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5 Stanley Cup Playoff Questions for the Philadelphia Flyers

by Photo of Gil Santos

Kurt R. discusses Craig Berube, Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers’ playoff chances, and more.

5 Stanley Cup Playoff Questions for the Philadelphia Flyers

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday and CHARGED.fm wants to prepare you for playoff hockey! To get you ready, we contacted bloggers for the 16 playoff teams and asked them five questions to give us more insight about the teams they cover. Here is Kurt R. of Broad Street Hockey talking about the Philadelphia Flyers and their playoff chances.

Despite starting the season a franchise worst 1-7 over an eight game stretch, the Philadelphia Flyers, under head coach Craig Berube, were able to put it behind them and clinch their 17th postseason berth in 19 years. After ditching Peter Laviolette for Berube after just three games, the Flyers started playing their best hockey, especially in the month March where they went 8-3-2. The Flyers concluded the season in third place in the Metropolitan Division with a 42-30-10 record and 94 points just behind their first round opponent New York Rangers. Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds had career years, reaching the 60-point mark for the first time and setting career-highs in goals. Claude Giroux will probably in the Hart Trophy conversation with an exceptional year of his own. The captain collected a team-leading 86 points and also paced the Flyers in assists with 58. 

The Flyers will be on the road to start the playoffs before heading back to Wells Fargo Center next Tuesday. To get a more in-depth look on the Flyers, I talked to Kurt R. of Broad Street Hockey and here's what he had to say:

1) In the early part of the season, the Flyers started out near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, which led to the firing of head coach Peter Laviolette. Assistant Craig Berube stepped in, the team turned it around and now they’re in the playoffs. What do you think caused the turn around? And would you give Berube most if not all the credit?

I think there are a whole number of factors that led to the turnaround. Guys who were struggling early on in the season either played better, started getting luckier, or both -- you can look no farther than the performance of their captain, Claude Giroux (no goals and seven points in his first 15 games, 28 goals and 79 points in his next 67 games), to sort of see that in a nutshell. There was some bad luck in the early-season start, for sure, but no doubt there were some guys who needed to play better (Giroux, Jakub Voracek, basically all of the team's defensemen), and most of them got it together. They've also stayed incredibly healthy this season while other teams have suffered a ton of injuries, and they've been excellent on both sides of special teams, which helps mitigate some lackluster 5-on-5 play at times (more on that in a second).

As far as Berube goes, I can't pretend that I'm an expert at breaking down and evaluating NHL systems, so stylistically speaking, I can't speak to a ton regarding what he's done that's made the team better. Other than the fact that as time has gone on, his players have probably become more acclimated to said system and have played better as a result. But he's been smart in how he manages a lot of things -- for example, he's given much more ice time than Laviolette did to the team's best defensive forward, Sean Couturier, which has allowed guys like Giroux and to a lesser extent Brayden Schenn to succeed in more offensive minutes. That's just one example -- but overall I'd say he's said and done a lot of the right things in his first year as Flyers coach, and he's got about as much as he can out of a roster that has talent but also obvious flaws.

2) What are your main concerns for this year’s team that could prevent the Flyers from making a deep playoff run?

My concerns boil down to a few things: a lack of great blueline talent, a lack of overall speed, and an overreliance on special teams. Regarding the first point, the Flyers have some defensemen who have played well -- Braydon Coburn has rebounded from a nightmarish 2012-13 season with a much better season this time around, Kimmo Timonen has been great in what may be the last year of his career, and newcomer Mark Streit has been on fire since the Olympic break ended -- but I'm not convinced the rest are good enough to make this whole thing work for three or four playoff rounds (I'm admittedly not as big of an Andrew MacDonald fan as many others are).

As far as speed, it's fairly evident when you watch the Flyers play that most of them just aren't very quick, and when they're playing against teams that do have a lot of speed and can win races to pucks and through the neutral zone, you've got to be excelling at just about everything else to win. And as mentioned above, the Flyers' special teams are great and have won them a number of games this year, but the adage goes that the farther you get in the playoffs, the more likely the refs are to put the whistles away. If the whistles are away, the Flyers are left at 5-on-5, where they've often struggled to keep up this season.

Oh, and the wild card -- as it often is here -- is goaltending. Steve Mason's put up a very solid first season in Philadelphia, but he doesn't have much of a long-term track record for success and we've been disappointed by guys who have looked good in bursts before, so I'm still wary (especially given that he might be injured coming into the series after a hit he took on Saturday against Pittsburgh).

3) Wayne Simmonds really stepped up his game this season, recording career-highs in points (60) and goals (29). What aspects of his game has he improved compared to the previous years?

It's interesting -- in a lot of ways, Simmonds seems pretty similar to me this year as he has in most years. He's a decent player at even-strength, though it does seem like he's been maybe a little stronger and more in-control of the puck than he has in his first couple years with the Flyers -- i.e. maybe relying a little more on a skill-based game than a gritty, grind-it-out style game, though he still does a lot of the latter. All of that said, Simmonds' calling card with the Flyers is and always has been the work he does on the power play, and what he's done there this year is nothing short of outstanding. We wrote about it a few weeks ago, but basically Simmonds this year has become maybe the best netfront power play guy in the entire NHL. That's a crazy thought, but watch any successful power play that the Flyers have, and no matter who's getting the puck to the net -- Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Scott Hartnell, etc. -- Simmonds is always, always there to either get in the goalie's face on the shot to screen him or to pick up the rebound and try and get a chance of his own. He's been good at that ever since he came to the Flyers -- but now, in his third year here, he might be the best in the league at it, and that's where the improvement has shown up the most.

4) In the first round, the Flyers will face their hated rivals, the New York Rangers. How do you see this match-up playing out?

I think the Rangers are probably going to have the upper hand in this series, and reasonably so. They've got a great combination of speed, talent and toughness that most teams strive to get, and in particular it's the speed part that worries me the most. They've got the talent to control play and make the Flyers chase the puck a bit at evens, so there are probably a lot of things that the Flyers will need to do in order to see this series go their way. They need to control the special teams battle -- get more power plays and convert more of them than the Rangers do. They need to get adequate goaltending -- asking Steve Mason (or Ray Emery, if Mason is indeed hurt) to come out and outduel Henrik Lundqvist is setting yourself up for failure, but Mason needs to at least play as he's capable of playing, which is to say he needs to play about as well as he has this year. And they really, really need to use home-ice to their advantage -- they've struggled a lot in Madison Square Garden in recent years, and they'll need to control their three home-ice matchups to make it such that they aren't staring a deficit in the face every time they head into MSG.

So there's a lot that they'll need to swing their way to win this one. And I think some of it will. But counting on them to get everything they need to win this series may not be reasonable. I'll take Rangers in 7, but not much would surprise me either way.

5) What is your overall prediction for the Flyers this postseason?

Well, as I said above, sadly I don't think the Flyers will make it past the Rangers. I think this is a decent team albeit one with obvious flaws that we've already talked about a bit. They're facing off with a really good team and getting past them is gonna be a tall task. But if they can do it, who the heck knows? It's the playoffs, and as we Flyers fans saw four years ago, some good play and good luck can go a long way towards a successful postseason. If they can sneak through the Rangers, they could end up with the Penguins in the second round. Ask any Penguins fan how much they'd like that matchup. And if they make it through there, then sure, the Bruins are probably waiting and that probably doesn't go well, but you never know, I guess.

So I don't think they're going too far, but this team has been amazingly resilient this year and has always rallied when things have looked rough, so they could maybe keep surprising us a bit longer. And even if not, I'm not too worried about it -- I decided back in December that literally no ending outcome for this season would surprise me, so whenever they do bow out, I'll live.

Kurt R. is an associate editor for SB Nation blog Broad Street Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @Kurt_BSH.

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