Floundering Flyers

This story was written for my Fundamentals of Journalism I class at Delaware County Community College.
Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell look on as they continue their losing ways. (Getty Images)

Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell look on as they continue their losing ways. (Getty Images)

Each summer, The Hockey News (THN) releases its once-a-year, special yearbook edition, detailing each team for the upcoming season and choosing who they believe will win the Stanley Cup.

This past summer, THN chose the Philadelphia Flyers as the team to win the Cup. It brought joy to the thousands of Flyers fans across the country. However, it seems like a dream as the Flyers struggle to string together wins.

The offense has crumbled. The team’s explosive goal scoring has died off, leaving the forwards frustrated and squeezing their sticks too tightly. The team’s morale is fragile, ready to shatter with one slap of a puck. This Stanley Cup contending team has fallen to pieces in front of Philadelphia’s eyes and all hopes of the playoffs are quickly dwindling. The coach has already been fired.

Now something more must be done to fix this demoralized team.

The season started with the Flyers going 3-0 for the first time since the 1998-99 season. After a little stretch of a mix of wins and losses, the team went on a tear with a five-game win streak that saw Ray Emery post a 1.40 GAA and .955 save percentage while the team outscored their opponents 24-7. The powerplay and penalty killing units were clicking at 31.5 and 81.2 percent, respectively. It gave the team a 11-5-1 record and fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

On Nov. 16, the Flyers headed out west for a five game road trip. The team began to fall apart and came home with only two wins and three losses. San Jose skated circles around the Flyers, sending them on a three-game losing streak that they could never fully recover from. Emery was pulled for the first time in the game against Colorado and came back from the trip with a 4.60 GAA and a lowly .818 save percentage. The team’s powerplay fell to 23.0 percent and the penalty kill slipped to 76.0 percent.

The road trip sent the Flyers into a downward spiral, losing the next three games and getting shutout the last two. The warning bells sounded and after the 3-0 shutout by Vancouver, Paul Holmgren fired head coach John Stevens the following day on Dec. 4 and hired Peter Laviolette.

With four games under Laviolette, the Flyers have continued their losing ways, going 1-3, with a humiliating 8-2 defeat to Washington and another shutout by Ottawa. The Flyers have not been shutout in three out of six games since 1968.

The team has currently won only two of the last 11 games. Their record now stands at a dismal 14-14-1 and have slipped out of playoff contention and into 11th place.

Anyone can argue on paper that the Flyers have one of the best teams in the league, if not the best. They have the offensive firepower of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux, just to name a few. The defense got a lot tougher and grittier with the addition of Chris Pronger, something the team had been lacking since the days of Derian Hatcher and Jason Smith. The only real question mark was the goaltending duo of Emery and Brian Boucher, who put critics to rest in the month of October.

Unfortunately for the fans and the team, the Stanley Cup is not awarded by who looks best on paper. The team needs to right the ship quickly if they want to salvage the rest of the season and fight their way back into a playoff spot.

The offense has struggled of late. Goals are not being scored and our firepower has been doused. Holmgren hoped that the losses of Joffrey Lupul and Mike Knuble would not be missed by having a healthy Briere and a blossoming Giroux.

Briere has not disappointed. He has been one of the few consistent players on the ice with 19 points in 22 games.

Giroux, though, has fallen into the curse of the sophomore slump with only five goals this season. The offense needs to step its game up and put more quality shots on net and get players swarming the crease for the rebounds and screening the goaltender. Laviolette’s new system of attacking in the offensive zone and more cycling should help.

The defense has been consistent, for the most part. Their problem is that although they may have only a few breakdowns in a game, those breakdowns almost always lead directly to a goal. It could be a bad turnover in their end or a failure to clear the zone. The opposition jumps on the puck and makes the team pay. The defensemen need to be careful when starting a breakout or trying to clear the puck. They have to make sure the puck makes it onto the tape of the Flyers’ forwards and not give the opposition the chance to intercept.

Emery had a great start to the season, but once the road trip started, his play suffered, leading to rumors that he lost his confidence after Boucher got his second start in Los Angeles or that he was injured. The latter ended up being confirmed this week when Emery underwent surgery to repair a torn muscle in his lower abdominal wall. He is expected to be our six weeks, giving Boucher the starting job. Boucher had been standing on his head for the team, keeping the Flyers in the game, but he is receiving no offensive support in front of him.

No one can seem to pinpoint what exactly the problem is with the team. For now, it starts with the special teams. The Flyers have to capitalize on their powerplay opportunities. They have gone 3-for-31 in the past seven games. That has to stop. They must score in those critical times.

The penalty kill suffered during the five-game losing streak, but has recently become better. They have to build on this and keep killing off the penalties. The first and most important way to do this is to stop giving the other teams the opportunity to go on the powerplay. The Flyers have to stop taking lazy penalties and keep their feet moving at all times.

If the Flyers do not turn things around, Holmgren will be faced with another tough decision: a player will have to go. And we’re not talking a minor trade, but a big one, involving a top player. If the Flyers like who they have in their locker room, they better figure it out – and fast. The fans are losing patience. So is management. If the players needed proof, all they had to do was look up into boxes at the last game on Dec. 10. Sixteen NHL scouts were there, itching for some trade bait.

Maybe a trade is what the team needs at this point. No one summed it up better than former Flyer Jeremy Roenick during a recent interview at his house in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“There’s somebody bad in that locker room,” he said. “Somebody is tainting something in that locker room, whether it’s the leadership, or somebody who is leading them the wrong way, or somebody who is doing something and other people are following off the ice. They need to straighten that stuff up inside the locker room.”

[Game Highlights: Vancouver, 3 – Philadelphia, 0]
[Game Highlights: Washington, 8 – Philadelphia, 2]


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Categories: Ice Hockey, NHL, Sports

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