Consistency Still Evades the Orange and Black

Shawn CrouthamelCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 29: Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the Boston Bruins at the Wachovia Center on March 29, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

At some point you have to ask yourself what's wrong.

Is it simply a case of tired legs created by the schedule gods of the NHL—or is it something much more troubling, like a lack of veteran leadership?

If you are the top brass of Philadelphia Flyers, not only are you asking yourself these questions, but you are also in search of answers in a hurry.

This is a team that cannot seem to put together anything that resembles a win streak recently. After winning three hard-fought games in a row against Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey, they have gone 2-3-1 since.

In doing so, they have looked more like a team that is already mathematically out of the playoffs than a team that is battling to hold onto the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

After getting manhandled by the Maple Leafs in Toronto last Wednesday they responded with a heartening five goal first period en route to an 8-5 victory two days later. They then jumped back across the border for a shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. If this team was playing up to their potential, these games would all have resulted in wins.

The argument could be made that the team is tired. It's very late in the 82-game NHL season and the Flyers are in the midst of a span of too many games in too few days. Since the start of March they have had four sets of back-to-back games and they have one back-to-back remaining. This is enough to wear any team down.

However, one would think that the battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs would be enough to get them through this tiring stretch of games. The fact that Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Carolina are all within striking distance of the fourth seed should be enough to propel a weary team to a more successful record than what they have been able to accomplish.

I worry that there is a bigger problem, a deeper-rooted problem. I worry that there is no Keith Primeau in the locker room—and I worry that this may be a problem that leads to an early exit from the playoffs this year for the Flyers.

Don't get me wrong. I love Mike Richards. I love the way that he plays the game, so much passion and so much fire. He seems to be a guy that leads by example rather than with words. He would choose to find a dance partner and fight at center ice or throw a huge body check to get his team fired up in lieu of using words to spur better effort.

There is something to be said for this style of leadership. In some cases it has worked with great success. In the case of this Flyers team I worry that it simply will not be enough.

General manager Paul Holmgren seems to have similar worries. Homer felt the need to speak up after the loss to the Leafs last Wednesday. He called out his star players, including Richards, by name. He demanded better effort form these players and the entire team in words that were eventually put in print by the media.

This is what it takes sometimes. There are times when you have to speak your mind and not worry about who you are offending.  This is an entirely different style of leadership than the one that Mike Richards employs.

Would Holmgren have done this if he felt his Captain and other veteran players such as Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble had everything under control? One has to wonder.

I hope that the problem is more a matter of a lack of energy. I pray that it's that simple. This can be fixed with a little rest and some time in the training room. Once you make the playoffs all of the teams are playing similar schedules. If the problem proves to be a lack of outspoken, veteran leadership we may be in for a quick playoff ouster.

I guess we'll have to sit back, hang on and see what happens.