Fifteen games. Four Wins. 21 goals. The Flyers believe they can turn their season around.
In fact, if you listen to the Flyers in the days following each of their eleven losses, you’ll hear non-stop barrage of monotone voices intoning a faithful rhetoric only too familiar to struggling teams: “We just have to stay positive and keep working hard.” “As a team, we gotta keep working hard, keep finding those soft areas and start scoring goals.” “I think we just have to keep working on it and it’s going to come.” “We just have to keep working through it.” “If we start doing the right things then good things will happen.” “We just have to keep working hard and things will start to work our way and bounce our way.”
Inspiring, isn’t it? After a 3-0 loss to the Devils where the Flyer seemed to uniformly stop working in the 58:03 after the first goal of the game, the differences between talking about working and actually doing it have been laid bare. And the Flyers’ talk has amounted to nothing.
According to Friedrich Nietzsche, “a casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” If you were wondering, the Flyers’ front office is the lunatic asylum, shepherded by a dispassionate Nurse Ratched in the form of GM Paul Holmgren, and if the Flyers aren’t prepared to start backing up their talk of having faith with their play, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves for missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1994.
The game against Devils on Thursday may well have been the worst of a year that, it seems, is constantly re-defining the word ‘worst'; after relinquishing a lead in less than two minutes, the Flyers had approximately two good shifts for the rest of the game. Against a team renowned for playing trap hockey, the Flyers repeatedly stunted their rushes by cycling back in their own zone, allowing the Devils’ backcheckers to set up a picket fence that the shell-shocked Flyers were both unwilling and unable to navigate. Players with the puck in shooting position constantly shuffled it off to another teammate as if to alleviate the potential pain of another shot fired high and wide. Shots were endlessly taken from the boards in low-percentage shooting areas. Brodeur’s crease went almost completely unchallenged as the Flyers relentlessly jabbed at pucks from below the goal line. Their fanciful meandering at the blueline lead to one offside call after another. Shift after shift in the third period, a frame becoming increasingly more blood-boiling with each passing game, showed a team with no heart, no compete, no brains, and no direction.
Coach Craig Berube can box their ears and run them into ground in practice all he wants; apparently the players are still going to come out and play every game vacillating between hasty, poor decisions and watching in quiet desperation as the game is pulled out their grasp. It’s impossible to gauge the inner workings of the locker room, but it’s hard not to imagine every post-game meeting as a post-mortem and every practice being useful only for conditioning. If there was a simple solution, the team would already have it figured out.
In truth, the team couldn’t get much worse.
A new word has been bandied about in the short-lived tenure of head coach Craig Berube: accountability. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Holding players accountable for their poor play? At the moment, that accountability has amounted to Gustafsson and Luke Schenn being scratched for a few bad games that were shared by the rest of the team. Meanwhile, Giroux, Voracek, and Hartnell, first-liners whose salary will account for north of $17 million next season, have combined for two goals and a -18 in 15 games. Timonen, the $6 million dollar man, has one assist, is a -2, and has nearly a penalty minute per game, most of which in pursuit of a faster player whom he was forced to obstruct after losing the puck to them. His penance? Demotion from the top power-play unit. Surely, the rest of the team is quaking with fear at the thought of having their line juggled.
The motivation throughout the team apparently derives from the notion that enough ‘work’ and ‘belief’ can get the job done. It shows. Their faith evaporates the moment another team gets a lead, evidenced by their 0-7 record when giving up the first goal. They can’t pray a puck past aging goalie Martin Brodeur, who appears primed to make his last season the worst. They can’t sacrifice a lamb to make the defensemen aware of odd-man rushes or turnovers. They can’t worship at the altar of Steve Mason and expect their goaltending deity to carry them to the postseason.
If faith in themselves and each other is what allows this team to go, they need to empty the cup before they can move on. If Berube wants to send a message that he’s willing to hold players accountable, he’ll send Hartnell to the minors and scratch Timonen and Voracek for a game. Then he’ll scratch Giroux. Shake the faith right out of the team. This team can’t keep talking and thinking they’re good enough, because they aren’t, and the statistics bear that out with immaculate precision. Will their confidence suffer? Absolutely. The only way forward is to give them a reason to change, and you’d better bet these overpaid players will smart from being held out. Then, they won’t come out on the ice tiptoeing like a child around broken china. They’ll be pissed.
Just like the fans.
The Flyers fight-filled 0-7 loss to the Washington Capitals may have seemed like rock bottom, but at least, for once, their antics showed that the team had some heart, some fire, and that they were not resigned to their fate of being the worst team in the league. Enough to restore a modicum of faith in their suffering fans.
Turns out that faith didn’t amount to anything. Now it’s time for punishment.