Flyers on a mission to be the 'real deal'
By Tim Panaccio
Inquirer Staff Writer
The Flyers are off to a great start at 5-1, but the question remains: Are they for real?
"We're all trying to figure out where we stand," Danny Briere said. "Obviously, we believe in ourselves. We think we can be the real deal right off the bat. At the same time, we have a long way to go. We're only six games into the season. We want to prove to people it's not a hot streak and we're a team that deserves to be there."
Given last season's carnage and the complete remake of the team since February, it's a fair question when trying to assess coach John Stevens' club.
The correct answer might be wait and see what happens tonight against Carolina and next week at Tampa Bay.
Carolina had a recent three-game sweep through Canada in which the Hurricanes outscored their opponents, 15-5, and former Flyer Justin Williams registered six points. Goalie Cam Ward allowed five goals in three games.
Then Carolina had a five-day break before meeting Pittsburgh last night, losing, 4-3, in a shoot-out, while the Flyers have been revving it up.
"They're playing well, they have a lot of confidence right now," Stevens said. "It's another challenge for us to see where we're at. . . . I don't know if it's the first test because we've been tested already."
Yes, the club was tested with a tough road trip to Western Canada to start the season. But Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver aren't the rejuvenated Hurricanes.
What makes Carolina a fair measuring stick as to how far the Flyers have come, and how far they still have to go, is the way the Canes are getting contributions from their forwards and defense while Ward is playing nearly as well as the Flyers' Martin Biron in goal.
"Carolina is one of the best teams in the East and their start shows it," Simon Gagne said. "Last year was a tough season coming off winning the Stanley Cup. They are still one of the most dangerous teams in the league. It's going to be a big test for us."
The Flyers likely will be facing tests for weeks on end, trying to prove they are a lot better than anyone thought and that this is not just a freak, fast start. Looking at the whole picture, the Flyers seem like the real deal.
Their goal differential is a league-high plus-15 and that tells you how defensively committed this team has been. Defense still wins in the NHL.
Briere said the Flyers have room for improvement in several areas, not the least of which is his line with Gagne and Mike Knuble, which is minus-2.
"Our line, personally, can do a little bit more," he said. "Another good thing has been the play of [Jeff] Carter's and [Mike] Richards' line and Jimmy Dowd's line. Big goals, key goals. That's another big plus to help us.
"There are still some breakdowns here and there with our line. There is still some chemistry that needs to be worked on."
Specifically, Briere said his line needed to instinctively know where each member is in the offensive zone. For instance, when Briere goes behind the net, he needs to know for certain where Gagne and Knuble are on the ice. He doesn't want to have to find them but to know instantly where they should be.
"There's been games where [the chemistry] has been really good, and the last couple of games not so good," Briere said. "But other guys stepped up and picked up what needed to be done, which is what good teams do."
The Briere line has not scored a goal on home ice.
So, how good are these Flyers?
"It's fun to be 5-1," Briere said. "We should be happy and proud of it, but we should realize there is a lot of time left here."
Loose pucks. Ben Eager (dizziness/vision problems) skated hard before practice with Scottie Upshall (broken left wrist) and then participated in the full Flyers practice. Eager said that he felt "pretty good," and that the vision in his left eye had cleared. He could play tonight . . . Upshall's hard cast is off. He is still two to three weeks away from playing, Stevens said . . . About 500 tickets remain for tonight's game ... Biron's goals-against average is third best in the league at 1.50. His save percentage of .951 is second only to Boston's Tim Thomas (.962).