Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Inside the Flyers: Flyers need to find their identity on the ice

So who are the 2014-15 Flyers, anyway? Come to think of it, that's one of their many problems: They don't have an identity.

Philadelphia Flyers head coach Craig Berube talks in the direction of center Claude Giroux. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)
Philadelphia Flyers head coach Craig Berube talks in the direction of center Claude Giroux. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)Read moreUSA Today Sports

So who are the 2014-15 Flyers, anyway?

Come to think of it, that's one of their many problems: They don't have an identity.

They aren't an offensively explosive team like Tampa Bay or Toronto. They don't play suffocating, in-your-face defense like Los Angeles or Chicago. They aren't speedy like the Rangers or Montreal, and they don't play a physical, hard-on-the-puck game like Boston or Columbus.

What they are is nondescript.

When last season started and Peter Laviolette was still the coach, the Flyers were known as a hell-bent, attacking team - which, besides a five-year, $22.5 million contract, was one of the reasons Vinny Lecavalier came here.

They took on a different persona after Craig Berube was hired early last season, using a defense-first mentality. Berube believed having all five skaters playing good defense would lead to offensive chances, and it's difficult to argue with the results. It took the Flyers a while to adjust, but they overcame the worst start (1-7) in franchise history and went 41-23-10 the rest of the way.

Between last season and this year, however, the Flyers have lost their identity - and showed just how much Kimmo Timonen, despite his advanced age, meant to the team.

"What's our identity?" winger asked Zac Rinaldo asked, repeating a question. ". . . Um . . . I don't even know."

He needed a few seconds to think about it.

"We're a hard-skating team. Some games, we have a hard forecheck and we have a hard-skating, puck-shooting identity," Rinaldo said. "Other games I think we're too timid. The identity we want to go for is hard-skating, hard-forechecking, and shooting lots of pucks, and just creating offense from our defense."

The Flyers did take a step toward finding an identity with a 4-1 win over mumps-affected New Jersey on Thursday. They did all the good things Rinaldo described; outshot the visitors, 36-18; and goalie Ray Emery called it "one of our most complete games of the year."

Back in the days of the Broad Street Bullies, the Flyers were known as a back-alley team that would do anything to support each other. That image camouflaged the fact that there were several great players on the team, including three future Hall of Famers.

Throughout the following decades, the Flyers didn't always have as many brawlers or elite players, but they were always one of the league's most physical teams.

This isn't to suggest that the Flyers need to go back to the style of their predecessors. But they do need some kind of positive identity - having too many underachieving veteran forwards doesn't fit that description - to keep them focused on their mission.

Berube wants the Flyers to get back to a defense-first mentality. The promotion of rookie Scott Laughton - a better defensive player than Lecavalier - is one of the steps the coach and general manager Ron Hextall made to try to get the team back on track.

Still, this team is too passive at times; it is frequently the less-aggressive team on the ice.  The Flyers' penalty minutes have dropped significantly - a league-high 14.4 minutes per game last season to 9.5 minutes per game, ninth-fewest in the NHL, this year. That's admirable, but it has taken away some of their intensity.

Teams can play aggressively and, at the same time, avoid dumb penalties.

The Flyers have done the latter but have had problems with the former.

"When we're playing our best, our team keeps things simple, grinds teams down, and gets pucks deep," winger Wayne Simmonds said. "I think that should be our identity."

The Flyers, whose identity in a couple of years will probably be based around their gifted young defensemen, are still evolving in a lot of areas - and until they play with sustained tenacity, like last year, they will still be searching for their calling card.

"We've got a couple of skilled players in 'G' and Jake; those guys are magicians with the puck," Simmonds said, referring to Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. "But I think for the most part, we have to be a simple team."

A team that needs to win more board battles than it has in the first two-plus months; a team that needs to get more balanced scoring; a team that, for all its inconsistency, is not out of the playoff hunt.

"We'll keep working on it, keep correcting it, and make it better," Berube said. "I believe in this team."

Even if its identity is still a work in progress.