Philadelphia Flyers Not a Playoff Team
Now 5-9-0 in games against the current playoff set, acrimoniously booed off the Wells Fargo Center ice after a sadsack performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves at a crux. Are they a playoff team?
Is this team, that needs to be bailed out by magical timeouts on a daily basis, that can only play 20 minutes on any given night, that cannot get the big save when they need it, a playoff team?
Simply put, no. The team is a smidgeon above .500 (6-4-1) against non-playoff teams. 0-5 when tied after 2. Only one win when trailing after 2 periods of play. Only 3-6-0 against Atlantic Division foes, including 1-2 against the hated New York Rangers. They can't even secure a pity point to even try and make a run.
Does this sound like the making of a team poised for the playoffs? On second look, not even close.
The Flyers continue to say that they don't know why they aren't giving a 60 minute effort. They don't know why they lose leads. They don't know why it comes down to timeouts. They don't know why they are where they are. That tells anyone from the outside they don't know how to fix the problem.
"When we get the big lead, we seem to sit back and wait for the game to end and we're not a team that can sit back and wait," Kimmo Timonen said. "When we do that we seem to stand still and give up easy goals."
"The score should never change your game. That seems to be an issue for us."
Grizzled veteran goaltender Brian Boucher had no answer as to why they gave up the big lead and let their foot off the gas. Captain Claude Giroux echoed that sentiment after the game Thursday. The prevailing answer—"we let two points slip away." Yeah they did. The team collectively embarrassed themselves on their home ice.
"The effort is there," a soft-spoken Giroux said. "We need to execute out there. We know what we have to do."
This team recognizes a problem exists. They know something must be fixed from within, or else this season will pass them by without any chance to play for the ultimate prize. Perhaps the best part is the pain will be short with a lockout shortened season.
"Being able to finish off games, I think we need to do a better job than what we have this year to this point," coach Peter Laviolette said.
The team's issues may very well be systematic. Laviolette institutes an uptempo, aggressive forechecking scheme that if the team fails to keep up the intensity, defensive breakdowns abound, and the team falters. This team's subpar, underperforming defense (25th in GA/G) can't clean up the mistakes that the streaky forward group create.
Relieving fan favorite Laviolette mid-season may not fix much, but it may prove to be a step in the right direction towards finding a coach better suited to coach this team. Players should not have to rely on a timeout on a nightly basis to make up for their shortcomings.
Timonen has lost a step. Braydon Coburn is nowhere near where he was in years past. Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster have proven to be mediocre fill-ins. Luke Schenn has been good, but maddeningly terrible in some games. Nicklas Grossmann has proven to be the Flyers' best defenseman, leading the league in blocked shots and registering 63 hits in 25 games.
Do they want to make a move for a top-flight defenseman or a top-six forward? They can't. Every team craves Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier. Paul Holmgren loves them, and he will not part with them. Dangle Jakub Voracek and Matt Read all he would like, but he won't get that big piece he wants with those assets.
That's not detracting their value as hockey players, either. To get quality, one must give up quality. Either Schenn or Couturier must go to make this team better than it stands currently, otherwise things get ridiculous.
The cap situation is a mess. Chris Pronger being on Long Term Injured Reserve for the next six seasons keeps his ballooned 35+ contract value off the books, but in turn, the Flyers must take on the full value of incoming contracts during the season. Those contracts would normally be pro-rated, or, in a word, cheaper, if there are no players on that list. That takes any mid-season acquisitions out of the solution.
The salary cap decreases after this season to $64.3 million, and the Flyers have two amnesty buyouts as a result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. That will provide relief, depending on who they choose to buy out.
A top-flight free agent like Anaheim's Corey Perry may fix things, but he will cost a pretty penny because he will be the key target of every team in the entire league looking for that highly coveted top six forward. Perry may not even make it to open market if he works out a deal with the Ducks. This may not even be an option.
As the standings look currently, the Flyers have played significantly more games (25) than every team in the Eastern Conference, except for Toronto. Sure, the Flyers are 4 points out of a playoff spot behind the 8th place Rangers. However, the Rangers have played three fewer games.
The Flyers' next opponent on Saturday, the Boston Bruins, have only played 21 games this year, racking up 33 points. The Flyers, through 25 games, only have 23 points. To make matters even better, the Bruins are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, including a 4-2 win over Toronto on Thursday. Good luck catching them, let alone the top eight in general.
If anything is to change, it starts with two wins in the back-to-back against the Bruins and the faltering Buffalo Sabres. As if the Flyers needed any good news about their schedule, the next week features a home and home with the New Jersey Devils—a team that they have very little success against.
If this team does not turn things around quickly, they are destined to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.