4 Reasons to Worry About the Philadelphia Flyers' Playoff Hopes

Michael Pizzutillo@@Mike_PizzutilloCorrespondent IIIMarch 22, 2013

4 Reasons to Worry About the Philadelphia Flyers' Playoff Hopes

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    The Philadelphia Flyers' window of opportunity for making the playoffs is rapidly closing. 

    With 18 games remaining and sitting five points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth playoff spot, Philly must hit a serious hot streak to make up ground in the Eastern Conference.

    A feat the Flyers have failed to do this season—not once winning three games in a row.

    Inconsistency has been a major factor on both ends of the ice and now time is their biggest enemy. Here are four additional reasons to worry about the Philadelphia Flyers' playoff hopes.

1. Flyers Have Been Terrible on the Road

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    Currently, the Flyers are the worst road team in the Eastern Conference with a combined 4-12 record.

    As the season unfolds, the team's schedule will not get any easier, and of its 18 remaining games, eight will be played on the road. Even worse, seven of these games will be played in the final month of the regular season.

    If that wasn't bad enough, six of those travel games (Pittsburgh, Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal, Carolina and Ottawa) will be against teams currently in playoff contention. Now the Flyers have played these teams well, going 6-5 overall on the year, but a majority of the play was in Philadelphia.

    If the Flyers were to squeak into the postseason, they would most likely be a seventh or eighth seed—meaning they would not possess home-ice advantage. Not a good sign for a team that struggled away from home during the regular season.

    Ultimately to clinch a playoff spot, Philadelphia will need to drastically improve on the road. And after playing poorly for over half the season, it will be extremely difficult to reverse the trend.

2. Defense Showing No Signs of Improvement

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    All season, the Flyers' defense has been an Achilles' heel and main contributor to their miserable record.

    Philly has averaged a whopping 3.0 goals against per game, earning the team a 25th ranking in the NHL for the category. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is partially at fault for this staggering statistic, but it's the Flyers' porous defense that really damages it.

    More times than not, the Flyers have found themselves out of position, taking bad angles, missing assignments or being flat0out beat. Even with Andrej Meszaros returning to the lineup, the unit still appears to be out of sync and deflated.

    The absence of ex-captain Chris Pronger has also taken its toll on the Flyers' blueline depth, as the team lost its mental toughness and physical strength.

    Philadelphia has yet to find his replacement.

    The Flyers lack a high-profile player who can both control a game or instill fear in their opposition—resulting in unnecessary pressure on Bryz and the offense. It's a tough pill to swallow, but Philly's blueliners are not championship- or playoff-ready.

3. Team Does Not Play a Full 60 Minutes

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    Philadelphia lacks the ability to take early leads or come back after being down early. 

    The Flyers have allowed opponents to score the opening goal in 16 of 30 games this season—forcing the team to fight back in over half its games.

    According to NHL.com, Philly has just a .188 winning percentage when trailing after the first period, in comparison to a .714 percentage when leading after the first. Therefore, it's extremely important for the Flyers to jump out to an early lead and set the tone for the game.

    The team has also struggled playing complete games this year. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi expressed his own opinion after the Flyers blew a three-goal lead at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in March. 

    This is not a recording: The Flyers failed to play three good periods Thursday night and it cost them a win.

    With the Flyers failing to play complete hockey games, the team must now play its best all-around hockey during the toughest stretch of its schedule to make the postseason.

    Not an easy task or likely to happen.

4. No Leadership

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    Philadelphia is desperately in need of a leader on the ice.

    Chris Pronger was once that player, and Claude Giroux was named the team captain to replace the once-powerful defenseman. Unfortunately, G has not played with the same fire like last season.

    Maybe it's the Flyers' curse of the captain, or perhaps Giroux is simply missing the chemistry with former teammate Jaromir Jagr. Whatever the case, the young center's game has been a bit off this season.

    But it's not only Giroux. 

    Alongside the Flyers' captain, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen have vented their frustrations in the locker room and challenged their team to step up its play. Hartnell voiced his opinion with the Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi after the devastating Pens victory.

    "It was a big letdown,” winger Scott Hartnell said. “I don’t know why we stopped playing from the way we were in the first period. We were fast, quick, hitting, getting into the extra-curricular activities after the whistle and we were playing Flyer hockey... If we play like that, it will be a long summer."

    Still after all the talk, the team seems unable to turn the corner and find a winning way. The Flyers' stars must lead by example and the players need to respond together, or it will be a long summer.