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Eagles could learn from Flyers

Don't tell that other team in town, but it can be done.

Don't tell that other team in town, but it can be done.

The Flyers are proving that you can radically remake your team, infuse it with youth, and see immediate success. Their coach, Peter Laviolette, is not making excuses about youth or about needing more time to jell.

That's because, with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and their shadows gone, Claude Giroux has blossomed into one of the game's best and most entertaining players.

It's because, with captain Chris Pronger injured, kids like Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall are playing good, sound defense.

It's because the big-splash signings, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and Jaromir Jagr, play as if they've invested their entire careers in this franchise.

Heck, if Bryzgalov has had a problem, it's that he cares too much. He was putting a lot of pressure on himself, and it translated into wobbly play early on.

Not lately, though. The Russian goaltender has begun to relax and get comfortable in his new gig. He has reeled off four wins in a row and, after saving the Flyers' 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh here Thursday night, Bryzgalov has his team at the top of the Eastern Conference.

"We want to get him going, get him playing, get him some games," coach Peter Laviolette said. "And this was a big game. It was for first in the conference tonight. We wanted to make sure our guys were ready, our goaltender was ready."

It was a better win than it appeared to the naked eye. The Flyers had played Wednesday night in Buffalo, coming from 3-0 down to earn a 5-4 overtime win that took a lot out of them. They came out with surprising energy just 21 hours later, swarming all over the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins.

That early energy led to a 3-0 lead before the skate blades dulled. Pittsburgh scored a couple of goals as the Flyers' legs started slowing down, but Bryzgalov withstood one last barrage.

Granted, the Flyers' place in the standings on Dec. 9 isn't as significant as the Eagles' place on the same date. There is a long way to go before the real season, the postseason, even begins.

But it's OK to say this Flyers team is as fun to watch as the Eagles are aggravating. They play with an infectious energy that has helped speed the development from collection of strangers to bona fide team.

It can be done.

"I think our team is starting to look more comfortable," Laviolette said. "There seems to be more of a rhythm for us. Guys seem to understand the system better. We said from the start that everything was going to take time. That goes from the goaltender's comfort level with what's in front of him, with the style that we play, and it moves out to the new players, the young players, the identity that we're trying to put forth."

That's the key word: identity. While the hurriedly rebuilt Eagles never seemed to find one, the Flyers' was like a page on a coloring book. You could see the rough outline right from the beginning, and now it is being filled in.

There is Pronger, who sets the tone for both teams when he is on the ice. There is Bryzgalov, who is a total original. There is Jagr, who seems to be enjoying every moment of his unexpected late-career renaissance. There is Danny Briere, who always gets better as the games get bigger.

Mostly, these days, there is Giroux.

In the summer, when Richards and Carter were traded away in two stunning deals on the same stunning day, it felt like when the Phillies traded away Bobby Abreu. Good players all, but Pat Gillick believed that Abreu's presence created an atmosphere that didn't allow the team's younger stars to fully assert themselves.

That may or may not be true. We'll never know. But Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins certainly did go on to do some terrific things after that deal.

The Flyers were a very good team with Richards and Carter as their cornerstone players. It was a big risk for general manager Paul Holmgren to move both. The hope was that Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier - in some combination - would grow to fill the void.

So far, so good. Giroux not only leads the league in points, he is one of the Philadelphia athletes most worth paying hard-earned money to see. Right there with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, only he plays every game.

It is a long season. Surely this team will hit some lulls. But it also figures to keep getting better as Laviolette steers it toward the postseason. It's not easy to shake up your team and live up to expectations, but it turns out it can be done.