Inside the Flyers: The mystique of 'there's no place like home' isn't working for the Flyers

Posted: April 03, 2011

What in the name of Kate Smith is going on here?

Going back to the glory days of the Broad Street Bullies in the mid-1970s, the Flyers have always fed off the energy provided by their home crowd.

That, coupled with the team's intimidating style in that era, is why some opposing players developed a mysterious illness - or what was coined the "Philadelphia flu" - when the Flyers were playing at home.

In short, opposing players dreaded playing in South Philadelphia.

But something strange has happened in the latter stages of a Flyers season that has gone from ultra-promising to puzzling: They suddenly have lost their edge playing at the Wells Fargo Center.

They have lost seven times in their last eight home games, equaling the second-worst eight-game home stretch in franchise history.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have turned into Team Opportunistic on the road, where they have an eye-opening 25-10-4 record. They already have set a single-season record for road victories.

All of which is ironic, because the Flyers have been working hard this season to finish atop the Eastern Conference and secure home-ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

"If there's a seventh game, we want to play it here," coach Peter Laviolette said.

Makes sense. But the Flyers need to start playing with more of a sneer at home, need to play with more desperation, need to make opponents feel uncomfortable at the Wells Fargo Center.

If not, their Unfinished Business Tour, well, won't be finished.

"I don't know if we take it for granted playing at home," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said after the Flyers' fifth straight defeat at the Wells Fargo Center, Thursday's 1-0 loss to lowly Atlanta. "Historically, this has been a tough place [for opponents] to play. It seems like we bear down a little more on the road. We know it's going to be a tough grind and we play accordingly."

Winger Scott Hartnell said the Flyers are more focused on the road. The players get into a routine, have meals together, maybe go see a movie, and get back to the team's hotel at a decent hour to get a good night's sleep.

That's why Laviolette has had the Flyers stay at a hotel for a handful of home games the last two seasons - and gotten positive results on the ice.

The hotels aside, Hartnell said there are "more distractions" at home.

If they don't start blocking out the distractions, the Flyers, who have won just 21 of 39 home games (21-12-6), will still be without a Stanley Cup since 1975.

During their seven losses in their last eight home games, the Flyers have been erratic. When they have gotten their offense untracked, their goaltending has deserted them (see their 5-4 losses to Atlanta and Washington). And when they have received good goaltending, their offense has disappeared (see their 2-1 losses to Pittsburgh and Boston).

There has been just one time in franchise history when the Flyers have not won at least once in an eight-game home stretch. They lost eight straight at home during the miserable 2006-07 season, when they finished with the league's worst overall record (22-48-12).

Those who prefer to look at things with a glass-half-full attitude will note the Flyers also won just once during an eight-game home stretch last season - and they came within two victories of capturing the Stanley Cup.

Those who look at it with a glass-half-empty approach will note that that particular slump was early last season, with part of it after Laviolette replaced John Stevens as the head coach. The Flyers were still getting used to Laviolette's system. This year, they can't use that as an excuse.

The Flyers' latest home defeat, the narrow loss to Atlanta, wasn't cause for alarm. They controlled the game, got excellent penalty killing, and solid goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, but they lost because they ran into a goalie - Chris Mason - who was both superb (43 saves) and lucky (Jeff Carter's rebound hit the post in the closing seconds).

It was the most shots fired by the Flyers in a shutout loss since 1980.

The Flyers' power play is 3 for 21 (14.3 percent) in their seven recent home losses, including 0 for 5 Thursday.

Improving the power play - it desperately misses the injured Chris Pronger, who isn't expected to return until the playoffs - and reestablishing themselves at home are critical if the Flyers plan to make another long Stanley Cup run.

The Flyers have had sellouts in 34 of 39 home games this season, including the last 28. But the crowds don't seem as lively as in the past. It seems the fans, like the team, are waiting for the playoffs, when the games really matter.

Maybe by then, the Flyers' home-ice advantage will mean something again, like last season, when the club went 9-2 in the postseason at the Wells Fargo Center.

Maybe by then, their late-season home struggles will just be considered a "blip," as captain Mike Richards likes to say.

Maybe by then, they will have rediscovered the home dominance of their famous ancestors.

Or maybe they just need to dust off a Kate Smith recording.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.

 

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