The 2nd half of the Flyers' 2007-08 season begins tonite with a home game against the L.A. Kings. While the first half was a welcome departure from last season's woeful performance, there is still much to do in the 2nd half of the season. The Atlantic Division is hyper-competitive with the division leading Flyers being seperated from last place by only 5 points. The following are some of the issues that could impact the Flyers' performance down the stretch this season (in no particular order):
1.) With the success of Steve Downie, what happens when Joffrey Lupul returns?
Since Downie's recall on December 5th, Downie has gone on to record 8 points in 13 games. He's added energy and physicality to the lineup that wasn't there before and let's face it: I think opposing players don't quite know what to make of Downie. When Lupul went down, Downie moved up onto a line with Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell and the line looked like it didn't miss a beat.
Now that Lupul is returning, does Downie return to his 4th line role or does Lupul get shuffled onto either Carter or Briere's line? I think I'd leave Downie on Richards' line and move Umberger off of Briere's line to play with Jeff Carter, replacing Umberger with Lupul.
The lines would then look like this:
2.) So, what's with all of the Peter Forsberg talk?
I couldn't be more surprised, both positively and negatively, that Peter Forsberg is looking to get to the NHL with the Flyers.
I am happy that Peter liked his time here. It shows the league that Philly is a good place to play, despite what most (uninformed) national media thinks.
On the other hand, Peter's diva-like behaviour with his foot last season basically kept the team in neutral all last year and was a definite factor in the team's downfall. Does the lockerroom need the distraction if Forsberg has to traipse across the globe again because his foot doesn't feel quite right? Furthermore, what do you do with the lines if Forsberg comes back? That is a whole blog entry in and of itself.
I guess this is a bridge the Flyers will cross when they come to it (if Chuck Gormley is to be believed...and I say that he is....Forsberg coming here is a foregone conclusion), my guess is at least one forward will be dealt for defensive help(Knuble? Upshall?), one might move to another position (Jeff Carter's skills dictate he should be a wing, not a center) and another (Jim Dowd) will probably end up either on the street or with the Phantoms.
3.) Will Derian Hatcher's knee hold up?
Hatcher logs about 20 minutes of ice-time per night. Pairing him with the much faster Braydon Coburn has enabled the Flyers to get something out of the significant investment they made in Hatcher when they signed him a couple of years ago.
The problem with Hatcher is he's already missed time with a bad right knee and he's not getting any faster or younger. Why don't they give this guy a game or two off? It would allow his knee to rest and it would give Lasse Kukkonen some much needed ice time. Chances are, the Flyers won't be fully healthy on the backline dlown the stretch and will probably need Kukkonen at some point.
4.) What about the goalie situation?
I know that John Stevens won a Calder Cup with the Phantoms with Antero Niitymaki as his goaltender. I know that Stevens is the type of guy who definitely has a soft spot for his former Phantom guys (*cough*Randy Jones*cough*cough*), but why screw around with Martin Biron by playing Niitymaki so much lately?
The organization made a 3 year commitment to Biron as their goaltender, and in the beginning of the year, Biron kept the team afloat while they found themselves defensively. Now that the Flyers players seem more accustomed to one another, now is the time to establish Biron between the pipes and to quit screwing around with the guy's confidence. During the stretch when Niitymaki was getting all of the playing time, you could tell from Biron's body language and his play (leaving rebounds all over the place) that he was somewhat disengaged from things.
Let me be clear: I think Biron is the better goaltender overall, with his positioning and control of rebounds. Niitymaki probably is the better athlete and has better reflexes but does not have the command of the crease I think Biron has.
If Stevens played Niitymaki to give Biron some rest for down the stretch (Biron is a skinny little guy despite his height), I'm ok with that. If he did it just to nudge Biron, whose play was perhaps sagging, I'm ok with that too. But let's hope Stevens is not harboring delusions that Antero Niitymaki is the starting goaltender on this team, because he's not.
5.) What will it take to get past the New Jersey Devils?
God-forbid if the Flyers meet the Devils in the playoffs. They are 1 - 5 against the Devils and make guys like the Devils' Johnny Oduya look like Brian Leetch. The angst amongst local hockey fans will go off the charts if these teams meet in the playoffs..
Figuring out what it will take to get past the Devils is what will seperate this team from first-round also-ran to Cup contender.