Thursday, April 17, 2014

Back in the playoffs, but missing something

April 17, 2014

By Nick Tricome

After a one year absence, the Flyers are back in the playoffs and will take the ice against the rival Rangers Thursday night. But something will be different this time.

It's funny how a one-year absence can make it feel like forever ago, but Thursday night at Madison Square Garden will be the first time the Flyers compete for the Cup without Danny Briere in the lineup.

A small center that had a knack for coming up big, Briere has shown that he is at his best by the time April rolls around. 110 points in 109 career playoff games, and 72 points in 68 playoff games with the Flyers from 2008 through 2012, is proof of that.

Briere's shootout goal on the last day of the 2010 season
helped the Flyers clinch the final playoff spot and make an
incredible run to the Stanley Cup Final.
But the Flyers used one of their two compliance buyouts on Briere over the summer, and the Gatineau, Quebec native went on to sign with the Montreal Canadiens, who he helped set up the overtime winner for in game one of their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With Briere now competing for the Cup with the Habs, where he'll look to continue his playoff dominance, it can be left to wonder how the Flyers can replace those kind of numbers and that amount of playoff experience. But maybe it isn't that tough of an answer.

The start of the regular season was horrible. The Flyers had nothing going for them, Peter Laviolette was fired, and it would be 16 games until Claude Giroux registered his first goal.

Although it took some time, things turned around. The newly promoted head coach Craig Berube, an enforcer during his playing career, brought in a system based on defensive responsibility and accountability.

If someone wasn't playing well, they would have to face the consequences for it. That's one of the reasons why Vinny Lecavalier ended up on the fourth line, which he has flourished on ever since getting the demotion.

The rest of the team has flourished as well. The Flyers have been playing a much more balanced game compared to the way they played in October, and it shows in the stats.

The Flyers have seven 20-plus goal scorers, with two more players --Mark Streit and Sean Couturier-- that have at least ten goals.

Led by Giroux (28 goals, 86 points) at the top, those offensive threats are spread across all four lines. Jakub Voracek (23 goals, 62 points) and Scott Hartnell (20 goals, 52 points) join Giroux on the first line, Wayne Simmonds (29 goals, 62 points) and Brayden Schenn (20 goals, 41 points) skate the second line, Matt Read (22 goals, 40 points) and Couturier (13 goals, 39 points) man the third line, and then there's Lecavalier (20 goals, 37 points) on the fourth line and Streit (10 goals, 44 points) on defense.

Plus, there is Michael Raffl (nine goals, 22 points), who has moved up and down the lineup all season, but has shown that he can fit into almost any role he is given.

Can that offensive balance transfer seamlessly into the playoffs? It definitely can, but there won't be any answer until the Flyers get this first series underway. Henrik Lundqvist is no slouch after all.

By comparison though, the 2011-12 Flyers (remember those guys?) had four 20-plus goal scorers and seven more players with at least ten goals.

That team beat the Penguins in an offense-heavy first round that saw the Flyers score 30 goals across the six games needed to send Pittsburgh home. Giroux scored six of those goals and Briere accounted for five. They would each total eight goals in the playoffs before the Flyers got knocked out by the Devils in the second round.

How about the the team that made the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010? Those Flyers had two 30-plus goal scorers during the regular season in current Kings Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and 26 goals from Briere, to go along with seven other players with at least 10 goals.

In the playoffs, the 2009-10 Flyers scored 76 goals in 23 games, with Briere's 12 goals and 30 points leading the way.
The day Giroux earned the 'C'

Again, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different beast, and its proved more often than not that what happens in the regular season doesn't always apply.

But based on how the offense has transferred over into the playoffs in the past, it's not far fetched to believe that the Flyers will be able to maintain that balance in some way. If that happens, then the Flyers don't really need to fill any type of void left by an impact playoff performer like Briere. At the same time, they could already have those players that can find a way to come up big in the playoffs.

Claude Giroux cemented himself as the next Flyers captain in that series against Pittsburgh two years ago, and has unquestionably been the team's best player ever since.

There is Lecavalier too. When Briere was bought out, Lecavalier signed soon after, and his playoff numbers aren't bad either. Then there's Voracek, Schenn, Hartnell, Couturier, you can keep going down the list. They all know what the playoffs are like and they all know how to get to the net.

Danny Briere became a fan-favorite in Philadelphia for the way he played in the postseason, but with the way this Flyers team looks up front, he may not be missed all that much.

(Cover photo from USA Today Sports and the South Jersey Courier Post)
(Briere photo taken by Jim McIsaac of Getty Images and from USA Today Sports)
(Giroux photo taken by Yong Kim for the Daily News and

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