A familiar pattern for Flyers

Wayne Simmonds tries to control the puck against Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Wayne Simmonds tries to control the puck against Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 08, 2014

Ed Snider was in the midst of a rant about how he'd like to take a torch to the NHL's Olympic connection after these Games in Sochi, Russia, that will bring the league to a halt at the end of the week.

"No other league does it, why should we?" the Flyers owner said.

Snider is worried that the Olympic break, which lasts 2½ weeks and puts some of the game's greatest players at risk of injury, will sap the momentum from his team, which continued one of its best stretches of the season with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

"There is no benefit to us whatsoever," Snider said. "If anything, I can only see negatives. The players want to play [in the Olympics], and the players association has a lot to say about it. As an owner, I think it's ridiculous. It's not good for our fans, it's not good for our league, and it changes the momentum. Everything about it is bad."

That seemed like a good time to remind Snider that the last time the season was halted for the Olympics, the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals.

"Maybe I like it," he said with a broad smile. "I forgot about that."

Consider it a senior moment. The man is 81.

Besides, no owner, general manager, or coach in his right mind would want his team to follow the blueprint that Flyers team used to reach the Finals. It was a disjointed journey that started with coach John Stevens behind the bench and Ray Emery in goal on opening night, but both long gone by the time the season ended after an inexplicable playoff run that included an unforgettable rally from a three-game-to-none series deficit against the Boston Bruins in the second round.

This version of the Orange and Black, however, has mirrored that jagged script in many ways.

Fire coach early in the season? Check.

Peter Laviolette, the man who replaced Stevens 25 games into the last Olympic-interrupted season, was fired three games into this season and replaced by Craig Berube.

Slow start? Check.

The team four seasons ago was a pedestrian 30-25-3 for 63 points after 58 games. This year's team, after the win over Colorado, is 29-23-6 for 64 points after 58 games.

Strong run right before the Olympic break? Check.

The Stanley Cup team four years ago won four straight games and six of eight before play was halted. Berube's Flyers just finished one of their most impressive stretches of the pre-Olympic schedule, going 4-2 despite facing four of the league's top seven teams in points.

Before that stretch, they were 2-8 against the top 10 teams in the league. Now, they are 5-10.

Since being bashed at home by Boston on Jan. 25, the Flyers have rebounded to win four of their last five, with the only loss coming at Anaheim, where the mighty Ducks have been dominant all season.

Thursday night's win was as good as any this season, and it was possible only because goaltender Steve Mason was great. The Flyers had 29 shots through the first two periods, including 17 in the second, and swarmed in front of Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov much of the night.

They put the puck past him only twice before adding an empty-net goal - once in the second period on a power play by defenseman Mark Streit and again in the final period on a shot by Michael Raffl that was set up by the board work of Sean Couturier. But that was enough, because Mason, the Flyers' MVP, was never more valuable than he was in this game.

He finished with 38 saves, and at least a half-dozen of them were spectacular, none more so than the one he made on P.A. Parenteau after the Avs had cut the Flyers' lead to 2-1 with 2 minutes, 50 seconds remaining.

"The saves he made were pretty impressive, especially the one [on Parenteau]," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We're happy he's on our side."

Only one game remains - Saturday at home against Calgary - before the league shuts down while the United States, Canada, and a bunch of other countries chase Olympic gold in Sochi.

More things happened through the first four months of this season to make you believe that nothing extraordinary is going to unfold once the Flyers return from the Olympic break.

The stat sheet is filled with players on the minus side of the plus-minus ledger. In fact, only seven Flyers have been plus players. The Avalanche, by comparison, have only three players on the minus side.

As well as Giroux has played recently and at different points during his career, including that run to the 2010 Finals, he has lacked the consistency to be considered the superstar Laviolette tried to portray him as a few years ago.

There's no telling how the Flyers will respond coming out of the break that their owner so loathes. They'd be wise, however, to deviate from the script that enigmatic Flyers team used four years ago to reach the Finals.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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