GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Flyers had no players among the league's top 36 scorers entering last night.

As a team, they ranked third in the NHL with an average of 3.5 goals per game.

In other words, balanced scoring has been one of the ingredients in their early-season success.

"We're a team that's kind of built our scoring by committee," coach John Stevens said after practice the other day. "We don't have anybody in the top [scorers], which we're totally comfortable with because we think our defense contributes a lot."

When the Flyers lost Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul in the off-season, the club knew it needed others to step up if it was going to make a Stanley Cup run.

The plan was for Danny Briere and Claude Giroux to replace the combined 52 goals scored by Knuble and Lupul. Briere, who missed most of last year because of injuries, has done his part; he had eight goals in his first 15 games this fall.

But Giroux, who scored nine goals in 42 games last season and seemed destined for at least 20 goals this season, had struggled to find the net before scoring two goals Friday. He has contributed in other ways - his dazzling passing, his strong defensive work - but he managed just one goal in his first 18 games.

No matter. Others have contributed. The defense, which was last in the NHL in scoring last season, has four players seemingly headed for 40 to 60 points: Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn.

In addition, the emergence of James van Riemsdyk and Darroll Powe has helped offset the loss of the injured Simon Gagne (34 goals last season) until at least next month.

If before the season you were told the Flyers would have a combined two goals from Gagne and Giroux in the first 18 games, you would have thought the team would be struggling for offense.

Yet . . .

Entering the weekend, Washington and Atlanta (Atlanta!) were the only teams averaging more than the Flyers' 3.5 goals per game. Last season, the Flyers averaged 3.17 goals per game.

Carle said Pronger - he of the wicked slapshot - "obviously adds confidence to our D corps, but we lost some scoring up front over the summer, and I think we're putting a little more emphasis on our back end and getting involved offensively. The forwards are using us more on the cycle and getting the puck up top, and we're doing a better job of getting the puck to the net - and that creates more offensive chances."

Pronger, Carle, and Timonen are among the NHL's leading defensive scorers, and the team's power play has been No. 1 in the NHL for long stretches in the first seven weeks.

The Flyers share the wealth on the power play, using two strong units. And they are getting surprisingly strong production from their third and fourth lines, giving opponents more to worry about than the Jeff Carter and Mike Richards units.

"We play all four lines this year a lot more than we probably have in the last couple years," Stevens said, "so that allows those guys to get involved in the secondary scoring and take some of the hard minutes away from" Carter and Richards.

"We try to define some roles for those third- and fourth-line guys, and they've done a great job of contributing - and not just defensively, but by putting some pucks in the net as well."

Stevens says the Flyers were built like the 2004-05 Phantoms team he directed to the AHL title.

"We won 17 in a row early in the year and we didn't have one guy on the team who was in the top 25 in scoring," he said. "But we had five defensemen that could all get up ice and get involved in the offensive attack. It was a similar team in that the sum of its parts was greater than the value of the individual parts. That's how we see our team."

Powe, who has played center and wing, has been one of the lower-line catalysts. He entered last night with six goals in 19 games; last season, he finished with six goals in 60 games.

The Princeton University product said last year was a learning experience.

"Even just being more comfortable around the guys this year helps, and being on the ice in different situations last year gives you confidence," he said.

Powe said he now feels as if he belongs in the NHL. So does hotshot rookie van Riemsdyk, who scored at least a point in 13 of his first 16 games. The blossoming of those two players, production from the third and fourth lines, and increased scoring from the defense have offset the temporary loss of Gagne and the off-season subtractions of Knuble and Lupul.

Now if they can just get Giroux to blossom into a consistent scorer . . .

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Blog response of the week

Subject: Did Dave Schultz deserve to go into the Flyers' Hall of Fame?

Posted by: sugardoc54 at 12:31 p.m., Nov. 14

One does not have to be a prolific scorer to be valuable to the team. Dave Schultz was more to the Flyers of the Cup years than anyone. He, Kelly, Saleski, Dupont, and the so-called "role players" were the reason the team won two Stanley Cups. He definitely should be enshrined in the HOF and remembered forever as a Flyer.EndText