For as long as I can remember, the Philadelphia Flyers have been a physical team. In that sense, they’ve been a severely undisciplined physical team, which has sent them packing many a time in the early days of summer. However, this year the Flyers have something in their locker room that no team in recent memory has truly effectively possessed before them. This Flyers team has a checking line, and this Flyers team has a damn good checking line. The three some of penalty box mainstay Dan Carcillo, witty agitator Ian Laperriere, and face-off and penalty killing guru Blair Betts are three players that likely wouldn’t be many teams first selections if they were to build a Stanley Cup contender. Perhaps it’s for good reason: the three of them combine for a mere 180 goals over their careers. None are new-comers to the league, but Lappy and Betts are newcomers to Philadelphia. And boy, have they ever brought a jolt.
It’s something that doesn’t really get talked about until the playoffs roll around. We saw it with Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy a year ago, the steady checking forwards that a team features on the back-end of their lineup that aren’t by any means the most talented players on the team, but end up commanding so much attention that their opponents at times lose focus of the stars on a lineup’s front-end. What Talbot and company were to the Penguins last year, the Flyers checking line has been to the Orange and Black this year. In bringing a guy like Lappy in to the Flyers dressing room, so much more than a player was added. A leader, a well-respected individual, and a guy that likes to keep his teammates loose brings a whole other dimension to this club, one that I believe they sorely lacked the past few seasons. In adding Blair Betts, the Flyers made a move that, as Flyers announcer Keith Jones put it, “Is the type of move made by a championship team.” Jones says this – and I wholeheartedly agree with him – because of the fact that a guy like Betts is a master at face-offs, and an excellent Penalty Killer. Last year, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were noticeably worn down physically from all the time they spent out on the PK. Get my gist? With Betts in the line-up, he automatically spells Richards and Carter on the Kill, and thereby gives the Flyers another dependable body to assist what was already one of the league’s stronger penalty killing units.
Like I said, Betts, Laperriere, and Carcillo aren’t going to light up the scoreboard. In fact, here are their season stats to this point:
Betts: 10 Games Played, 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 2 Points
Laperriere: 17 Games Played, 1 Goal, 3 Assists, 4 Points
Carcillo: 17 Games Played, 2 Goals, 1 Assist, 3 Points
…Not much to cheer about offensively. But, as I mentioned, the Flyers rely on these guys in other ways to impact their hockey club. They provide a spark each and every time the Flyers are on the ice, and are a big reason why they’ve won 6 of their last 7 games as a team. Laperriere is teaching Carcillo to control his aggression and use it to his advantage, not as a detriment to the team. Betts has provided the calming 4th line center influence the Flyers have so desperately lacked. This group nearly ran a regular shift last night against New Jersey, and the Devils had no answer. If they continue their aggression and in your face style of play, the Flyers checking line will be a big reason why the Flyers should reach unprecedented heights this April, May, and – hopefully – June.