortoise vs. hare
Does the race go to the slow and steady, which generally typifies the Flyers? Or to the swift, which the Rangers used to their utmost over the course of seven games?
When you play 82 games there’s something to be said for playing responsibly. You skate your wing and don’t get out of position, allowing the defense to do its part. You don’t take many chances, either, waiting for the other team to make a mistake. That formula earned the Flyers 94 points.
But in a short series things change. Never was that more apparent than here, where the Rangers constantly pushed the envelope, resulting in odd man rushes and greater puck possession. The Flyers simply weren’t able play their kind of physical game, because you can’t hit what you can’t catch. Couple that will all the Ranger’ shot-blocking, consistently frustrating the Flyers attack and it’s clear this was simply a bad matchup which went to the faster team. Grade: B-
The numbers say the Flyers were one of the NHL’s best with the man advantage and even better on the penalty kill. The latter part held up, the Rangers’ going 0-for-21 after scoring early in Game 2 with the man advantage. Of course, they did cash in twice in less than a minute to win Game 1 when rookie Jason Akeson committed a costly high-sticking double minor.
But one of the keys to the series was the Flyers ineffective power play. Other than Wayne Simmonds’ connecting twice on his way to a hat trick in a desperation Game 6, the Rangers’ generally muted them. The hope was that the Flyers’ potent offense could break through against Lundqvist. Instead they were frustrated at nearly every turn and unable to turn the tide whenever the moment seemed ripe. Grade: B
Despite their climb off the deck and other accomplishments, Ed Snider insists this season wasn’t a success. Of course he’s been saying that since 1976 when the Flyers bid for their third straight Cup fell short in the Finals. But realistically no one expected this club to win a Cup or much of anything else this year.
They were too lacking in speed, too dependent on aging defensemen, too reliant on young players growing up overnight. As tightly packed as the teams in the East were this season it was simply a bad mix, destined to come up short. In other words clearly not a team capable of ending Philadelphia’s Cup drought. Grade: B-