PUTTING THE BAD START IN PERSPECTIVE
Whenever a hockey team starts a season winless in its first three games, there is a lot of blame to go around. It’s easy to point fingers at individual scapegoats rather than focus on lapses in team play. It’s even easier to ignore any positive steps a team has taken when the end results have been unfavorable.
The Philadelphia Flyers cannot afford to do that. They can’t feel sorry for themselves — other teams certainly don’t feel sorry for them — that all three games played to date have been winnable ones in the third period. The team can’t worry about what the fans think or what the members of the media (myself included) write. From an inside-the-dressing-room perspective, it is more important than ever for the team to look at areas they can use as building blocks for Tuesday’s game and beyond.
Flyers assistant captain Wayne Simmonds, who has far and away been the team’s best player in the first three games, noted before Saturday’s game that the club showed both last year and against the Bruins and Devils that they can come back in games they trail. Sometimes, they can even come back in a hurry from multi-goal deficits.
After Saturday’s morning skate, Simmonds and Claude Giroux both stressed the importance of the team getting off to a good start against Montreal and playing from in front. The team did just that. Apart from building a 3-0 lead, the Flyers got the better of puck possession and scoring chances for the slight majority of the first period and virtually the entire second period against a speedy and talented Montreal team.
What happened in the third period, however, was flat out unacceptable. The Habs, to their credit, threw everything they had at the Flyers. Rather then bending, the Flyers broke. There were no counter-punches. No one — no forward line, no defense pair, no individual player except besieged goaltender Ray Emery — stepped up to deliver a clutch play or a stabilizing shift or two.
Hell, the Flyers even quit defending. They didn’t even try to skate. Mostly, they stood around helplessly as the Habs attacked and attacked and attacked. No one in an orange jersey even seemed to want to puck. The disc was handled like a hot potato, and the parade of turnover (both forced and unforced) was dizzying.
That, to me, was the biggest disappointment from Saturday’s game. Emotionally tough losses happen, along with blown leads. A team shrinking back in fear and losing its competitiveness should never happen.
The first order of business for the Flyers now is to make sure they compete for 60 minutes. That doesn’t mean they’ll always get the better of play or have favorable outcomes. It doesn’t mean mean there won’t be mistakes. It simply means playing through them and not being afraid. Simmonds said after Saturday’s game — and he was absolutely right — that the team has played well in spurts in the three games thus. That’s not good enough.
As far as the outside perspective goes, well it is not hard to spot weaknesses on the club.
Let’s not sugarcoat things: First and foremost, it is obvious even to a casual observer that the Flyers lack top-end defensemen. That issue is even more glaring with Braydon Coburn (lower body injury) out of the lineup. Everyone is forced to play a bigger role than he is ideally suited to playing.
This team would look a hell of a lot better on paper if the clock could be turned back to 2010 and the defense had a still-healthy Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen anchoring the first and second pairs. Alas, that is impossible. The Flyers blueline is what it is, and the club will have to find ways to work with what they have. That’s just the reality.
Rushing prospects like Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hägg to the NHL is more likely to hurt those players’ pro-level development than it is to help the team. On the trade front, no NHL team is looking to trade its own reliable starting defensemen except when they are in dire straights on the salary cap. The Flyers themselves are in a bad cap situation, which meant they are in no position to be buyers in the rare autumn scenario when a player like Johnny Boychuk becomes available at the cost of draft pick assets.
The way around a mediocre blueline is to work to be a better skating team, maintain a high level of teamwide two-way play and have a high level of puck support with good gap control and short-range passing options. Note that all of this is team focused.
The Flyers defensemen need to be better at the things they are supposed to do well. Meanwhile, the forwards do not simply get a pass, either. The defensive support from the Flyers forwards has been sporadic in the first three games. At the offensive end, the team has to be a little more opportunistic as well.
Even in Saturday’s game, there were opportunities to blow the game wide open before the third period. A 3-0 lead should be enough to win but there were chances to extend the lead even further before the second intermission. Frankly, with the Flyers came out in the third period, I’m not absolutely positive they’ve have won the game even with a 4-0 or 5-0 lead but it sure wouldn’t have hurt.
One final thought for now: The Flyers received excellent goaltending from Steve Mason in the opener and Emery on Saturday. In Thursday’s game, Mason was average. However, only the fifth goal he yielded was one that could be fairly categorized as stoppable.
Good goaltending can cure a lot of ills but the team in front of the goalie has to help him out a lot more consistently than the Flyers have done in the last two third periods they’ve played. These are all things within the team’s control.
The players and coaches can’t magically make a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman appear on the roster (neither can Ron Hextall). They can’t dwell on the negativity of the segment of the fan base that is often only happy being miserable. They can’t control what the local and national media and the TV pundits say. All they can do is come out, play the game the right way and compete as a team.
The team did not do that in the third period on Saturday. They have only themselves to blame.
************* FLYERS PRACTICE DAY AND INJURY UPDATES
The Flyers took a CBA-mandated complete off-day yesterday. They will return to practice today at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn is slated to visit with a specialist this morning and a timetable for his return from a lower-body injury should become a little clearer when Ron Hextall provides the next update on the player’s status. Additionally, Vincent Lecavalier is dealing with an apparent foot injury.
Yesterday, 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin suffered a broken jaw after taking a puck to the face in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game. Morin actually got back to his own feet and skated off the ice with the Rimouski trainer pressing a towel to his face, but it was obvious the puck had caught him flush. He will undergo surgery today.
Today’s blog will be updated after the Flyers practice.
This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.