It's the best time of year!
Posted by David Strehle Labels: Danny Briere, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers
The spotlight that documented the journey leading up to the clash between the Philadelphia Flyers and their arch-rival New York Rangers in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic is finally behind them. The daily, all-encompassing glare of HBO's "24/7" cameras is gone, and things are slowly getting back to a state of normalcy.
"HBO is the big thing about it," said head coach Peter Laviolette in his post-Winter Classic press conference. "The Winter Classic is a tremendous event, and our organization is thrilled to be a part of it. To play in an atmosphere like tonight, you know, the only thing disappointing for us was the result. HBO is what makes it, having the cameras around, the way they put on the show for the last month, is very different from what's normal in the hockey world."
Not everyone saw the additional attention as a bad thing.
"It was a little different coming in today and not having the HBO camera around," said defenseman Matt Carle via the team's official site, who has thrived in the glow of the camera. "It's kind of a sad day if you think about it, almost like Christmas morning where you get done and now it's over, but life goes on."
The team has the opportunity to get back to what is normal and concentrate on improving its collective game, which has slumped following a seven-game winning streak that came with the beginning of December.
Including Monday's 3-2 loss to New York in the Classic, Philadelphia's recent struggles have culminated in a 2-4-1 record, a stretch that has knocked the Flyers from the upper reaches of both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference echelons. The Rangers have taken the leads in both, four points better than the Orange-and-Black as the season approaches its midpoint.
Philly's 125 goals for the year are tied for tops in the East and third overall in the League, while their 109 goals allowed are seventh in the East and 15th of all NHL teams. During the course of the last seven contests they have yielded 23 goals -- an average of 3.28 per game -- and have managed to score just 15 of their own, just a 2.14 average. The resulting poor record shouldn't be much of a surprise.
Hockey is a team game, and the saying that you win as a team and lose as a team rings true each and every night. But as the Flyers look to get back on the winning track, there are several individuals that could provide Laviolette's squad with a much-needed boost:
1) Ilya Bryzgalov
It was rather ironic that the Flyers had a goaltender named Mark LaForest, nicknamed "Trees", representing Philadelphia in the Winter Classic Alumni game last weekend, after Bryzgalov's comments earlier in the year that he was "lost in the woods". Those solemn words were, of course, in reference to his poor play and his resultant frustration at the inability to make the necessary corrections.
Despite the first-year Flyers' decent 14-8-3 record, his 3.01 GAA and .890 save percentage are more indicative of his inconsistent play. After opening the year with a 3-0-0 record with a shutout, Bryzgalov proceeded to go 0-4-1 in his next five decisions. It appeared he finally had found his way by posting a dominating 11-1-1 stretch, but has since suffered through an 0-3-1 backslide.
His recent play was so poor that Laviolette decided to go instead with Sergei Bobrovsky as his Winter Classic starting goalie. The club's $51.5 million man is here for the next nine years, so it would be extremely beneficial for all parties if he got things straightened out sooner, rather than later.
'Bryz' was frequently referred to as the "star of '24/7'", so maybe the exodus of any additional cameras and distractions will be good for the 31-year-old's ability to focus more on simply stopping pucks.
The fact that Bobrovsky, who played so well in place of Bryzgalov on December 29th in a 4-2 victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh, didn't fare nearly as well in the Classic gives the elder of the two Russian back stops an open door to reclaim his spot as the undisputed number one.
2) Danny Briere
Briere has had an 'off' year offensively, plain and simple. Outside of his spot as the club's number four overall point producer with 10 goals and 25 points, Briere has not been the dynamic force the Flyers have needed in replacing the goal totals of the departed Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. On pace for just 23 goals and 57 points, this could end up as the forward's worst statistical full season since signing as a free agent in Philadelphia in 2007.
Paul Holmgren had to believe back in June when trading two of his top scorers, that Briere would be able to pick up some of the slack with additional ice time. That hasn't happened. During the team's current seven-game slide, the 34-year-old has been held without a point in six contests, and has managed just one goal during the stretch. As a matter of fact, Briere been invisible at times the entire year. He has not been able to post points in any more than three consecutive games, and has recorded points in just 15 of the 34 games in which he has appeared.
His last goal, scored on December 19th in Denver, was the kind of clutch tally Philadelphia has been in desperate need of. Down by one late in regulation, Briere completed a wraparound attempt to beat the Avs' J.S. Giguere with 18.1 seconds left in regulation to send the contest to overtime. But that type of contribution has been rare this year. The scenario late in the Winter Classic was eerily similar, with Briere being given a penalty shot and Philadelphia trailing 3-2. Henrik Lundqvist stopped the Gatineau, Quebec-native's shot, and the Flyers dropped an all-important two more points behind their nemesis from Broadway in a crucial four-point swing.
While not expected to provide as much in the way of offense, fiesty 'glue guys' Wayne Simmonds and Max Talbot are each tied with Briere's 10 goals.
The chance is there for Briere moving forward to rejuvenate his game, thereby helping to awaken a recently lethargic Flyers offensive attack. With yesterday's news that winger Jaromir Jagr will miss 7-10 days with a groin strain, Briere's importance to the club's production is even more pronounced.
3) James van Riemsdyk
The same train of thought regarding Briere was likely employed by Holmgren about van Riemsdyk when considering the deals for Richards and Carter. After all, along with Claude Giroux, it appeared down the stretch last season and through the playoffs as though the wait was finally over for the talented, budding-power forward to fully bloom. Surely JvR's contributions would help offset anything lost in the trades.
Three months into the campaign, chances are van Riemsdyk's nine goals and 19 points in 32 contests isn't exactly what Philadelphia had been hoping for, or even expecting. His current pace would see him finishing the year with 21 goals and 45 points, which is the exact same goal total as last year and just five more points.
There are those who believe the 22-year-old winger, who has but one goal and one point in his last eight games, is playing through an abdominal injury. That would explain a lot, since van Riemsdyk's play hasn't even closely resembled the high-speed rumbling, take the puck to the net, net-crashing style that made him so successful last spring. Instead, he's spent a lot of time on the perimeter, taking away any effectiveness of his 6' 3", 200-pound frame creating havoc in front of opposing goaltenders.
Maybe a return to the regular, everyday grind will be a good thing for him.
"It'll be good to get back to a regular routine and, as cool as it is to go through all of that stuff, it'll be nice to get back to a normal schedule," said van Riemsdyk via the 'On The Fly' section of the club's official site.
4) Jakub Voracek
Voacek's season began with a game-winning goal to spoil the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony, but he has scored just four more times in the 36 subsequent contests. With just five goals and 23 points in 37 games thus far, Voracek's production is far less than what had been anticipated from the 22-year-old Czech, who was acquired as part of the Carter trade with Columbus. While he has shown better than average playmaking abilities, Voracek's five goals at this point in the schedule are a major disappointment.
Currently mired in an eight-goal scoring slump, Voracek has netted just two goals in the previous 16 contests, and three in the last 24.
Blessed with great speed, size (6' 2", 214-pounds), and elite-level skills, it was thought he would crush the totals of 16 and 14 goals he posted over the last two seasons with the Blue Jackets. While Voracek could still end up doing just that, he is now on course for what would be an 11-goal, 50-point campaign.
Logic would suggest that with Jagr's groin injury taking him off the club's top line for the next week to 10 days, Voracek, or perhaps even van Riemsdyk, will go into his vacant spot alongside of Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
It could be just what the doctor ordered for either to get on a roll.
As the distractions from the Winter Classic weekend slowly fall away from the Philadelphia hockey scene and things return to the way they once were, the Flyers will attempt to once again find the game that had them vying for the top spot in the East. The re-emergence of four key struggling players would go a long way in rectifying recent woes.
"Yeah, we are all ready to say good-bye to HBO," Laviolette said Monday.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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