Another Philadelphia Flyers playoff run has ended, marking the 36th consecutive season to end without a parade down Broad Street.
Coming into 2011-12 the Flyers made big changes and exactly how the team would perform on the ice was unknown.
However, after handing out a 9-year, $51 million contract to Vezina Trophy Finalist Ilya Bryzgalov, the goaltending was supposed to be the one constant for this young team in transition.
While Bryz was far from great during the regular season, posting a 2.48 GAA and a save percentage that dipped below .900 for most of the season (ended regular season with .909 save percentage), the high-priced Russian goaltender was the least of the Flyers' troubles in the postseason.
I know we (as Flyers fans) do not feel complete without a goalie controversy, but here are the five reasons not to blame Ilya Bryzgalov for this season's disappointing end.
Let me know what you think.
Watch the video of Dainius Zubrus' Game 4 goal.
First, the Devils do not rush out of their zone, as the play takes a while to develop, but still New Jersey gets an odd-man-rush up ice. Then Timonen coughs up the puck behind the net, there are no Flyers to be found anywhere and the Devils get an easy scoring chance.
Now, could Bryz have made this specific save? Maybe.
But this goal was indicative of the entire five-game semi-finals: lazy back-checking and terrible defensive zone coverage.
The Flyers were able to hold the Devils under 30 shots only once in the series, and when d-zone responsibility is this poor, how many of these scoring chances can any goaltender be expected to stop?
The coach I supported for the Jack Adams Award laid an egg in the semi-finals for the second year in a row.
After losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in 2011 it was easy to blame the lack of leadership and intensity displayed by Mike Richards, the injuries to key d-men like Chris Pronger, the embarrassing goalie carousel and any number of other things.
However, after losing four straight games in the second round for the second year in a row, Lavy deserves some of the blame.
In two consecutive seasons the Flyers were dominated by a more physical, more intense, better prepared opponent.
Watch those five games against the Devils again.
Except for the third period and overtime of Game 1 the Flyers basically played the exact same game five times in a row, expecting a different result despite previous evidence supporting the need for adjustments.
How many times can the Flyers dump the puck behind Jersey's net only to have Marty Brodeur make a better breakout pass than any Flyers d-man is capable of making before the coach has to come up with a way to neutralize Brodeur's puck-handling ability?
It's not like Marty snuck up on anybody; he's 40-years-old and has been the best fore-check destroying netminder in the league for most of his career. Yet the Flyers seemed completely incapable of countering NJ's third defenseman.
Every coach has his specific system and strategy, but when Lavy's team gets swept by the Bruins, goes 0-6 against the Rangers and loses to a less talented Devils team all within a calendar year, fans must begin to wonder if Laviolette's stubbornness and arrogance is bordering on the Andy Reid level.
The three aforementioned teams have all owned the Flyers and all play a very similar game centered around tough, physical play, hard work in the corners, denying easy scoring chances and cross-ice passes and forcing the opponents into turnovers.
Yet Peter Laviolette has been unable to devise a strategy to beat these teams in big games, and for the second straight year his team is left wondering "what just happened?" after a promising playoff run fell dramatically short of expectations.
Aside from throwing an on-ice tantrum in Game 4 that resulted in his suspension from an elimination game because a referee did not call a perceived penalty on Marty Brodeur for playing the puck outside the designated area, Giroux had little effect on the second round series.
But as impressive as Giroux was in the first round, he was as big a disappointment against NJ in the semi-finals.
In the four games Giroux did play, he posted three points and a negative four rating.
In Games 2 and 3, Giroux was held without a point.
In Games 2, 3, and 4, Giroux finished with only five total shots on net.
There is a reason cliches become cliches, and it's because they are true.
If Claude Giroux, the Flyers' best player, does not play to his highest level, then his team has no chance of making a legitimate Stanley Cup run.
Now, it will be easy to blame G's injured wrists for his not showing up in the second round. However, after an 82-game season and a potential to play in 110 games, everyone is hurt and injuries are of no consequence—because it's the Cup.
The Flyers' prolific power play unit, which operated above 50% in the quarter-finals against Pittsburgh, was comically ineffective against the Devils, producing only three goals in 19 opportunities.
One of the most creative and well-rounded offenses in the league—with Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Danny Briere, Jake Voracek, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn—was stymied by the Devils' record-setting penalty killing unit (89.6 kill-percentage in the regular season).
All the Devils had to do was put a little pressure on an orange and black puck carrier and a turnover was almost a guarantee.
And when Philly dumped and chased they played the puck right to Brodeur who was more than happy to play keep-away with the Flyers fore-checkers.
The Flyers play a game that depends on their power play unit. The idea, at least, is to play physically and with enough of an edge to draw the opponent into a few frustration penalties and capitalize with the highly skilled offense GM Paul Holmgen has assembled.
The Devils were rather disciplined, especially late in the series, but when Jersey did commit penalties, they did not lose their aggression. Instead, they were able to force mistakes by getting in the Flyers' faces, even when they were a man down, hence the dreadful 3-for-19 and the premature exit from the postseason for the Flyers.
Carle getting beat- his natural defensive position
I realize I have already mentioned the team defense as a whole, but Matt Carle deserves singling out.
Carle was the worst player on the ice in five games against the Devils.
His statistics were not terrible for the series—one goal, one assist, negative three rating.
But it seemed like every time he was on the ice he was turning the puck over, letting his man by him in the defensive zone, standing still in the neutral zone (and in front of the net) and basically breaking every rule outlined in Defense 101.
Injuries to Kimmo Timonen, Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros forced No. 25 to play nearly 25 1/2 minutes per game against New Jersey, about ten more minutes than anybody who has seen Carle play would be comfortable with.
The only positive that came out of Carle's postseason was his getting exposed to the point that the Flyers' front-office would be ostracized beyond belief for re-signing the under-sized, under-skilled 27-year-old unrestricted free agent.
Carle recently underwent surgery to repair a torn stomach muscle, validating the claim of at least a few fans I watched every playoff game with—Carle's issues stemmed from his guts.
So again, while Bryzgalov let in the goals that doomed his team, there is enough blame to go around to keep Bryzgalov off the top of the list of reasons Flyers fans are again forced to watch their rivals compete for the Stanley Cup.
Agree with me? Still hate Bryz? Let me hear it in the comments.