When it was announced that the Philadelphia Flyers would be one of the teams featured in this season's Winter Classic, the excitement surrounding the city and the fan base could be felt for weeks.
After all, Eric Lindros and his Legion of Doom line mate John LeClair, Bernie Parent, Bobby Clarke, and many more alumni were part of the lineup for the popular Winter Classic Alumni Game. The unveiling of the team's Winter Classic jersey was anticipated for weeks, and the now top-selling merchandise didn't disappoint.
However, most Flyers fans were excited for the free (well, for HBO subscribers) aspect of the Flyers' participation in the Classic; HBO's highly anticipated 24/7 series starring the Flyers and New York Rangers.
As you know, HBO cameras followed both teams around for a month, and were granted access to the team's locker rooms, team meetings, player's houses, and more. The footage they captured, along with the always tremendous editing and producing of HBO staff, allowed Flyers fans to get an up-close and uncensored look at their favorite squad.
The concept, production, and everything else about the series is great from a fan's persepective. However, allowing so many outsiders to have inside access to your team and its functions everyday for a month could possibly have a negative affect on the team.
So how did the Flyers feel, and fare, during their month in the bright spotlight?
“Yeah, we are all ready to say goodbye to HBO,” said head coach Peter Laviolette.
"Having the cameras around, the way (HBO) puts on the show for the last month is very different from what’s normal in the hockey world. And in saying that, HBO did a tremendous job of handling themselves with a ton of class and a ton of respect to our organization and what we need to do.” (Quoted from Courier Post).
Although Laviolette was one of the show's stars and his comments were respectful, he definitely seems relieved that the team doesn't have to deal with the possible distraction of the cameras and the attention.
Danny Briere shared his thoughts on the experience, and made some good points from the player's perspective, but he also seemed somewhat relieved that the team could get back to business without the cameras around.
“It’s something you gotta learn from,” Briere said. “It’s a good thing it happens now, halfway through the year rather than when we need a big win to make the playoffs or in the playoffs. I think we’ll learn from this.”
Briere had 9 points in 12 games in the month of December.
The month wasn't kind to every Flyers player though, especially franchise goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz stole the spotlight in the HBO series, but his play on the ice didn't match his ability to entertain the nation in December.
As a matter of fact, December was Bryzgalov's worst month as a Flyer. He struggled mightily towards the end of the month, and posted a goals against average of just 3.20 (the worst GAA in any of his three months this season). His .878 save percentage was his lowest for any month this season as well.
Although proving that the cameras were a distraction to the Russian net minder may be a tough task, one can at least subscribe to the theory that maybe Bryz wasn't at his best when HBO was in town.
To me, it seems like Bryzgalov struggled adjusting to a big hockey market like Philadelphia in the beginning of the season (3.15 GAA and .880 save % in October), then he started to feel comfortable (4-1-1 record, 2.52 GAA, .918 save %) in November. Once the cameras and possible distraction returned in the form of HBO's camera crews, Bryzgalov began to struggle once again.
Overall, the Flyers posted a 7-4-1 record while HBO was tagging along and fell to second place in the Atlantic Division behind their rival and HBO 24/7 co-stars, the New York Rangers.
Follow Buzz on Broad Flyers beat writer C.J. Burns on Twitter @CJBurns215