Through 60 games this season, the Philadelphia Flyers had, for the most part, dominated. The Flyers were just behind the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the NHL, and they had a four-point cushion in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps most impressive was their consistency—the Flyers were 16-5-1 to start 2011 and only lost by more than two goals once in that stretch.
Then they hit their recent stretch of nine games against some of the lesser lights of the league, and it looks like they've lost their mojo.
The worst part is that the Flyers have given up leads several times during that stretch—two-one goal leads in the third period against the New York Islanders, a two-goal lead against the Buffalo Sabres, two one-goal leads against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a three-goal third-period lead against the Atlanta Thrashers.
The game Saturday night against the Atlanta Thrashers was what one might call "rock bottom" for the Flyers, as they blew 3-0 and 4-2 leads in the third period and then lost in overtime.
Recently-acquired winger Kris Versteeg has been far from spectacular, especially against Atlanta. Versteeg was in the penalty box when the Thrashers scored to make it 4-3 and then made a brutal defensive-zone giveaway on the Thrashers' tying goal about two minutes later.
Adding to the Flyers' problems is the fact that top defenseman Chris Pronger is out for three-to-four weeks after having surgery to repair a hand injury.
So is it time for the Flyers to push the panic button?
Yes, but not by taking drastic measures. The Flyers still have 13 games to get their play back to a high level before playoffs start, but potential first-round matchup teams like the Buffalo Sabres have been playing playoff-style hockey for a few weeks already.
The Flyers' leaders, like Mike Richards, need to speak out about accountability, effort and focus, because those seem to be lacking in the Flyers' game lately.
The Flyers have started well but then stopped skating and started taking bad penalties, and it's cost them some games. If the Flyers are going to contend with other top teams in the playoffs, the lack of focus and discipline needs to stop.
The Flyers seem to have built a team that should contend for the Stanley Cup this season, but it certainly won't if the play doesn't improve quickly.