It is tough to judge this early in the season how the Flyers are going to turn out. So many faces on the team are new and the Flyers have had some inconsistencies in this young campaign. There are things that look good sometimes, that turn bad a day later, and vice versa.
However, one thing that has been brilliant day in and day out for the Flyers is their first line. The line consists of the speedy and crafty Claude Giroux, the future hall of famer and offseason gamble, Jaromir Jagr, and Scott Hartnell who, well, is Scott Hartnell.
Most everybody expected Giroux to be doing pretty much what he is doing so far in the 2011-12 season. He is even exceeding those expectations. Giroux is tied for second in the NHL in points with Thomas Vanek, behind only the torrid Phil Kessel, and in goals Giroux ranks fourth.
Now, Giroux has talent, and he proved that last year. He can pass, score and he uses his body as if he were 220 pounds rather than 175.
But Giroux is not doing this alone. He is getting help from somebody who knows a bit about scoring himself: someone who has done it over 1,600 times in his storied NHL career. That someone is Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr was a huge question mark coming into this season. Everybody knew his brains and expertise would still be there, but would his 39-year-old body that had not played NHL hockey in three years? The answer is yes. In fact, at times this season, he is out skating the younger guys and outworking them for the puck.
Jagr is the second key to why this line is so effective. Giroux is the rising star, but Jagr is the slowly fading one that brings the experience along with all that talent. Sure, he is not what he used to be, but even that is still good enough to be one of the best players on the team.
The third key is the chemistry that links Giroux and Jagr. It’s almost like they know what the other one is thinking on the ice, and give credit to Giroux for thinking like a smart veteran.
The duo pull off moves and passes unmatched by many combos in the league this year. The lone exception may be the Sedin twins, but they are twins, and can do some incredible things on the ice.
The most refreshing thing about Jagr is that he does not have to score to be effective. He did not score until the ninth game of the season but he made his mark in other ways.
Jagr works hard on the fore-check and uses that large frame to protect the puck and look for the perfect pass. In those first nine games he tallied four assists, two of them on Giroux’s goals.
Many would have been fine with the way he was playing before he started scoring goals, given his age. But Jagr stepped it up to another level in the last four games, scoring five goals and assisting another two in that stretch. Not to mention he has been averaging around 15 minutes per game, which is about a minute more than James van Riemsdyk has been averaging, and van Riemsdyk is 17 years younger.
Jagr has shown he still has what it takes to play effectively at the NHL level.
The fourth key to the line’s success is Scott Hartnell, the agitator who can flourish when put with the right line mates.
And what better line mates than one who can pass and shoot and another who can pass, shoot, and will be a hall of famer?
When van Riemsdyk was on the first line, it just was not working. Maybe it was because three great scorers on one line was just too much.
Whatever the reason, when the lines were switched and Hartnell joined Jagr and Giroux, he took off offensively.
The extent of Hartnell’s scoring was two assists through the first seven games. In the last four, he has four goals and five assists, and it is not a coincidence that he broke out when he was moved to that line.
Giroux, Jagr, and Hartnell are the most consistently strong aspect of the Flyers right now, and one of the most productive lines in the NHL.
Between the three of them, they have tallied 16 goals and 21 assists so far, good for a total of 37 points. They are on fire, and there is no sign of them cooling down.
Kenny Ayres is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.