Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)
No team in the NHL has depended on rookie players for offense more heavily this season than the Philadelphia Flyers. Part of it is due to injury, as players such as Jaromir Jagr, James vanRiemsdyk, and Danny Briere have all missed some time to injury, but much of it is also by design.
Heading into the 2011 off-season, the Flyers were looking to change the culture in their forward ranks. So, in a flurry of off-season trades and signings, the team massively overhauled their roster. The result was an immensely talented group of players with widely varying degrees of experience and the potential to be explosive offensively.
Fast-forward 65 games into the regular season and the Flyers lead the league in scoring with 211 goals, or 3.25 goals per game. Not surprising given the talent level on the roster, but what is eye-catching is the amount of offense that has come from first-year players. Of the 211 goals scored by the Flyers, 46, or 21 percent, have come from first-year players. To put that in perspective, no other team even has a combined 30 goals scored by rookie players, the closest being the Ottawa Senators with 27 and the Colorado Avalanche with 25.
Of the 46 goals, 37 have been scored by three players – Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn. All three couldn’t be more different in age, style, and how they are used but have all been extremely effective at the NHL level. The Flyers have not been afraid to heap responsibility on them as the season has progressed.
Headed into the post-season, there will always be concerns over whether or not first-year players will be able to properly adapt to the higher intensity level of the playoffs, though that does not appear to be a major concern for this group of rookies. Their biggest first-year contributor, Matt Read, is 25-years-old and physically mature enough that he could have a similar post-season impact as Brad Marchand did in 2011 and former Flyer Ville Leino did in 2010.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a nine-game scoring drought in a 4-1 win last night over the New York Rangers. The 28-year-old winger played an inspired game, opening the scoring just 49 seconds into the game and managing eight shots on net. Andy Greene returned to action after missing a game because of back spasms. Greene looked strong, playing 21:06 and managing an assist. Veteran forward Partick Elias also picked up a goal and an assist last night, giving him three goals and two assists in his last four games.
New York Islanders – The Islanders 2011 first-round pick Ryan Strome (OHL) picked up five goals on March 4th against the Erie Otters. The Otters lost their goaltender Ramis Sadikov just 1:45 into the game, forcing forward Connor Crisp to play goalie. In almost three periods of play, Crisp allowed 13 goals. As far as Strome goes, he also managed an assist in the game, and now has 28 goals and 36 assists through 40 games.
New York Rangers – Captain Ryan Callahan returned to action Tuesday night when the Rangers took on division rival New Jersey. Callahan played his typical, no-nonsense, physical style of play, and looked to have little problems from his injured foot. Forward Derek Stepan extended his hot streak last night to four games, giving him two goals and three assists over that span.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers received more bad injury news when Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall laid a devastating hit on winger Jakub Voracek. The Flyers winger appeared dazed after the hit and did not return to play. He was said to have stitches in his upper and lower mouth. Jaromir Jagr also left the game with what was said afterward to be a hip injury.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Forward Dustin Jeffrey missed his second straight practice with flu-like symptoms. He will be a likely scratch for tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Captain Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact though there remains no clear timetable for his return.