The Philadelphia Flyers dropped the ball at a huge junction of the 2011-2012 season. On a weekend that offered the Flyers a true test of where they currently sit in the Atlantic Division they failed with flying colors.
A successful weekend could have propelled the Flyers to first place in the Atlantic, pushing them a point ahead of the New York Rangers. Instead a catastrophic loss to the streaking New Jersey Devils and a “more of the same” result against the rival Rangers leave the Flyers five points back of the division lead and scrambling for answers.
The weekend started with the potential for a momentum building interdivision victory over the rival New Jersey Devils. The Flyers looked to build off of a big Thursday night home win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.
With Danny Briere, James Van Riemsdyk, and captain Chris Pronger all out of the line-up with concussions the Flyers have found secondary scoring from a number of contributors. Thursday’s win saw more of those contributions from Wayne Simmonds, who tallied twice on route to a Flyers 4-1 victory. The Flyers have needed those types of efforts of late as, along with the mounting injuries, stars like Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr have struggled to find the back of the net in meaningful situations in the last few weeks.
Unfortunately on Saturday those efforts were few and far between. With Sergei Bobrovsky in net the Flyers fell behind 1-0 following a two man disadvantage on what some might call a questionable penalty on Kimmo Timonen.
Philadelphia went on the power play late in the first period with a chance to even the score and put the officiating behind them, but a turn over by Giroux along the blue line led to a two on one for the Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk capitalized on the opportunity, giving New Jersey an early 2-0 lead.
Again, the Devils took advantage of questionable officiating as both referees Ghislain Hebert and Eric Furlatt turned a blind eye to an apparent trip on Claude Giroux by Dainius Zubrus which led to the turn over.
With the Flyers frustrations’ clearly spilling over into their play on the ensuing shift Philadelphia’s defense was out of position and the Devils pounced as Zubrus potted another goal with less than a second remaining.
In the second period, the Flyers seemed more intent on trying to goat the Devils into a slug fest rather than focusing on getting back in the game down only 3-0. Before most of the Well Fargo Center crowd had a chance to return to their seats following the intermission the Devils were up 5-0. Philadelphia went into the 3rd period with a six goal deficit and Ilya Bryzgalov taking over goaltending duties for Bobrovsky.
The Flyers made things interesting with a late comeback effort that fell just short. Still, the Flyers had to feel good about their late game heroics that made the final a fairly more respectable 6-4 on paper. Philadelphia could have taken something away from the final frame and the solid play of Bryzgalov in relief.
Then came Sunday’s showdown with the New York Rangers and a chance to salvage the weekend. With the division lead now out of reach regardless of the result at Madison Square Garden, the Flyers were still in a position to make a statement— not only for themselves, but for the Rangers to know that they still had their work cut out for them in the Atlantic Division race.
It was clear early in the contest, however, that the Flyers hadn’t taken any momentum from the late surge against the Devils. New York wasted no time getting the early lead just 1:04 into the first period and never looked back. The Flyers tied the game twice, but it was never even that close. Ilya Bryzgalov allowed soft goals behind a shaky defensive effort following both game-tying goals and the Rangers third lead of the game was the last they would need on route to a 5-2 defeat of Philadelphia.
What is the Flyers most pressing issue right now?
The Rangers continue to assert themselves as the alpha males in the Eastern Conference, along with the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, while the Flyers continue to slip further and further from the elite ranks in the East.
Lackadaisical efforts, sloppy play, inconsistent chemistry and an unearned air of superiority continue to plague this version of Flyers hockey. All the talk surrounding the stellar play of Claude Giroux at the halfway point of the season has left a wake of mediocrity for the team’s star. Philadelphia’s defense is porous. Beyond Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn the Flyers have serious issues on the blueline, that may not be solved by one acquisition via trade.
Fans continue to wait for the team’s big ticket goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov, to display a consistent effort that warrants his 9 year, $51 Million contract. Peter Laviolette desperately juggles line combinations in hopes of finding a spark somewhere in the lineup.
The one beacon of consistency this season has been Scott Hartnell and the surprising play of the rookies. On a number of nights this season Matt Read and Sean Couturier have been the only difference makers on the Flyers bench.
It’s certainly a good problem to have when you are a rebuilding or up and coming team, but the Flyers are not that type of team.
They are supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender, but for that to be the case this season Philadelphia will need a serious push down the stretch. If efforts like we saw this weekend continue, Flyers fans can start freeing up their datebook in early June. They definitely won’t have any hockey to watch.