The start to the Philadelphia Flyers' 2008-09 season has, like the cliched roller coaster, featured many ups and downs.
And during that start, a fact has grown from an interesting coincidence to a defining trend:
Many of those downs have come with Daniel Briere in the lineup.
Briere's season has been as inconsistent as his team's. He's battled stomach and groin injuries, which have limited him to nine games, and caused him to miss 18.
Those numbers aren't the problem. It's what's happened in those games. When Briere plays, the Flyers are 2-7, with two of those losses coming in overtime, and one in a shootout. When Briere sits, Philly is 12-3-3.
The trend continues with Briere's performance. He's scored in four games, three were losses. He's had points in seven games, six resulted in defeat.
That's not coincidence. Something's up.
This wasn't the situation the Flyers front office envisioned in the offseason preceding the 2007-08 campaign, when it made Briere the center of a "return to glory" project by giving him an eight-year, $52 million deal.
And for that first year, Philly rolled with Briere. The Flyers started hot as he started hot, and when he cooled off later in the season (a slump resulting in his -22 +/- rating), they struggled to reach the playoffs. Daniel regained his hot hand in the postseason and Philadelphia stunned the experts by reaching the Eastern Conference finals.
And yet now, as he's struggled to stay on the ice, and as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have progressed into top-tier centers, the Flyers have shown they can win without Briere. When he's out, they play better, and the standings reflect it.
Briere's a great player, and his ability to lift his game in the clutch meshes well with a team like Philadelphia, which expects to be playing into the spring. But this season, against the highest expectations the Flyers have had since the lockout, that chemistry hasn't been there.
It changes so fast. A year ago, the Flyers' playoff hopes rested on No. 48. Now, they appear to lie anywhere but.
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