Steve Mason has been one of the Flyers leaders this season. His continuous solid play has helped the Flyers recover to the .500 mark. (Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com)
By virtue of a Tuesday night win, the Philadelphia Flyers once again hit a familiar marker: .500. Their 15-15-4 record through 34 games is certainly impressive considering the 1-7-0 they had to open the season.
Perhaps more impressive is that the Flyers sit just one point out of a playoff spot. After a 1-7-0 start, the playoffs seemed like a pipe dream for this bunch.
There is still something to be desired from this Flyers team, and no it is not just eclipsing the .500 mark.
The Flyers are a team that certainly looks build to score. It's been seen recently. In eight games in the month of December, the Flyers have scored four or more goals four times. There was a stretch of games in mid-November where the Flyers scored at least four goals in five of seven games. They have the capability.
Seldom does the team get routed by opponents. In only seven games this season have the Flyers lost by three or more goals.
And yet, the Flyers are one of the most fundamentally unsound teams in the NHL. A stretch of games starting in mid-November really has served as an identifier of this team's capabilities.
Some of the highlights since then: a 2-1 win against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins offense on Nov. 13, a 3-2 shootout win over Nashville on Nov. 30, the exhilarating comeback - and three-goal win - against Detroit on Dec. 4, and - with the exception of the final 10 minutes of Sunday's devastating loss - three straight successful games against top Eastern Conference teams in Montreal and Washington.
The lowlights have been some rather lackluster losses to Florida - 3-1 on Nov. 25 - Minnesota - 2-0 on Dec. 2 - Dallas - 5-1 on Dec. 7 - and Chicago - 7-2 on Dec. 11. Some of these losses have been a case of playing down to the opponent, taking the night off from the fundamentals that produced big wins. In others, it has been the simple fact of being out-played. Teams like Chicago will simply wear a team out.
For the Flyers, it's not about competing in the West right now. These games are valued tests of evaluation, where the Flyers stand at the time they play such teams. In December, the Blackhawks are on a completely different level.
But in some cases, you see the Flyers coming around. They are keeping the game simple and it is starting to pay dividends.
Matt Read was the first Flyer to hit the 10-goal mark this season with the tying goal on Tuesday night. He sat at four a month ago. In 13 games since, he has six and has added an additional five assists to his point total as well.
The past month has seen players like Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl continue to show potential. Couturier, now in his third season with the Flyers, didn't even have his first goal of the season a month ago and had just four points. Since then, he has six goals and 12 points.
Raffl, an undrafted prospect who came into training camp looking for a home, appears to have found a home on the Flyers top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. The 25-year-old rookie played a handful of games in October and early November ammassing just one point. Since his return to the lineup on Nov. 27, Raffl has two goals and seven points, all recorded in his previous seven games.
Raffl's presence has also helped energize his linemates. Giroux started the season slowly, finishing the month of October with six points - all assists. Since finally breaking his dry spell of goal scoring on Nov. 9, Giroux has seven goals and 13 assists since the start of November.
Voracek has been on a tear of late. Another Flyer who struggled out of the gate, it took Voracek until Oct. 26 to score his first goal. He finished October with that one goals and three assists. His struggles continued until Nov. 9, when he started a red-hot two weeks, scoring two goals and adding six assists in his next seven games.
Voracek recently snapped another scoring drought on Dec. 9. Since then, he's more than doubled his goal total, adding on five, and two assists as well - all in his previous five games.
The Flyers lone trade this season, sending Max Talbot to Colorado for Steve Downie, has proven to be a winner. A more-mature Downie has scored two goals and added 10 assists in his 19 games with the Flyers. Talbot has just two goals and four assists in 22 games with the Avalanche.
Perhaps one of the best things about the Flyers scoring burst recently has been doing it without Vincent Lecavalier. Lecavalier was clearly driving the Flyers offense with nine goals and five assists in 22 games. His last game was on Nov. 30. Since then, the Flyers have scored 24 goals in eight games.
With that spurt, the Flyers have gone from the lowliest scoring team in the league to 22nd in scoring, a moderate success given their scoring troubles to start the season. Defensively, the Flyers hover around the middle of the league, sitting in 14th.
At this point of the season, the Flyers continue to climb back into contention with improved play from skill players and a good net presence in Steve Mason. What has held them back from cracking the .500 mark is simple. They complicated their game with intense passing and over-thinking the fundamentals.
The Flyers tend to play best when they take the complexity out of the game, put aside the speed and creativity and focus on simply making the right play. That method will get them above .500 as they continue to push toward the midpoint of the season.