PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – A common theme this season for the Flyers has been must win games. They’ve said it before and after several games this month and after a humiliating 5-2 loss to the eighth seeded Rangers, it was re-iterated by several members of the team. But how long can they use the same tired mantra.
Back in mid-March is when Flyer’s netminder, Ilya Bryzgalov made the statement about going into a home-and-home against the New Jersey Devils, “You lose both games, you are done. You are done. That’s it. This is it. This is, probably, the reality.”
They didn’t lose both games versus the Devils, taking one of them in the shootout, 2-1, but their record since he made the quote has been 1-3-1, and they now sit 14th in the Eastern Conference, 7-points back from the eighth and final playoff spot, with only 16-games remaining in this shortened season.
That means, mathematically speaking, the team is still in the playoff hunt, but they’ve failed to win more than two-games in a row all seasons, and they haven’t won back to back games since the start of the month of March. For the struggling Flyers, it seems like an insurmountable task.
More often than not, the goaltending in Philadelphia is criticized for the team’s failures, but Bryzgalov has been the team’s best player, for much of the season. He’s made critical saves, and kept the team in games they shouldn’t have had a chance at. In Tuesday night’s tilt, he kept the Rangers off the board for nearly all of the first period, while the defense in front of him was dismantled by the blue-shirts top line of Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Flyer killer Rick Nash. The Stepan line got off to a quick start, roughly 25-seconds in, as Stepan sent a pass to Hagelin behind the Flyer’s defense, sending Hagelin in all alone. Bryzgalov snatched the puck out of mid-air with his catching glove to keep the Rangers off the board.
Bryzgalov kept his team in the game for nearly 15-minutes, before veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who was celebrating his 1000th NHL game, left the puck behind the net for his defense partner, 23-year-old, Luke Schenn, who skated the other way on a mis-cue, allowing Ranger winger Hagelin an easy chance at the puck. Hagelin wasted no time setting up Nash, who finished the night with 2-goals and an assist.
The second period saw more of the same, as the Rangers took a 3-0 lead. After the third goal, several Flyers appeared to be skating in quick sand.
“I think it always comes down to individual preparation; you’re either ready or play or you’re not,” said the veteran Timonen. “A lot of people blame coaches, but if we’re out there making plays, like I said you have to be ready to play or not. When you’re not ready to play you’ll lose one-on-one battles a lot.”
Timonen went on to say, “We should go around the room and ask everybody why. I don’t know, but we have to find answers.”
The Flyers finally got on the board as their seventh ranked power play had a chance to shine. With some great puck-movement, and a wrister from captain Claude Giroux that Ranger netminder Henrik Lundqvist couldn’t handle, the Flyers were able to get one between the wickets, when the puck deflected off of the toe of Wayne Simmond’s skate.
Things were looking up at 6:28 of the third, as they made it 3-2, when Giroux fired a wrister that deflected off of the neck of linemate Jake Voracek. However, after that, it was all Rangers as they’d capitalize twice more on Flyer break-downs.
“Well we had times during the game where we would play well,” said Giroux, “then there’s times that we made mistakes that cost us.”
The turnovers killed them. The passing killed them. The breakout killed them. The failed clears killed them. The lack of a defenseman who can get control of the puck, and move the team up ice has been the demise of this team. There’s been a lot of let down thus far this season, but this team is still missing Chris Pronger, and until they find an adequate replacement for the future hall-of-famer, they’ll continue to play mediocre hockey.
This season is nearly lost, so making any dramatic moves before the April 3 trade deadline would be futile. It could do more harm than good. But the Flyer’s management will need to address their desperate need for a number one defenseman this offseason, or repeat their troubles next season.
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