It's time for another edition of Fan Files, checking in with our Flyers fan writers to see what their thoughts are on the current season from a fan's perspective.
This week, we check in with FlyerRob, as he gives us his five gifts of Flyers Christmas.
So as we come into the Christmas holiday, people are excited about gifts that they are getting from each other. Let's take this time to unwrap some very recent gifts that the Flyers fans have obtained for this December month.
I am Passionate. I love my Orange and Black Flyers. So here are five gifts I feel they have given to me.
Shayne Gostisbehere – Anyone disagree that this is the top of the list, No. 1, best gift for the Flyers so far this year? Claude Giroux and Gostisbehere are a deadly tandem on the power play. Ghost dekes players out of their skates and people around the NHL are starting to take notice. Now some people will tell you that it is only a matter of time before the NHL gets a book on him. So what? At one point Scott Niedermayer was a new player in the NHL, but once they got a book on him, he continued to be an offensive defenseman and wound up on the NHL Hall of Fame. Besides having a long last name that is funny sounding and difficult to pronounce, the other obvious common denominator between Ghost and Niedermayer is their playing style. For coach Dave Hakstol, pulling the Orange and Black ribbon and tearing the wrapping paper off to find a Shayne Gostisbehere for the team had to make him giddy like a little toddler on Christmas morning getting a teddy bear. I recall an Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup championship team that had Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Sam Morin has been often compared to Pronger. If and when Sam Morin is ready to come up on the Flyers Blue Line, the day that Ghost and Morin are together in Flyers Orange and Black, well, the thought is almost too good to bear. In my last post, I stated that the Flyers had no heart or accountability. Well, Ghost has been the defibrillator that has shocked the life and blood flow in the heart of this team.
The recent offensive contributions of the second line of Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier and Matt Read – The Wayne Train has been rolling along. Simmonds has been red hot lately. You may have heard that success breeds success. Well it's absolutely true. As Simmonds has heated up, it has caused a ripple effect to Couturier improving his play and then it has caused Read to improve his play. That overtime game-winning goal from Read — wow. Who would have believed that Matt Read would have had the game-winning goal on his stick and the patience he had with slowing down and faking out Cory Schneider until he flinched and semi flopped on the ice opening up the top of the net for him to fire it in. Would Matt Read have been able to do that in October? November? No, he probably would have tried to pass it to Couturier and would have probably flubbed on the pass resulting in a transition goal for the Devils. This is another shiny gift that has unwrapped in Hakstol's lap. This relieves Giroux from feeling like he has to carry the whole entire offensive production of the Flyers on his shoulders.
The sudden "sticking up for one another" - Call me old school, but I prescribe to the school of thought of teammates self policing the other teams. I believe in a teammate dropping the gloves and fighting someone when he feels that an opponent may have taken some liberties on his fellow teammate. I know the NHL is trying to go away from fighting but, if you won't stick up for yourself or your own teammates, who will stick up for you? When Couturier was checked hard by Zac Rinaldo in October, someone should have made him pay for it. When Jarret Stoll elbowed Michael Raffl in the face, also in October, and he collapsed on the bench, accidental or not, someone should have jumped him out on the ice the next time Stoll was on the ice. Look, I have served in Iraq in combat. There is something to be said about teamwork and about having an “Us against the World” mentality that galvanize you hard as a rock. If someone from another unit messed with one of our guys, we had his back at all times, period. It didn't matter if that guy was a stiff or a moron, he was our stiff or our moron. Get it? Now, you may say the NHL is going away from the 1970's goon hockey and you're right. And I like 2015 NHL hockey over 1974 NHL hockey. But you cannot deny that ever since the Flyers started dropping the gloves and sticking up for one another that the Flyers suddenly have found the jam in their game. This is and will always be Flyers hockey. When Nick Schultz had that nasty, borderline-dirty hit from Dylan McIlrath of the Rangers, and Luke Schenn stepped in and started to pummel McIlrath for steamrolling Schultz, it sends a message that the Flyers are not the doormats of the NHL. It also fires up the fans. And most NHL fans still love fighting. It makes me wonder, just what did Hakstol tell his players to make them suddenly wake up and come together as a team?
The solid 1-2 goaltender tandem – The Flyers have a healthy problem, one that I foresaw from the moment Michal Neuvirth was signed in the off season. Which goalie do you start, Goalie 1 or Goalie 1A? At one point, there were three NHL-ready young goalies fighting for the No. 1 Spot in Washington: Neuvirth, Braden Holtby and Semyen Varlamov in 2010-11 season. All three were worthy of the starting Job. The Capitals have decided to hang their hat on Holtby and he is a very good goaltender. However, Neuvirth is actually good enough that he could be a starting goalie on some other NHL clubs. If you were the Edmonton Oilers, who would you rather have as a starting goalie: Cam Talbot, Anders Nilsson or Michal Neuvirth? Sure, in New York with the Islanders and in Buffalo with the Sabres, Neuvirth looked flatter than five-day-old soda. But this is why Neuvirth became so easily cheap. Kudos to the Flyers scouting team knowing that Neuvirth still had the potential and game in him like 2010-11 when he went 27-12-4 with a 2.45 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Those numbers are NHL starting goalie quality. Steve Mason had some hiccups and some mental toughness issues which hampered him in October and November, but Mason appears to be bouncing back to the stud goalie he was in the past with the Flyers. So now, Kim Dillabaugh has to be happy with this projected goaltending tandem that has been a gift.
Last but not least, the power play – Again, almost going back to the first gift with the insertion of Gostisbehere on that blue line, the power play has to put some excitement in the fans of the future of this team. Not to mention the fear instilled in the opposing teams when they take a penalty knowing that the Flyers have Giroux, Gostisbehere, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Simmonds, Michael Del Zotto and Couturier. The power play has gotten better lately and I am sure it has to do a lot with Ghost coming to the team. Don't get me wrong, Mark Streit is a decent power play quarterback and a decent defenseman, but he is in the back end of his 30s. I think the fact that Giroux has instructed Gostisbehere to keep shooting, knowing he is a young and impressionable kid and will do anything to stay in the NHL. The fact that Gostisbehere is doing what NHL veterans were not doing, firing the vulcanized rubber on goal and disrupting the flow in front of the net, has similarly been a defibrillator to the power play. He has helped jolt energy back into this critical heart of the power play. The assistant coaches, Joe Mullen, Gord Murphy and Ian Laperriere, who have a lot to do with the special teams play, have to be ecstatic about this gift.
I am thankful this holiday for these five gifts this month. I hope you enjoy the gifts you get from the Flyers, but also from family and friends.
Robert Wilson III, FlyerRob, is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @NAARobertWilson.