I DO believe in Ghost.
I do believe in Ghost.
I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, I do believe in Ghost.
As we enjoy the holidays and brace ourselves for yet another winter of uncertainty - thanks for nothing, Eagles - it would seem a grand idea to grab the end of our collective tails, squeeze them hard and channel those fearful but hopeful words uttered by the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz."
Yes, yes, the direct object was actually "spooks." But semantics aside, the specter of Shayne Gostisbehere still wearing a Flyers uniform into the new year is the best reason to believe the Flyers' recent 8-2-2 run has vaulted them from a woe-is-us entity and into contender-conversing status. There are others, as well, and we'll get to them, but first a word of caution about the recent stretch of good play - and a plea to general manager Ron Hextall to not go all Sam Hinkie on us when Mark Streit returns.
The Ghost, who has 14 points in 18 games and three overtime winners, stays.
Figure the rest out.
It's why you get paid the big bucks.
As for the good play: An 8-2-2 run is nothing to sneeze at, no matter whom you have played, and especially for a team whose shootout record is historically, notoriously, bad. Praise be the three-on-three, for the men in Orange and Black fare much better when they have all of their shooters on the ice at the same time, and not one by one. Particularly when one of the three is the Ghost.
By the way, is there any reason Gostisbehere should not be a permanent fixture in that shootout thing - the most ridiculous game-decider in all of professional sports?
How could he possibly give them less of a chance?
But enough with the negativity. The Flyers have defeated enough good teams during this stretch to argue in favor of its authenticity, most notably the two recent wins against the Blues, including Monday's thrilling rally from a 3-0 hole - the first time they've made up such a deficit in two years.
And if you are looking for a barometer to measure improvement, the two games they played with Ottawa are a good start. The Flyers lost, 4-0, to the Senators on Nov. 21, again making a star of the opposing goaltender, looking miserably impotent while firing 36 shots and losing their third game in a row.
Scroll 10 days forward and the Flyers beat this same team, 4-2, on Dec. 1 for their third win in a row. It also marked the seventh time in nine games they recorded at least a point, reversing a stretch in October and into November in which they lost eight of nine.
Wayne Simmonds, amid a start nearly as dismal as the more publicized one by Jake Voracek, scored the game-winner.
On Monday, he scored another two goals, giving him nine for the season. It also gave his line, constructed only four games ago, 12 points in that stretch. Particularly, it has seemingly ignited Voracek, finally. He has seven points over that four-game stretch, including his second and third goals of the season.
The potential re-emergence of the goal-scoring prowess of good-guy Voracek - a real ghost around the net for the first three months of play - could be as important as Gostisbehere's continued status as an NHL player into next year. Presuming Hextall does what's right for this team and not a future one, adding Streit strengthens them, as well. As much or more as Evgeny Medvedev finding his game, finally, over the last few weeks.
All that suggests this team is better than the first few months suggested. There is still plenty to be cautious about, of course. By now, R.J. Umberger might have joined the majority in the belief that he might never score again. There's a lot of pain there. Two of Sean Couturier's five goals have come since being paired with Simmonds and Voracek, but that contract extension he received last summer - six years, $26.6 million, an annual average cap hit of $4.33 million - implied a young player about to emerge as a star.
That hasn't happened. Not even close.
Indeed, the Flyers still skate each game weighed down by overvalued and unproductive players - several, like Sam Gagner, Umberger, Luke Schenn who are already on their last chance and thus untradeable. And their resurgence, while admirable, is tempered somewhat by the narrow margins by which victory has been obtained, and by catching better teams such as the Rangers and Blues amid slumps.
But that's nitpicking, especially in a sports atmosphere where the basketball team offers no hope, where the curtain has been pulled on our football wizard to reveal a flawed and possibly inept judge of talent, where you need prayers and a telescope to see the promise of the local nine.
This team appears to be our best shot at any kind of winning vibe,
So repeat after me, tail in hand:
"I do believe in Ghost. I do believe in Ghost . . . "
(Oh, and Merry Christmas!)