Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thoughts on an interesting 2014 for the Flyers

by Rob Riches
Phanatic Hockey Writer
Twitter: @Riches61

Calendar year 2014 is set to end in just a matter of weeks, subsequently ending one of the more interesting years in recent Flyers memory.

As is usually the case with the Flyers, it was a year that provided plenty of excitement, while also providing more than its fair share of heartbreak. 

Within the span of 344 days, the team saw five players participate in the Sochi Olympic games (with Kimmo Timonen earning the team’s lone medal, a bronze as part of Team Finland), returned to the playoffs (yet ultimately lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers in seven games), hired the seventh GM in franchise history by bringing a two-time ex-goaltender back home, traded a fan favorite for a familiar face, assumed two local teams as minor-league affiliates and witnessed Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux earn spots among the NHL’s top point scorers.

At times throughout the year, the Orange and Black under Craig Berube proved to be an exciting team to watch. They repeatedly showed a flair for the dramatic, by setting a franchise record for most wins when trailing in the third period -- thanks to a tenacious, unwavering style of play. Yet they also proved to be quite a frustrating team to watch, courtesy of the shaky, fragile defense that Steve Mason has been charged with bailing out on a night-to-night basis, as well as holding some of the league’s poorest possession numbers.

With 20 days left in the year, the Flyers will play 10 more games, including Thursday’s contest against New Jersey which kicks off the final home stand of the year, a four gamer which might be the most crucial stretch for head coach and players to this point. They’ll close out their 2014 slate as they opened it: on the road, clocking in with an eight-game cross-country jaunt that sends the Flyers all across the continent in all four directions and spans into the early days of January. 

One of those stops will be in Nashville on Dec. 27, where the Flyers will face former coach Peter Laviolette for the first time since his firing on Oct. 7 of last year -- their first game against Laviolette since Nov. 28, 2008 when he was still entrenched as head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. 

But focusing on what the rest of 2014 has to offer won’t help the Flyers in the new year, as they look to push for a second consecutive playoff berth and repay some faith Ron Hextall has shown by not moving to make quick fixes. 

As of Thursday, the team sits in sixth place with a 9-13-5 record, and has fallen seven points behind Washington for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. Their 23 points are good enough for seventh in the tight Eastern Conference wild card race -- Boston, which currently occupies the second wild card spot, has 31 points. However, their collective play has been called into question and the man behind the bench has come under fire despite his bosses backing him up in public. 

This newest bit of drama has taken away from the worry that top-flight defensive prospect Shayne Gostisbehere, who suffered a torn ACL in a Phantoms game, might not be the same player following surgery that he was before -- the team leader who guided Union College to a national title just eight months ago.

Sure, the end of any physical year is seemingly insignificant in the NHL season. The pages on the calendar may be different, but the competition on the ice remains the same. Each team moves closer to their goals of hoisting the Stanley Cup, or continues to hold out for promising early talent in the NHL draft. For Philadelphia, its goal still lies somewhere in between, with ultimate resolution waiting in the opening days and weeks of 2015.

As was the case in 2006, 2014 wasn’t the best year that Flyers fans experienced in recent times, but it also wasn’t the worst that they endured. Regardless, it’s been quite an interesting, up-and-down year for the team. These last 10 games will close the book on this interesting course, and if the recent past is any indication, may provide and set up further intrigue.

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