Big changes, huge disappointment for Flyers

ELSA / GETTY IMAGES Captain Claude Giroux scored in Flyers' win over Buffalo, but there are plenty of issues to address.
ELSA / GETTY IMAGES Captain Claude Giroux scored in Flyers' win over Buffalo, but there are plenty of issues to address.
Posted: March 13, 2013

LET'S PLAY "Guess the team."

A trade intended to solidify a key position has been sabotaged by injury, long-range health uncertainty and roster adjustments.

Trading perceived strengths to balance the salary-cap hit of a big acquisition has not exactly panned out, either.

And the pedigreed coach brought in to revive a winning tradition? Well, on most nights he appears as frustrated as the fans sitting behind him.

If this sounds like the 76ers to you, that's because the huge shadow Andrew Bynum's status has cast over this harsh winter has saved the Flyers from the same kind of scrutiny about their attempts to improve, and how those attempts have affected their current outside-looking-in playoff status.

The underwhelming performance of a roster dramatically revamped to cure perceived ills of the past has some asking, "What if the team had just stood pat?"

What if they had not signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51 million deal 2 summers ago? What if they had not inked Chris Pronger to that long and cap-stifling contract? Would they be in a better place today with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, James van Riemsdyk and one of the reclaimed bargain-basement goalies making hay in this shortened NHL season? (The Blackhawks have two, including former Flyers netminder Ray Emery.)

"Certainly when we made those big changes 2 years ago it was to address our situation," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren was saying Monday. "The year after we went to the finals I think we made seven goalie changes in the playoffs."

They did. In-game. It set an ignominious NHL record.

"So we decided the path we needed to take was to try to stabilize that situation with a top-tiered goalie," Holmgren said. "I think so far it's fair to say we've had mixed results. Some nights we need to play better. Some nights he needs to play better. Our team needs to compete better on a nightly basis."

The Flyers are tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, but have played up to three games more than any of the teams ahead of them. Still, given that the team a few points ahead of them, the New Jersey Devils, stood atop the Eastern Conference less than a month ago, their plight is far from hopeless. One of the hottest teams at season's start, New Jersey has lost seven of its last nine to drop to seventh in the conference. Tampa Bay, which the Flyers play after their home-and-home with the Devils, also ran off to a hot start, but now sits near the bottom of the conference.

An optimist notes that the Flyers have yet to put together such a hot streak. A pessimist may respond by saying they have shown no signs of that capability - even when they win. Whether they are blowing 4-1 leads or playing dead after a first-period goal, character is not the first word that comes to mind when discussing this team.

"For some reason, whether we are fragile or what, we don't seem comfortable playing at 0-0 or even 1-0," Holmgren said. "You look at that game against Boston Saturday. As soon as they scored that power-play goal, we became unraveled. We don't seem to be able to gather ourselves up."

Two obvious thoughts follow such a statement. One is about maturity. The other is about coaching.

"I'm sure maturity plays into it," Holmgren said.

Statistically, this is a little hard to prove, since young players like Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds are among the team points leaders, and the midice brain cramps and lack of a consistent sense of urgency along the glass fits no particular age group. Buffalo's second goal Sunday came after no one replaced Danny Briere on a line change. Claude Giroux's sloppy play on the blue line led to another odd-man chance. Schenn's goal-line save to keep the score from being tied moments later was necessary because of another sloppy turnover.

"We still have some young players being put in big situations," Holmgren said. "Some of them are struggling with that, but I think it bodes well for our future."

As for the coach, some believe Peter Laviolette's job was saved by Sunday's victory over the Sabres. I doubt it's that severe.

"I think Peter and our coaches have done a good job," Holmgren said. "I think our team for the most part is well-prepared."

With more time to practice recently, the power play has improved from its dismal start and the penalty kill has as well. But the muffed line change was not an isolated incident - Kimmo Timonen could be seen screaming at someone to jump over the boards as he came off during the Bruins game, for example. They also don't communicate well off the puck, and play tentatively too often, and for long stretches.

"Obviously, 'Lavvy' is an attack-mode coach," Holmgren said. "I think we have the players to fit that. Last summer we talked about changing our approach a little in how we defend our own end, and I think there have been growing pains in doing that. We need for everything to come together. We've seen it in bits and pieces but we need it to be on an every-night level. And that hasn't happened."

Laviolette gets the rest of the season to fix that, I believe. True, Terry Murray, a potential replacement, was fired after 29 games coaching the Kings last season. But that was an 82-game schedule, and new Kings coach Darryl Sutter left Murray's defensive system intact.

Could Murray do that with Lavvy's offense-first system? Hard to imagine.

So the best course of action is to hope the switch clicks in time. It's happened before, most notably when the Flyers reached the finals after eking into the 2010 playoffs. But with what we've seen to this point, that's as hard to imagine as Bynum jamming in a rebound for the Sixers. Or Doug Collins still around to see it.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: philly.com/

SamDonnellon

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|