Last Tuesday GM Paul Holmgren announced that captain Chris Pronger would be out for the rest of the season and playoffs, due to post concussion symptoms. The announcement delivered a blow to the confidence of the fanbase, but as per usual with Philadelphia fans it was a big jump to conclusions. Yes, this team is obviously better with the captain in the lineup, but the game of hockey isn’t like basketball in that one player can determine a team’s championship fate.
However, if you subtract the best offensive player from the equation as well things begin to get dicier.
Four games were played without Claude Giroux after he sustained a head injury on December 10th against the Lightning. The first two were on the road in Washington then Montreal. The role players were able to come up huge especially in the 4-3 scrappy win over the Canadiens. The team survived without Pronger, so why couldn’t it survive without Giroux? Then the Boston Bruins came to town and proved why that just isn’t possible.
Last Saturday’s game against the defending champions changed the course of momentum that Philly had built up over a seven game winning streak in the month of December. Boston humbled their Eastern Conference rival in a 6-0 rout. It was like watching the November 5th game when the Flyers whooped up on the Blue Jackets 9-2, except this time Philly played the role of Columbus. It was easily their worst performance on ice up until this point in the season. The defense was abused by the speed and precision of the Bruins, but it was the offense that was harder to watch.
The woes continued in Denver. Even though the Avalanche have thrived in the Pepsi Center in December (6-0-0), the Flyers are the best road team in the entire league (12-3-1). A point was gained in the shootout loss, but the game should have never gone 65+ minutes. Give some credit to the revitalized Jean-Sebastien Giguere who stood on his head for parts of the game, but the Flyers offense never synced, in fact they were rather fortunate to even get into the overtime session.
All of the momentum that had been built up was suddenly going out the window at the worst possible time with the Winter Classic looming. Then the MVP of not only the team, but of the NHL suddenly made his unexpected return.