Holmgren sees tough road ahead

Holmgren
Holmgren
Posted: October 02, 2013

PAUL HOLMGREN is feeling the heat.

So much so, in fact, that Holmgren wasn't going to wait until the regular season starts tomorrow to voice his displeasure with the performance of a few of his players in a characterless 1-5-1 preseason.

"We weren't a playoff team last year. Then to have a preseason like we had, it bothers me," Holmgren said. "I've addressed a couple individuals. In the last couple days, I think the players that we have realized it and picked it up a couple notches in practice."

The Flyers have missed the playoffs just nine times in 46 seasons. It has been 2 decades since Ed Snider's franchise has gone back-to-back years without qualifying for Lord Stanley's chase.

Now, the road has gotten even tougher to accomplish what was once considered mundane for one of the NHL's proudest franchises.

Holmgren said he was talking with another general manager yesterday and they spoke about the difficulty of making the playoffs in the parity-filled NHL - let alone being a bona-fide Stanley Cup contender.

With the NHL's new divisional realignment, it is statistically harder for the Flyers to make the playoffs this season than ever before. Columbus and perennial playoff power Detroit moved to the East; Winnipeg went to the West. Eight teams still qualify in each conference, yet there are 16 teams competing for those spots in the East, compared to the usual 15, with only 14 teams in the West.

"It's no small feat to make the playoffs anymore," Holmgren said. "It's really difficult. You've got to be ready right when you get going.

"There's 16 teams in our conference right now. They added Detroit, who is a perennial playoff team. Then you've got an up-and-coming team in Columbus, who was knocking on the door last year."

The only joke in the Metropolitan Division is the name. The Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Capitals are the newcomers to the Flyers' division. Carolina figures to be the least competitive this year, but they've been to Stanley Cup final (twice) and won more Stanley Cups (one) than the Flyers have in the last 13 years.

Columbus is playing most of its games in the Eastern time zone for the first time in franchise history. And Washington closed out last season at a 17-4-2 clip behind Alex Ovechkin's 23 goals in those 23 games.

Even the Islanders, who have been a doormat for the Flyers (30-4-2 since 2007), have qualified for the postseason more recently.

"We know it's going to be harder," Jake Voracek said. "Columbus is a great team and that's going to be a tough building to play in. Those teams, like the Islanders, made huge steps last year making the playoffs. It's getting harder every year to beat them."

Understandably, coach Peter Laviolette has a hard time putting more emphasis on division games than any other one on the 82-game schedule. But losing a division game now is almost like losing twice, since the top three teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs. After that, there will be two additional "wild-card" teams - based on total points - which could come from a singular division, meaning there could be five Metropolitan teams that make the playoffs.

The top seed in the each division will face a "wild-card" team and the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds will face each other. Then, the playoffs will not reseed as before, and the winners of the first-round divisional matchups will play each other in the second round.

"We've got to win hockey games," Laviolette said. "I'm not going to circle the division games and say, 'We need these games and well, let's hope we do OK in the rest of them.' They're all important.

"Division games bring out the rivalry and bring out the best in you. Certainly, guys are motivated when they see teams in their division."

Kimmo Timonen said he's excited to see some of the other teams in the West - since the Flyers only played against the East last season. For the first time in almost 10 years, the Flyers will visit every arena at least once and fans in Philadelphia will see every team at least once.

That also means slightly more travel for the Flyers, which turns up the temperature a few more degrees. The Flyers will fly 34,294 air miles over 41 road games, just about 5,000 more miles than 2010-11.

"I don't think you can have nights off when you're playing an Eastern team," Scott Hartnell said. "You might get away with it more against a team in the West when you need it for your standings, but every point does count. We've got to realize that."

It's one message Hartnell's general manager is working to convey in order for everyone to keep their jobs.

"Every game is a good game, every game is a big game," Holmgren said. "There's no gimmes anymore."


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