Sunday, October 4, 2009

Off to a Good Start!

This year's edition of the Flyers seems to be off to a flying start. They're 2-0, and Ray Emery has looked absolutely phenomenal so far. He shut out Boston in the first game and outplayed Martin Brodeur, generally acknowledged to be one of the two or three best goaltenders to ever strap on a set of pads, last night, 5-2. Emery looks like the hot-handed goaltender who led the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007. "If he had any doubters, I think he's proved them all wrong," said rookie winger James van Riemsdyk after the game. "He made some sick saves," said Ian Laperriere. "When you see a guy make saves like that, everybody on the bench gets a boost. In this league, you go as far as the goalie takes you." If Emery keeps playing this well--and keeps his head on straight--he should have a tremendous year.

In the wake of last year's painful playoff defeat at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, this team has a lot of important questions to answer. "The mentality is probably different than last year," said Briere, of the team that started last year at 0-3-3 but still managed to tally 99 points. "Last year, we were maybe a little overconfident, a little too loosey-goosey. This year, there's a little bit of an attitude change." In other words, this team now understands that this is a serious business that must be taken seriously in order to have a realistic chance of winning it all.

This year's edition of the Flyers is very different from last year's team. Sure, the stalwarts, like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Scott Hartnell, are all back, and all are expected to have big seasons again this year. In addition to these important links in the chain, the Flyers also expect a lot from proven veterans like Simon Gagne and Danny Briere, who seems to be healthy again after an injury-plagued season last year.

In addition, the Flyers have added defenseman Chris Pronger, who is known as a hard-hitting defender who can also move the puck. More than anything else, Pronger brings a winning record and a fierce attitude to the game, and he's known as a leader wherever he goes. Hopefully, some of his fierceness will spread itself around to the rest of the team, which will hopefully show some of the attitude of Broad Street Bullies teams of the past. Kimmo Timonen, who remains one of the NHL's best defensemen, joins Pronger and gives the Flyers two of the leagues most reliable defenders.

At the same time, the Flyers have to play smart and avoid stupid penalties. "Discipline is going to be the big thing," said Timonen. "We can't take six, seven, eight penalties every game. That was a problem last year. That has to change. If you look at the good teams and how they win, they don't take penalties." Or, if they do take them, they kill them. So far this year, the Flyers have done just that.

Before the season opener, coach John Stevens observed, "It's a matter of starting better and finishing stronger. They all make a difference in the end. We've gone through a lot of experiences the last two years. Now it's time to put it all together." So far, Stevens and his team are off to the best possible start. Let's hope that they continue to play this well for the entire season.

I'm looking forward to what looks like it's going to be an excellent season for the Flyers. Let's see how it plays out. So far, so good.

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