If anyone doubted a year ago that the Philadelphia Flyers were for real, those doubts have been silenced by the Flyers' remarkable showing this season.
At the three-quarters mark, the Flyers have compiled a 40-16-4 record. They trail Edmonton by only four points in the race for the President's Trophy and 200,000 extra dollars, and they enter Saturday afternoon's game against Washington with a nine-point advantage in the Patrick Division.
There are some astonishing statistics associated with the Flyers' continued success. Not the least is goaltender Bob Froese's league-leading goals-against mark of 2.66. Except for some questions about a recurring groin problem, Froese has shown he is capable of replacing the late Pelle Lindbergh.
Defensemen Brad McCrimmon, plus-70, and Mark Howe, plus-67, are the runaway leaders for the NHL's Emery Edge Award, leaving Oilers Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey several rungs below.
A cynic might claim that the Flyers' most amazing statistic is the 103 penalty minutes of defenseman Brad Marsh, who rarely seems to make a move without violating some portion of the rule book.
On the basis of impact on the record book, however, the most important statistic is the 28 power-play goals of Tim Kerr. In only 56 games -- he missed four with flu -- Kerr has equaled the NHL record shared by Phil Esposito (1971-72) and Mike Bossy (1980-81).
What's more, Kerr has done it without any assistance from the Capitals, a team he exploited last season for 12 goals in seven games, three on the power play.
It seems incredible that a man 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds could hide from the opposition on an ice surface that is only 200 feet by 85 feet, but Kerr has a knack of losing himself near the left post of an opponent's goal.
His success in extra-man situations ought to be enough to persuade any opponent to follow the rules, but the Flyers' 301 power-play chances refute that theory. So the Flyers, shortchanged 309 times themselves, merely make the opposition pay for its indiscretions, with Kerr the principal force.
"Tim has the ability to shoot the puck very quickly and he has good size and strength," said Flyers Coach Mike Keenan. "Those assets are very important to success on the power play."
Kerr quickly shifts credit to his teammates, notably Swedish rookie Pelle Eklund, who has assisted on 15 of Kerr's 28 extra-man goals.
"The guys on our power play have gotten me the puck all year, Pelle Eklund in particular," Kerr said. "The record is an honor, but it has to be shared by the whole unit.
"From last year to this year, Pelle is the difference. He has the ability to skate and handle the puck and he can always find the open man. It's a gift and he's got it."
Kerr, with 43 goals overall after two straight 54-goal seasons, would like to hit 29 on the power play Saturday, but the Capitals will be trying hard to maintain this season's shutout.
"We aren't doing anything differently against him this year, but I'm sure we're a little more aware of him," said Coach Bryan Murray. "I think our goaltending has been a factor. We've had some quality stops against him, where last year it seemed like he'd get a goal early and we'd be intimidated by him."
The Capitals will need to be more aware of Kerr Saturday because they may find him anywhere on the ice. Nominally a right wing, he plays left wing on the power play for better shooting angles and, during the previous two games, Keenan played him at left wing in equal-strength situations with the Sutter twins, Ron and Rich.
"I'm doing some experimenting in preparation for the playoffs," Keenan said. "Besides, anytime you can give an athlete a new look and a fresh set of problems, it makes him more creative and adds some interest to his season."
"It's different, but there's a lot of roaming going on out there, so it doesn't really bother me," Kerr said.
One thing that does bother Kerr is the fact that his plus-minus rating is a minus-8, with all those power-play goals discounted.
"I've been the same for two months," Kerr said. "I had a couple of minus-4 games early to put myself in a hole and I haven't been able to wipe it out. It's something I think about, because I don't want to be a minus player.
"It's tough making it up, because I'm out so much on the power play and that cuts down my regular shifts. Also, we seem to get a lot of penalties and we're playing shorthanded a good bit of the time."
In last night's NHL games, the Buffalo Sabres defeated the New York Islanders, 5-1; the Pittsburgh Penguins routed the Detroit Red Wings, 7-3; the Minnesota North Stars beat the Quebec Nordiques, 5-2, and the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 5-2.