Philadelphia Flyers: 10 Reasons Fans Should Panic
No team should ever panic over one loss. Despite the massive stage and national exposure that surrounded the Winter Classic, that is all it was. One game.
However, the Flyers' second stretch of five losses in seven games should be a reason to start panicking a little. Three losses to the top two teams in the Eastern Conference and an embarrassing loss to a bad Tampa Bay team definitely clue people in to some problems with this team.
Here are 10 reasons why Philadelphia Flyers should be at least slightly panicked about their team.
That's right, folks. Goaltending is the gift that keeps on giving in Philadelphia because we can't stop talking about it and it won't go away.
Their goalies have, once again, let them down this year. In the entire month of December, the Flyers allowed fewer than two goals only twice. And both of those instances came when the team had at least three goals heading into the third period.
Bob has been about as good as he was last year (his stats are practically identical). In his last four starts, he has: allowed three goals in a period, a goal less than a minute into a game and two weak short-side goals in the third period.
Yeah, Bryzgalov gets his own section here. He has been 150 percent of the goaltending problem. The only reason “Bob” has been a problem is that Bryz has failed to play at a level that could even be called passable.
Never has Ilya Bryzgalov finished a season with a save percentage of less than .905. His save percentage currently sits at .890. Among goalies with at least 20 starts, only Steve Mason and Martin Brodeur have posted worse numbers. Even during his seven-game winning streak, he allowed 17 goals and was pulled in one of his starts.
The numbers wouldn't be a problem if he were making clutch saves or putting together comparatively strong games. However, in his last four losses, he has allowed 16 goals, and in the only game where he allowed less than four goals (against Colorado), he failed make a single shootout save.
Simply put, he hasn't been good enough. And he's not getting better.
With 125 goals, the Flyers are the second highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference, and are second in the NHL in goals per game. Of those goals, 47 have come from the top line of Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell, a whopping 37.6 percent. That is dangerously close to the 43.1 percent the Anaheim Ducks depended on from their top line last year, which has led to their downfall this year.
The percentage is not as worrying as the recent lack of secondary scoring. On the season, the Giroux line has produced 1.3 goals per game, while the rest of the team has averaged 2.1. Over the last seven games, the Giroux line has seen their average drop to .85. Instead of picking up the slack, the rest of the team has seen theirs drop even more precipitously to 1.28 per game.
When your best players are slowing down, it is up to the rest of your team to pick up the slack. The Flyers simply have not been able to do that.
The Flyers are getting an unprecedented amount of scoring from Scott Hartnell this year. Few, if any, believed that Hartnell would ever repeat his 30-goal, 60-point season from 2009. This season, he is on pace for 38 goals and 78 points.
Now, there are two possibilities here. Firstly, Hartnell has, at 29, blossomed into a premier power forward and a major part of the organization. Or second, Hartnell has had a once-in-a-lifetime start to a season and will soon fall into scoring slump as has happened before.
The Flyers have to hope that they are dealing with the first possibility. Because if the second is the truth, then Hartnell's upcoming downturn in production, coupled with their lack of secondary scoring and sub-par goaltending, could be disastrous.
Of the Flyers top 10 scorers, six have missed some time this year. Three of their top four are recently coming off or still nursing injuries. They have already lost their top defenseman, and the top two active defensemen in ice time average under 6' and 200 lbs and aren't exactly the definition of durable.
Every team encounters injury problems over the course of the season. The Flyers, however, have already had enough injuries to last an entire season it seems. Guys like Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, James van Riemsdyk and Danny Briere all coukld be one hit from a very serious injury. Losing one of them could put a serious damper on the team's playoff aspirations.
Depending on Rookies
The Flyers have five rookies in their lineup right now. Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Harry Zolnierczyk and Marc-Andre Bourdon. Zac Rinaldo, Kevin Marshall and Erik Gustafsson have all seen significant playing time while Eric Wellwood, Tom Sestito and Ben Holmstrom have each had a cup of coffee with the team.
Few teams are successful with this many rookies playing significant roles because rookies tend to make mistakes that you don't see veterans make. Maybe they try to hold onto the puck a little too long, carry into the zone when they should dump it, force a pass into traffic, etc. Eventually, these mistakes will start to accumulate. And you can expect the Flyers to lose some games because of them.
James Van Riemsdyk
JVR is probably the second most favorite punching bag of Flyers fans. He was awarded a huge contract extension in the offseason and has, so far, been hugely unproductive.
While he is on pace for career highs this year, his career highs would be increases of nine points and two goals from his previous bests. For a player who will be making more than $4 million next year, 23 goals and 49 points, with little to no contribution defensively, is not enough.
Beyond the stats, JVR simply has not played with a high enough compete level this season. He has looked apathetic, and it feels like months since he entered the offensive zone in full-stride. Hopefully, his demotion to the fourth line will motivate him to step up. But he has seemed like a man without a country since the calendar turned to December.
The Flyers team defense has been average to atrocious nearly all season. For a team with an elite two-way forward, a strong defensive forward, four highly talented defensemen and two (supposedly) quality goaltenders, a 21st ranking in goals allowed per game is unacceptable. Massive coverage breakdowns seem to occur at least once a period.
The team needs to make a stronger commitment to playing focused team defense. They cannot allow themselves to lose control and go chasing players around as they are wont to do. If they can't figure this out soon, the plummet may continue.
The Fifth and Sixth Defensemen
When Chris Pronger was in the lineup, Andrej Meszaros was your fifth defenseman. That's pretty awesome. Without Pronger, the Flyers have been using either Andreas Lilja, Erik Gustafsson or Marc-Andre Bourdon as their fifth defenseman. Slighlty less awesome.
I like Gustafsson. He has good instincts and strong puck skills to go with adequate defense. However, who knows how he will be when he returns from injury. Lilja failed to crack the lineup consistently on a weak Ducks defensive squad last year, so can we really depend on him? And watching Bourdon, one can't help but feel like he is just about to fall off a cliff, performance-wise.
Inability to Win Low-Scoring Games
With his recent column, Bill Meltzer of Hockeybuzz hit the nail on the head when he noted that the Flyers have had an inordinate amount of trouble winning games when they score fewer than two goals. Here's how much trouble: They have a 2-9-3 record when they score fewer than three goals.
Good news is that they are 20-2-1 when scoring at least three goals, and 20-0-1 against teams that aren't Winnipeg, with the lone loss coming in a shootout. The bad news is that if they don't score three goals, they almost certainly won't win.
In the playoffs, you have to win games when goals are hard to come by. They have exactly one win when scoring less than two goals since the first game of the season and that was in mid-November against low-scoring Phoenix. Somehow, they will have to find a way to win those games. So far, they haven't been able to.