Philadelphia Flyers Hanging Onto Playoff Hopes

We’re 20 games into the 2013-14 NHL season, the unofficial quarter mark of a long 82-game season. The Philadelphia Flyers have had a difficult and trying time. For those of you who missed it, they accomplished the following feats:

-Started 0-3 and fired Head Coach Peter Laviolette on October 7th

-Continued their dismal start to 1-7, falling to the bottom of the NHL standings

-Captain Claude Giroux failed to score a goal in his first 15 games

-Goalie Ray Emery nearly bashed Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby’s skull in during a line brawl in a November 1 loss

-Failed to score more than 2 goals in their first 9 games, and currently stand 28th in the league in offense

-Currently last in the Metropolitan Division standings

So there’s that. But, I contend that things are looking up for the Orange and Black and they can easily continue their quest for a playoff spot. In their last 5 games, the Flyers have 4 wins and one overtime loss, and they are scoring over 3.5 goals per game in that span. Their offense is waking up, with scorers like Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds slowly beginning to tally points. And Philadelphia’s much maligned power play has scored 5 goals in the last 4 games.

And then there’s the curious case of Steve Mason. After winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2009, Mason struggled in Columbus, failing to live up to his rookie hype. He was traded to the Flyers last April, and found the change of scenery to be inviting and motivating. He went 4-2 at the end of last season with an impressive 1.90 GAA. This season, Mason has been the Flyers’ best player. Although his record is a losing one (mostly because of atrocious goal scoring), he has a 2.12 GAA and 93.2% save percentage (both 10th in the NHL). It appears that Philadelphia’s years of goalie woes might be over. At just 25 years of age, Mason has plenty of room for growth.

The Flyers upcoming schedule also shows signs of hope. Tonight, Philadelphia hosts a Buffalo Sabres team that is sinking faster than the Titanic. After that, the Flyers host the Islanders on Friday and travel to Miami to play the Florida Panthers on Monday. And despite all the struggles, all the trials, and all the criticism and public scrutiny, the Flyers are only 3 points out of a playoff spot. That’s extremely easy to make up with 62 games left to play.¬†“The team looks good right now,” defenseman Kimmo Timonen¬†said yesterday. “A lot of things are going well for us now and we have to keep it going.” Indeed, things are going well, and if they continue, the Flyers could rise quickly in the Eastern Conference standings.

Surprises and Disappointments of the 2013 NHL Season

We are about a third of the way through the lockout-shortened, 48 game NHL season, and things are starting to settle into place. There have been many surprising performances so far, both good and poor. And while it may be too early to look at award candidates, here are some insights into the NHL thus far.

Buffalo's Thomas Vanek leads the NHL in goals (12) and total points (23). (Image Source: USA Today)

Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek leads the NHL in goals (12) and total points (23). (Image Source: USA Today)

Most Surprising Player (and MVP front-runner): Thomas Vanek, LW, Buffalo Sabres

Thomas Vanek has been on fire this season. He currently leads the NHL with 12 goals and 25 points for the underperforming Buffalo Sabres this season. Vanek has three games with two goals or more this season, and is scoring about once every four shots he takes. If the 29-year-old forward can continue this torrid scoring pace, he is likely to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Disappointing Superstar: Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Last season was a breakout year for 25-year-old Claude Giroux; he scored 28 goals and finished third in the NHL with 93 points. He performed especially well in the playoffs for the Flyers, leading the team to an upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins and scoring 17 points in 10 games. This season, Giroux was named as the new Flyers captain, and expectations were incredibly high, but Giroux has struggled offensively. In 17 games, Giroux has just 13 points and a meager 5 goals. Philadelphia has struggled along with Giroux, currently sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

Best Netminder: Craig Anderson, G, Ottawa Senators

We saw a glimpse of Anderson’s ability in the Senators’ first round playoff series with the New York Rangers last season, and the 29-year-old American has continued to impress. Anderson leads the NHL in save percentage (.948) and is second in goals-allowed-average (1.61). He also has 7 wins this season, including two shutouts, and his excellent play has the Senators currently in a playoff spot.

Despite winning last year's Stanley Cup, Jonathan Quick and the Kings have struggled in 2013.

Despite winning last year’s Stanley Cup, Jonathan Quick and the Kings have struggled in 2013. (Image source: Associated Press)

Disappointing Team (and Goalie): Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick)

It looks like the Kings are the latest victims of the famous “Stanley Cup hangover”. After hosting the Cup after a miraculous playoff run last June, the Kings have struggled to play good hockey this season. Playoff MVP Jonathan Quick has a save percentage under .900 (.895), and is a far cry from the stonewall he was in the playoffs last year. The Kings are 27th (fourth worst) in the league in goals scored (only 2.2 per game), and currently sit in second to last place in the Western Conference.

Most Surprising Team: Anaheim Ducks

Last season, the Ducks had just 80 points, and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Now, the Ducks have turned their team around, currently sitting atop the Pacific Division with 25 points. The main reason for their success has been goaltender Viktor Fasth, who has not lost a decision this season. In 9 games, Fasth is 8-0-0 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.76 goals-against average. With veteran leaders like Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, and former MVP Corey Perry, the Ducks have all the tools to succeed in the NHL this year.