Flyers need to play with some urgency
By Sam Carchidi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
BOSTON -- The Flyers are in crisis mode.
They have lost three straight, haven't scored in the five periods since taking an early 4-1 lead before collapsing against Pittsburgh on Thursday, and are in danger of missing the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 seasons.
After a listless 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday, coach Peter Laviolette, whose job security isn't as safe as it looked a month ago, held a closed-door meeting with his players that lasted 20 minutes.
Twenty minutes to coax the Flyers into playing 60 minutes each game.
Twenty minutes to try to light a fire under a team that dropped three games under .500 and into 11th place -- below the New York Islanders, for crying out loud -- in the Eastern Conference.
Twenty minutes to make his underachieving players believe this can be a rerun of 2009-10.
You remember 2009-10. That was the season the Flyers didn't earn a playoff berth until the final day of the regular season, then reached the Stanley Cup finals.
Danny Briere, one of the heroes of that remarkable playoff run that included the overturning of a 3-0 series deficit against Boston, says this year's 11-14-1 team can make a similar march.
Give Briere points for optimism, but that team had Chris Pronger. This team has a mistake-prone defense still looking for an identity.
"If you remember that year, we were in a similar kind of mess," Briere said after Saturday's defeat. "Halfway through the season, I think we were 14th or 15th in the conference. We sorted through, we stuck together and we were two wins away from the Stanley Cup. I know it's an uphill battle once again, but we have a lot of guys who were there and I really believe we have the horses to do that again."
The gist of Saturday's meeting: Play with more passion. Don't let the losses fragmentize the team. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
"It's about attitude, supporting each other and being good teammates. We've been talking almost all year about passion, and it's about time we started playing with it," winger Scott Hartnell said. "It's frustrating to be at this point, but we realize we still have lots of time left."
The Flyers have 22 games remaining in this lockout-shortened season.
Not a lot of time, but it should be noted they have a similar group as last year, when they went 47-26-9, finished fifth in the East with numerous rookies in their lineup, and beat the Stanley Cup favorites, the Penguins, in the opening round of the playoffs.
"Look at our lineup. I think we match up well against anybody," Hartnell said. "We have big, strong D, we've got Bryz (Ilya Bryzgalov) in net and he's been playing great for us all year."
Bryzglaov has slumped recently. After being the Flyers' unquestioned MVP in the first month, his goals-against average has climbed to 2.80 and his save percentage has slipped to .899.
The Flyers have allowed 3.04 goals per game, 25th in the 30-team NHL.
The defense deserves lots of the blame, especially for lapses that contributed to three first-period goals in a 2:18 span Saturday.
General manager Paul Holmgren's team needs help in lots of areas, but patience may be the best formula because winger Matt Read and defenseman Andrej Meszaros are just the type of "additions" the Flyers need -- provided those players regain their pre-injury form.
Meszaros returned from a dislocated shoulder Saturday for the first time since Jan. 24. Read has played two games since returning from a rib injury. Both will need time before resembling their old selves.
Do the Flyers have that time?
"We have too good of a team to keep going this way," Briere insisted.
But they are playing without a sense of urgency, without a sense of desperation.
"We have to play every game like it's a playoff game, like it's an elimination game," Meszaros said.
The Flyers "playoff" season starts tonight. Luckily for them, they are facing Buffalo, one of the few NHL teams in a worse spot.
Hey, you have to start somewhere.