GAME DAY: at Philadelphia
Jackets seek first road win in City of Brotherly Love
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|Flyers GM Paul Holmgren made several bold decisions this past offseason in an effort to re-shape his team’s roster. After the Flyers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the eventual champion Boston Bruins, Holmgren and his staff took a hard look at the makeup of the team and decided that a shake-up was necessary.
The NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis-St. Paul was the beginning of the makeover. Holmgren pulled the trigger on two separate blockbuster trades that dispatched two players he once referred to as “cornerstones of the franchise,” and in the process accumulated young talent to complement a solid veteran core. Jeff Carter was traded to Columbus in exchange for Jakub Voracek and two draft picks, and former captain Mike Richards shipped to the Los Angeles Kings for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a draft pick. It signaled a drastic shift in the Flyers philosophy and head coach Peter Laviolette has his team off to a fast start in 2011-12.
Star winger/center Claude Giroux headlines a high-octane Flyers offense coming off the first All-Star Game appearance of his career. He leads the Flyers in scoring, trailed not too far behind by 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr, back in the NHL after spending the past three seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Those two have seen regular time together on Laviolette’s No. 1 line, and have developed early chemistry on the Flyers power-play unit. Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell have been steady sources of secondary scoring with young players like Voracek and Simmonds also seeing time in the top six.
Holmgren acquired Maxime Talbot in free agency to add veteran checking depth, and a pleasant surprise has been rookie Sean Couturier, drafted eighth overall in 2011. Those two have been penalty-kill fixtures in Philadelphia and played an important role in the team’s strong start.
It’s hard to mention the Flyers and defense without thinking of captain Chris Pronger. The 37-year-old defenseman is out of the lineup due to a scary eye injury and not expected to play against the Blue Jackets, but his recovery is said to be progressing and in his absence, other members of the Flyers blue line have stepped up their games. The always-reliable Kimmo Timonen has played increased minutes in Pronger’s absence and Matt Carle is playing a bigger role on the back end, and the Flyers depth has allowed them to remain steady in the meantime. Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn log valuable minutes and are able to contribute on the offensive end, as well, giving the Flyers options at even strength and the power play until Pronger returns.
The seemingly decades-long search for goaltending in Philadelphia ended with the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov this summer. Holmgren traded for the Russian netminder’s negotiating rights prior the start of free agency and inked him to a nine-year, $51 million contract to be “the guy” between the pipes for the Flyers.