5 Reasons the Philadelphia Flyers Cannot Win the Stanley Cup
Following "The Lost Weekend II," which featured yet another 5-2 loss to the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers, as well taking part in the Detroit Red Wings' record-tying 20th consecutive home victory by losing 4-3 on Sunday despite holding two leads in the game, I, as a fan, have come to grips with the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers cannot win the Stanley Cup this season.
I can't remember such a solid, competitive Flyers team with such an obvious disparity between themselves and the elite-level competition.
The Flyers have scored the second-most goals in the NHL with 182 (Boston Bruins, 184) and their 18 road wins are tied with the Rangers for the second most in the league as well (Vancouver Canucks, 19).
The power play, ranked among the top five recently, is operating at 19.5 percent, sixth in the league.
The Flyers are receiving key contributions from all facets of their lineup. Ten players have 25-plus points. Nine players have 10-plus goals scored (Jake Voracek has nine and Brayden Schenn has eight), and rookies have contributed 40 of the team's 182 goals (22 percent).
But the 2011-12 version of the Philadelphia Flyers just do not look like Stanley Cup champions.
Against teams currently holding first place in their division, the Flyers are 4-7-1 (including two wins over the Florida Panthers).
Now, I am not saying the front office can't and/or won't add a big, physical 20-plus-minute defenseman who can fuel the special teams and allow one of the goalies to play themselves into a rhythm to create momentum for a Stanley Cup run, and as a fan that is what I would like to see.
But, as currently constructed, I don't see it happening, and here's why (the segue into the slideshow is always the sentence I take the most time to write but it always ends up cliche, corny or boring, you know?):
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Indiscriminately hunting the young and old, big and small, rookies and superstars in the Flyers dressing room, concussions have devastated the Flyers' Stanley Cup chances this season.
Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Danny Briere have all missed time this season with concussions. James van Riemsdyk's ongoing absence from the lineup has been blamed on the mysterious head injury as well. Oh, and I have a lot of trouble believing Sean Couturier was not concussed when he was hit in the head with a shot from the point in December.
But no player's concussion issues have had greater resonance than Chris Pronger's.
Captain Pronger has already been ruled out for the rest of the season because of concussion symptoms. His presence in the locker room and play on the ice are second to none, and his effect on every facet of the game is irreplaceable.
In 13 games this season Pronger tallied 12 points (1 G, 11 A) and the team surrendered 2.7 goals per game. The Flyers were 8-3-2 with No. 20 in the lineup.
In 43 games without Pronger the Flyers are surrendering over three goals per game and have skated to 23-15-5 record.
Three of the Flyguys' four aforementioned wins against teams currently leading their divisions occurred with Pronger in the lineup.
Every fan remembers Pronger's impact when healthy. The last time he played a full season Pronger led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals.
When Pronger left the lineup last season the team fell apart and departed the playoffs most unceremoniously.
Whether it be Pronger, Nik Lidstrom or Zdeno Chara, teams need a guy like that in their lineup good enough and smart enough to control the game to win a Stanley Cup, and there is nobody else in orange and black who fits that description.
Especially considering the general size and skill-level of this team, Pronger's physical presence, especially in front of the net, is greatly missed as well.
Now, another injury to the blue line or any of the few remaining seasoned veterans would be disastrous for this team heading toward the playoffs.
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Flyers goaltenders are allowing 2.93 goals per game, 25th in the NHL.
Much-maligned netminder Ilya Bryzgalov has a save percentage of .900 in 36 starts, while his backup, Sergei Bobrovsky, has posted a .902 save percentage in his 20 starts.
Not only are these goalies not playing up to their own standards, they're playing worse than the supposedly sub-par carousel goalies they were both brought here to replace.
Last season Bob and Brian Boucher put up save percentages of .915 and .916, respectively. Even Marty Biron and Antero Niittymaki's numbers from 2008-09 look twice as good as the current group's.
And, Boosh could win a shootout.
But, I digress.
The playoffs are all about toughness and momentum, and nothing kills momentum faster than the weak goals that have plagued Bryz and Bob all season.
When a series comes down to one or two bounces, it is apparent those bounces are going to turn into goals against Philly.
Losing at Home
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If the regular season ended today the Flyers would be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, matched up with the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, currently tied in points with Philly (69).
The Flyers' record in away games is the second best in the league.
But sadly, the Flyers have not been able to pick up wins consistently at the Wells Fargo Center, or Citizens Bank Park, for that matter.
In Philadelphia the Flyers are 13-9-5, third worst in the Eastern Conference.
Home-ice advantage in a seven-game series against a dangerous opponent like Pittsburgh should be crucial, because if you win your home games you win the series.
But given the current trend, it may be better to fall a few seeds and surrender home ice for the duration of the playoffs.
But really, if winning at home is as challenging as it is for the Flyers, the team's chances of getting past the second round of the playoffs are slim, at best.
Discipline and Penalty Killing
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Contributing to the Flyers' home woes is their underperforming penalty kill.
Ranked 19th overall, the Flyers have killed off 81.4 percent of their league-leading 236 short-handed chances.
The team is even worse at home, killing only 77.3 percent of their penalties in the City of Brotherly Love (third worst in the NHL).
The Flyers lead the league in minor penalties (278), misconducts (14) and penalty minutes (938), and have the fifth-highest total of bench minor penalties (six).
The Flyers allowed five power-play goals to the Rangers and Red Wings over the weekend, including three to the New York Rangers' 25th-ranked power-play unit, and lost both games because of poor special-teams play.
No team this undisciplined and uncommitted to defense can have success in the postseason.
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Teams constructed like these Flyers don't normally win Cups.
Of the Flyers' 20 players with at least 25 games played in orange and black this season, 12 were not with the team last season (including Zac Rinaldo, although he saw action in two of last year's postseason games).
Of the 29 players listed on the Flyers roster, 15 are 25 years old or younger.
Chris Pronger, Max Talbot, Jaromir Jagr, Andreas Lilja and Ilya Bryzgalov are the only Flyers who have drank from the Cup. Pronger is out for the season, Lilja is a sixth D-man who has only played 32 of 56 games so far, Bryzgalov was a backup behind J.S. Giguere and Jagr's came 20 and 21 years ago.
This is why I'm alright with my conclusion and resigned with the team I support not being the best this season.
Because while watching Detroit on Sunday night I realized the Flyers do not have the blueprint to win this year, but this is absolutely how an organization builds a potential dynasty.
By drafting and acquiring so much young talent the Flyers have most of the pieces they need. They have assembled a team with relatively the same amount of experience, put them in a locker room with the likes of Jagr, Danny Briere, Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, and are allowing them to come together in their coach's system and grow their games from that point.
Bryaden Schenn and Sean Couturier look like stars in waiting. Claude Giroux is already a bona fide difference-maker. Matt Read is one of those players good teams just have; he's not great at anything but he'll produce in key spots consistently. I'm convinced Erik Gustafsson could replace Matt Carle with very little, if any, drop-off.
Scott Hartnell's style of play could keep him productive for a while (look at Mike Knuble—until this year, that is) and Danny Briere could be a productive power-play contributor for years to come (Jagr is 40, Teemu Selanne is 41).
Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk are solid secondary scorers who, depending on what happens with them contractually, the Flyers could count on to produce in the secondary role and reach their career averages each year.
Twenty-eight-year-old Max Talbot is also under contract for five years and is another one of those players who isn't flashy but plays an important role on a very good team, the ultimate bottom-six, grinding forward.
And from a statistical standpoint, the Flyers have to, at some point, get the goaltending they expected out of Bryzgalov, although that point does not appear to be just around the corner.
But the building blocks are absolutely there.
The Flyers are missing a No. 1 defenseman, sure, and could use an upgrade to the blue-line depth, as well.
Maybe just a little more of a physical presence throughout the lineup and the Flyers are right there.
I know—the last Cup in this town was won in 1975. But it looks like the organization is trying to do it right this time, and I hope pressure from the public and within does not persuade the front office into making a deal for this year, when the next 10 look so bright.
And don't worry Philly, we'll get our parade in the fall.