With time running out, and the Flyers still trailing by nine points in the playoff standings, the results of this upcoming road swing may very well determine the fate of the season. As it stands now, they have a 3.2% chance of making the playoffs. The road trip also includes trips to Montreal on Tuesday, Columbus on Friday, and Buffalo next Sunday night before returning home.
Defense is where the Flyers have struggled the most this season. But general manager Ron Hextall preaches building through the draft, which has really been his only option cosidering the teams cap issues. Michael Del Zotto was one of the few free agent signings the team was able to make, and he seems to be taking the next step after struggling early on. Nick Schultz was another signing who has played well as of late, and is currently in extension talks with the team. Mark Streit, arguably the Flyers’ best blue liner, is solid all-around but is aging. Andrew MacDonald is being heavily overpaid. Braydon Coburn has been on the “needs to go” list for a few years now. Nic Grossman has great size and strength but lacks speed to properly defend well-rounded forwards.
Hopefully Sam Morin, Robert Haag, and Shayne Gostisbehere will begin to blossom in the next year or two and eventually solve what has been missing on the back end since the Pronger days. The talent is there, especially in the minors at this point, so it will take some time. As for now, this Flyers roster has to rely on their scoring talent up front, Steve Mason in net, and only hope that the defense shows up with a strong outing.
To ignite a short-term change and get the Flyers back on track for the playoffs, a thought is going through a lot of minds that would make them even more dangerous. Linemates Jake Voracek and captain Claude Giroux have carried the scoring for the majority of the season, but have gone scoreless in the last two games. Coach Craig Berube mentioned them after practice yesterday: “They’re fighting it a little too much,” Berube said. “They need to slow it down a little bit. I think they are pressing too much.”
What if they had a dangerous left winger on that first line? Brayden Schenn has had some success with them, along with some inconsistency. Michael Raffl got a chance and showed some promise, but needs to get healthy and some more time to develop. With the salary cap gripping the team firmly, there might not seem to be any other options.
Statistics are factual but are sometimes hard to believe. Even though Giroux ad Voracek are both in the NHL’s top 6 overall in points, Wayne Simmonds leads the club with 18 goals. He has been a big force in front of the net, especially on the power play. In a few games, Berube has mixed Simmonds in on the top line, but other than the power play, he hasn’t skated much with the top unit.
The main question would be if Simmonds could adapt to playing on the left wing. He has been a regular on the right side, but the combination of skill, energy, and toughness that he would bring to that top unit could pay big dividends. That line might not quite have the size of the original “Legion of Doom” line, but its speed and agility make up for that. Having a tough guy like Simmonds out there to play with and protect the stars of the franchise could a huge plus. With time running out on the Flyers season, it would be worth a shot to see if this group could gel like they have on the power play.