Originally posted on Beating The Buzzer  |  Last updated 11/25/11
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BY: DUSTIN POLLACK

Thursday, June 23rd 2011. In just one day, the Philadelphia Flyers changed the entire make up of their franchise.

Out was captain Mike Richards and leading-scorer Jeff Carter and in was what the Flyers had seemingly needed for years, a proven goaltender. Ilya Bryzgalov came to Philadelphia with a great track record and was supposedly the one who could put an end to the merry-go-round of puck-stoppers who minded the nets in Philadelphia for years. Most recently, during the 2011 playoffs fans watched three different goaltenders attempt to lead the Flyers to the top of the NHL. All three played a part in the Flyers demise and early second round exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins, the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

So in just one day the Flyers went from a team that relied on depth scoring to one that was committing itself to a game-stealing goaltender. A commitment that cost the franchise $51 million over nine years.

Both Carter (left) and Richards (right) were first round draft picks of the Flyers in 2003.

Some felt it was the right move, in that goaltending was the one thing keeping the Flyers from being an elite team in the NHL, while others felt trading both Richards and Carter would leave too big of a hole up front.

It’s now November 25, 2011 and twenty-one games into the Philadelphia Flyers season. The Flyers currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference and are just one point behind the conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. Meaning that Paul Holmgren’s decision to build a team around its goaltender is ostensibly working right?

Not so much.

Ironically the Flyers are winning in spite of their goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov’s statistics are among the lowest in the league. An .895 save percentage and a 2.89 goals against average. Not comparable to the numbers he put up in Phoenix when he was arguably the lone reason the Coyotes made the playoffs in back-to-back years.

And the goal scoring that was supposed to take a dive with the loss of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter? It currently leads the NHL averaging 3.67 goals per game.

But how does a team that supposedly lost two of its best players look better offensively without them?

Claude Giroux in on pace to score 42 goals and 104 points this season.

First and foremost, the play of Claude Giroux. In just his fourth NHL season, the 23-year-old Giroux has gone from being a piece of the Flyer offense to the backbone of it. He’s second in the NHL in scoring with 27 points (just three behind league-leading Phil Kessel) and he’s found tremendous chemistry playing alongside Jaromir Jagr, who himself is having an impressive comeback season with 17 points.

But to fill the gap left by two top players the production needs to come from various avenues. Playing major contributing roles are Daniel Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Scott Hartnell.

After an average sophomore season in which he recorded 21 goals and 40 points, van Riemsdyk broke out in the post-season last year with seven goals in 11 games. And he’s continuing to build upon that performance this year. With eight goals and eight assists in 21 games it appears van Riemsdyk may surpass his point totals from last year by the half waypoint of this season.

But, perhaps the most pleasant surprise in Philly however, has been forward Matt Read. The undrafted 25-year-old is in his first NHL season and is on pace to score 39 goals and is averaging over 19 minutes of ice-time per game. While Read won’t likely be able to maintain his pace, it’s performances from a player like him that’s allowed the Flyers to feel like they don’t miss Carter or Richards.

The Flyers will be an interesting story to follow the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs assuming they secure a spot in the Eastern Conference’s top-eight.  While their offense is filling opponents nets, their goaltending is struggling and it only makes you wonder whether the Flyers fortunes be any different than in years past come playoff time.

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