Crucial Stretch Coming Up for Flyers


Ok, fine, in a 48-game season, every stretch is “crucial,” but with Flyers on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and things getting desperate, the next six games before the April 3 trade deadline will determine how Paul Holmgren chooses to act. It all starts tonight against the equally disappointing Tampa Bay Lightning, who have fallen off completely after a torrid 6-1-0 start, going 6-14-1 in their last 21 games. After that, the Flyers have five (!) days off before traveling to Pittsburgh for the final regular-season matchup against the Penguins. Then it’s four straight home games against the Rangers, Islanders, Bruins and Capitals before trade deadline day (it’s actually a five-game homestand, as the Canadiens come to town April 3). If the Flyers hope to have any chance of cracking the playoff picture, they need to put together a real winning streak, something they haven’t done thus far in 29 games. No, really, do you realize that the Flyers have not won more than two games in a row all season? It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Talk about mediocrity personified. This team literally can’t sustain good play even over the course of one week. And that kind of team doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs.

For a Flyers team that has tremendous difficulty defeating teams that play a disciplined, defensive structure — it’s been this way for awhile now — staring the Rangers and Bruins right in the face feels like two automatic losses. Can the Flyers beat the Lightning on the road tonight? (Post-game edit: Nope). Can they then go to Pittsburgh and beat a red-hot Penguins team that could go into the contest riding an 11-game winning streak? Despite the Flyers’ success at Consol Energy Center, that’ll be quite the daunting task. Then again, things are always crazy and quirky when the Flyers and Penguins get together. Going, say, 3-3 over this upcoming stretch and continuing the mediocrity we’ve experienced all season simply won’t do the trick. The Flyers need to get hot, and they need to do it now. After what we’ve seen from them up to this point, where’s even a smidgen of evidence that something like this is possible? The Flyers are who they have been all season. Expect a few uplifting wins followed by crushing defeats that reinforce the team’s glaring limitations. Expect consistent inconsistency. It’s been this way for two months now, why is it going to stop? You are what you are, you know?

For me, personally, I’m just going to try and enjoy what I can about this season… extract some small victories and reasons for optimism. Jakub Voracek’s ascent to stardom. Wayne Simmonds’s rough-and-tumble style, being the coolest dude ever and embodying that “Flyers hockey” brand. Brayden Schenn’s steady improvement instead of making the leap (next season, perhaps?), although he’s fallen off lately. Note: I don’t worry about Claude Giroux. Yes, it’s been a rough season for the newly-minted captain. He’s vacillated between moments of brilliance and invisibility (especially 5-on-5). It’s been dumbfounding, especially due to the chemistry he has with Voracek. That said, Giroux has shown me enough in his time as a Flyer that I’m willing to give him a mulligan. I guarantee — yes, guarantee — the Claude Giroux you see during the 2013-2014 season resembles the one you remember from the 2011-2012 season. Unfortunately, the defense is a serious issue, one without an immediate panacea in sight. The Flyers would be wise to look at this upcoming 2013 draft — deepest in a decade — as the time to address the defense and acquire true a franchie building block (or two) on the back end, otherwise they’re going to waste the primes of their very talented forward core.

Braydon Coburn, signed for four years and $18 million, has had a rough season and, at a time when he should be hitting his prime, has regressed instead. That Scott Hartnell six-year extension is looking pretty ill-conceived right now. Yeah, yeah, injuries, fine. My point: You mean extending a 30-year old (now 31) coming off a career season for six years (no-movement clause included) on a contract that doesn’t even start until the 2013-2014 season might not have been the smartest idea? Shocking. Here’s to hoping Hartsy from 2011-2012 wasn’t the anomaly because he can be one hell of a player. Also, there are few things I enjoy more than watching Zac Rinaldo completely annihilate dudes with hard, clean (most of the time) checks. Pound for pound, the best hitter I’ve ever seen. There are Flyers fans who hate him, Flyers fans who love him. I happen to love him, even if the advanced stats say I shouldn’t. If that makes me a Neanderthal, so be it. I’m very much on the RINALDO SMASH squadron.

Other thoughts:

Happy 38th birthday today to Kimmo Timonen! And happy 1000th career NHL game! Keep on keepin’ on, Kimmo.

Will Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren do the smart, prudent thing and be sellers at the deadline? This team can certainly be a contender again next season, provided those two don’t make any rash, stupid decisions and screw it up. Sorry, guys, but there are no quick fixes for this Flyers team, so don’t delude yourselves into think that’s the case.

Will Peter Laviolette continue to bizarrely destroy the confidence and development of Sean Couturier (please, PLEASE don’t trade him)? Is Laviolette’s job safe? I don’t think he’s entirely at fault, since what Paul Holmgren has done is akin to roster construction malpractice, but there are coaches out there doing more with less. He has not tailored the system of play to the strengths of his players, and that’s a damning indictment.

Will Matt Read be a hot commodity at the trade deadline? A cheap, versatile winger who’s fast, plays 200 feet and has a wicked wrister? Somehow I think teams are interested. Now, will the Flyers leverage Read’s current value to acquire future assets? While I love his game, his upside is likely maxed out, and I can’t see the Flyers ponying up $3+ million per season to retain him.

Will lya Bryzgalov continue to be average at best and, while not the whole problem, certainly not the solution to the Flyers’ perpetual woes in net, all while being ridden into the ground with this insane workload (because the Flyers don’t have a backup they can trust to win even one game)? Is Bryz an amnesty consideration this summer, or perhaps in 2014?

Will Danny Briere be put on the trade block in earnest (like he should be) — will he even waive his no-movement clause? Hell, will the Flyers make the proper move and amnesty him this offseason, if he’s not traded before then (unlikely, since his veteran leadership is just soooooooooooo important)? Briere will turn 36 at the beginning of next season, and his game is in steep decline. If he’s not contributing significantly offensively (and he’s not), he really has no place on this roster because he’s a black hole of suck on defense. He’s also blocking Sean Couturier from being a full-time top-six player, and that’s unacceptable. It’s been fun with Danny (in the playoffs, although his impact in that regard has been overrated since he was on the ice for more goals for the opposition than for the Flyers), but it’s also time to get him out of here.

Rant over. For now. That winning streak the Flyers haven’t had all season but need to go on now? Yeah… needs to start tonight. Good luck with that, boys.