x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Mixed starts for last year's Stanley Cup finalists

Philadelphia and Chicago are similar, but only the Flyers are winning, writes Sam McCaig.

Philadelphia Flyers’ Chris Pronger, right, seemed comfortable on the ice after a surgery.
Philadelphia Flyers’ Chris Pronger, right, seemed comfortable on the ice after a surgery.

Logically, the Philadelphia Flyers should be enduring a fate similar to that of the Chicago Blackhawks. After all, the two teams have a lot in common.

They both survived the NHL's two-month play-off marathon last spring, winning their respective conferences and making it to the Stanley Cup final, with the Hawks emerging triumphant in six games.

On paper, both the Flyers and Blackhawks should continue to be special teams this season, too, with talent and experience the trademarks of their rosters.

The Hawks, however, have barely played .500 hockey in the first month of the season. It has been a struggle. They have had to overcome a short summer on the heels of an intense play-off run; a dismantled roster (they lost several depth players due to salary-cap constraints); and, the fact that their opponents are keyed up to beat the defending cup champions when Chicago come to town.

The expectation, of course, is that the Hawks will eventually find their stride and rise again as a power in the West. But so far, the 2010/11 NHL campaign has been a challenge for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and friends.

The Flyers, meanwhile, cruised through the opening month of the season, ripping off a six-game winning streak and steadily climbing to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference.

This, despite the fact that they were fighting through some of the same challenges as Chicago. The Flyers, for example, were forced to start the season without Chris Pronger, their all-world defenceman who was recovering from surgery. Pronger did not miss too much time, but he had to jump back into action while still trying to shake off a short summer in which he could not do too much due to surgery rehabilitation and recovery.

Not that there is any proof of Pronger's rust - the Flyers are 8-4-1 with the linchpin defenceman in the line-up. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Philadelphia's fast start is that the Flyers - once again - are doing it with a big question mark in goal.

This is not anything new; the Flyers, perennial contenders for the past 20-plus years, have not had a bona fide all-star in goal since Pelle Lindbergh in the mid-1980s.

Last year, the Flyers made it to the final with a tandem of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

Leighton is a journeyman who was obtained on waivers from last-place Carolina in the middle of the season, and Boucher is a career back-up who saw his first NHL play-off action in a decade last spring.

It is not exactly Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk back there.