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Philadelphia Flyers' Poor Defense Continues to Hold Team Back

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst INovember 18, 2014

Nov 15, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (15) reacts after scoring a goal against Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ray Emery (29) during the first period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Defense is the Philadelphia Flyers' weakness. Everyone knew it this offseason. They knew it after the first week of the regular season. And now it's starting to bite them hard.

The Flyers have played three consecutive uninspiring games against Colorado, Columbus and Montreal, and their defense has been a major issue.

They may have won the game against the Avalanche 4-3, but they completely unraveled in the third period, giving up three goals after establishing a seemingly safe 4-0 lead.

The defense was overmatched and couldn't match up against the speed of Colorado's forwards. That has been a recurring theme throughout the first few weeks of the season, and it will continue to ravage the team until general manager Ron Hextall makes some changes.

Philadelphia then got pushed around, at home, against an abysmal Columbus team that had no right coming into Wells Fargo Center and getting a 4-3 win.

The majority of the four goals the team allowed in that game were not the fault of goaltender Steve Mason, who has been hung out to dry many times already in 2014.

After those two letdown games, the Flyers then went and got pummeled, 6-3, by a clearly superior Canadiens team that exploited Philadelphia's weak blue line time and time again.

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The Habs planted themselves in the offensive zone and skated circles around the likes of Nicklas Grossmann and Nick Schultz. The shots were actually almost even (29-28), but the Canadiens just got so many more quality chances than Philadelphia and scored on all three of their power plays.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are the Flyers' two best defensemen right now, and that should send shudders down the spine of every Flyers fan.

Neither player is even average defensively at this point, and although both bring some speed and offensive ability to the blue line, they are hardly guys who can carry a defense.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Grossmann, Schultz, and Luke Schenn, who have combined to contribute a mere nine points between them and look like they are skating in mud most of the time.

It doesn't help that Braydon Coburn and Andrew MacDonald have missed time with injuries, but that's exactly part of the issue: The Flyers defense has minimal talent, and their depth on the blue line is even worse.

That shortcoming is being exposed in a major way by good teams like Montreal, although it would be inappropriate to put all of the blame on the players.

Paul Holmgren had a terrible last few years as the team's general manager and is responsible for the blue line being in the pitiful state that it rests now.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 06: Rocco Grimaldi #23 of the Florida Panthers attempts to get past Mark Streit #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at the Wells Fargo Center on November 6, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defe
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Hextall needs to make major changes in the next 12 months, even if part of that is just cutting Grossmann and Schenn so he can bring up Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg.

There is also the possibility of moving one of the Flyers' many talented forwards, such as Brayden Schenn, for a top defenseman, although many (including myself) would be hesitant to say goodbye to another young forward with a lot of potential.

Take a look at this graph from Some Kind of Ninja, which gives some more insight into the woes of the Flyers' defense.

The big red bubbles indicate a negative relative Corsi rating, meaning that the Flyers are giving up more shots than they are taking when those players are on the ice relative to the Corsi rating of the team when that player is not on the ice.

Effectively, the graph shows that MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Grossmann and Schultz are all destroying the team's possession when they're on the ice and that Streit in particular is being sheltered with offensive faceoffs.

Those revelations, coupled with the Flyers giving up the fifth-most goals per game so far in the 2014-15 season, prove that things are pretty bad right now in Philadelphia.

The goaltending hasn't been great, but in many cases, Mason and Ray Emery have had no shot against breakaways, two-on-ones or point-blank shots from the slot.

The Flyers don't have a legitimate first-pairing defenseman on the roster right now, and only Coburn and maybe Streit would be a second-pairing defenseman on a top NHL team.

Hextall does not have many options for big fixes during this season, so Philadelphia will need to be patient for now.

All we can hope is that Morin, Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere turn into great players sooner rather than later and that there is generally a lot of turnover on the blue line between now and the start of the 2015-16 season.

Until then, the Flyers have no real shot at making a run in the playoffs, let alone reaching another Stanley Cup Final.Β