Flyers mid-season report card: where’s the defense?

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The Philadelphia Flyers hit the halfway mark of the season with two straight dramatic wins – first in a shootout and then in overtime – but still found themselves with a dismal 16-19-7 record, buried in the Metropolitan Division and nine points out of a playoff berth after their 41stgame of the season last Thursday (they have since dropped another decision, 3-1 to the Bruins Saturday).

While there were some standout individual performances and good stretches of hockey, overall it was a disappointing and underachieving first half and the Flyers’ grades in their Metro midseason report card will reflect so.

Forwards: C

The Flyers have the league-leader in points and assists in Jacob Voracek whose breakout season earned him an All-Star Game invite. Claude Giroux is fourth in the NHL in points and sits tied for second in assists – and he too will represent the orange and black in Columbus.

Wayne Simmonds has a team-high 16 goals and is second in the league in power-play markers. From there, it’s a steep drop-off in production. A lack of secondary scoring and inconsistency from almost every other forward except the aforementioned trio has turned the Flyers into basically a one-line team.

Defensemen: D+

This unit was expected to be the team’s weakness and unfortunately it has performed that way. The Flyers’ blue liners are consistently too slow in their own end, too carless with the puck and struggle to clear the zone and start the rush.

For a perplexing stretch in December there was a revolving door of healthy players entering and exiting the lineup based on performance. A complete overhaul of the defense is required for next season.

Goaltenders: B

Steve Mason has played exceptionally well but you can’t tell from his paltry 7-12-6 record. In his second season as the team’s starter, often he’s been the difference between zero and one or two points. Backup Ray Emery has performed adequately in his role and kept the team afloat by winning five of six games in October, when Mason got off to a rough start.

Don’t forget 33-year-old Rob Zepp carried the team to a 4-3 win over the Jets last month to become the oldest player in the league to win his debut since 41-year-old Hugh Lehman accomplished the feat in 1926. He is once again back with the squad filling in for the recently injured Mason. For the second straight season, this position has not been a problem for an organization that has had its share of them between the pipes.

Special teams: C-

The Flyers power play has remained one of the top units in the league — and is the best in the league at home. The penalty kill, which was tied with Buffalo for worst in the NHL, has cost the Flyers vital points.

Coaching: C

After taking over three games into last season when Peter Laviolette was fired, CraigBerube turned the Flyers into one of the best teams in the league during the final four months and helped guide them to a playoff berth. With essentially the same roster returning and one that has remained relatively healthy, the Flyers have failed to match that success this year.

Most of the blame lies with the personnel, but Berube has not proven he is a long-term answer behind the bench.

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