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Shayne Gostisbehere sparks Philadelphia Flyers’ rise but one more piece is needed

What the Flyers need now is a big, solid, stay-at-home defenceman who might not score much but who turns the blue line into a wall. That is their missing piece. They have a spark and need a rock, writes Rob McKenzie.
Jakub Voracek, right, of the Philadelphia Flyers is tied for 13th in the league with 24 assists through Thursday. Elsa/Getty Images/AFP
Jakub Voracek, right, of the Philadelphia Flyers is tied for 13th in the league with 24 assists through Thursday. Elsa/Getty Images/AFP

For a sports fan one of the most exciting times is when a team suddenly rises. Every now and then the pieces come together and a club leaps from the bottom third to the top third.

This has happened over the past month with the Florida Panthers in the NHL, who peeled off a franchise-record 12-game win streak that ended Monday in Vancouver and who are leading their division.

But what might be the next team to make the leap?

My vote goes to the Philadelphia Flyers. They have one weakness that needs fixing, but they possess a decent amount of talent and – most important of all – a great deal of cohesion.

Read more: Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin joins NHL’s 500-goal club in front of his Washington fans and family

After a poor start, the turning point for Philadelphia came on November 14 when they called up the little-heralded Shayne Gostisbehere from the minor leagues.

In his first game he assisted on the overtime winner. In his fifth and seventh games he went a step further and scored the overtime winner himself, and then as the team began to show spirit, he kept things going with a third overtime winner, this one against Carolina on December 15.

Gostisbehere is an offensive threat and is good at getting the puck out of his own zone; he has a spin move that creates space.

But he is not big by NHL standards (he ranks as the smallest defenceman on the Flyers by a good 14 kilograms) and he takes too many penalties while attempting to keep burly forwards at bay – for example, on December 30 his two third-period hooking infractions led to two San Jose goals in a 4-2 Sharks win.

What the Flyers need now is a big, solid, stay-at-home defenceman who might not score much but who turns the blue line into a wall. That is their missing piece.

They have a spark and need a rock.

They need a rock and might have a mountain: massive Sam Morin – 6 feet 7 inches tall and 102 kilograms in weight – who at 20 is developing his game with the Flyers’ farm team and who won gold medals with Team Canada at the world junior championships in 2013 and 2015.

On offence, Philadelphia have all the necessary parts: a star centre in Claude Giroux, a talented passer in Jakub Voracek (tied for 13th in the league with 24 assists through Thursday) and a crease-crasher in Wayne Simmonds.

As for depth, the second line – Sean Couturier, Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn – seems to improve with each outing. Couturier has 12 points in his past 11 games.

The goaltending – Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth – is adequate, and tends not to be the reason that Philadelphia either won or lost a game.

For now, though, what stands out about the Flyers is their cohesion under first-year coach Dave Hakstol.

Players who stick together will not quit even when behind. Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Boston was the fourth time this season that Philadelphia won a game in which they had been trailing after two periods. Last season, they did it three times total.

The Flyers are riding a four-game win streak at the season’s mid-point and have reached the brink of playoff contention. But regardless of whether they reach the post-season, the Flyers have become a plucky team that opponents must be wary of.

They just need one more piece.

rmckenzie@thenational.ae

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Updated: January 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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