Philadelphia Flyers: Why the Flyers Are Down 3-2 Against Buffalo Sabres and More

Thomas KrulikowskiContributor IApril 23, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 22:  Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres and Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers fall to the ice while fighting for the puck in the third period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 22, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Original article at zelePUCKin

OK, so after the overtime goal by Tyler Ennis there are too many emotions for a Flyers fan to process. You're angry, upset, confused, astonished, in denial etc. And in this tornado of emotions it is hard to think clearly about your hometown team. But that's why I am here, to lay it out there all neat and nice for you.

This is why the Flyers have gone from Cup contenders to third-line benders. No sugarcoat, no home-team special.

Note: this will be looooooong, so grab a snack and settle in.

1. Goaltending

 This is not their biggest problem, but it is the oldest and most talked about, so let's start with this.

Once Bobrovsky was pulled, I just knew what would happen. Brian Boucher would play solid for a few games but then the other shoe would drop and it would cost us. Well the other shoe dropped in Game 5 and it cost us big time.

Their is no reason why a team contending for the Stanley Cup should rely on two NHL backup goaltenders at best to take them from Round 1 to the championship. No excuse for it.

Look at the other teams in the East that made the playoffs. Tampa Bay went out and got a goalie who is reliable and has Stanley Cup experience in Dwayne Roloson. The Rangers have King Henrik, Sabres have Ryan Miller, Montreal has Carey Price, Pittsburgh has Marc-Andre Fleury, Boston has Tim Thomas and Washington has an untested goalie in Michael Neuvirth. But Neuvirth has won two AHL championships, and even that may not be enough.

Look at the goalies in the West that made the playoffs. Chicago has an untested goalie in Crawford but a playoff-experienced and former All-Star goalie in Marty Turco. LA has Jon Quick, Phoenix had Ilya Bryzgalov, Nashville has Pekka Rinne and Anaheim has Ray Emery (though no one thought he would recover so fast and well from his hip problem) who has been to the Stanley Cup and is only playing because of an injury to Jonas Hiller. Detroit has Jimmy Howard and San Jose has reigning Stanley Cup champion Antti Niemi who has improved overall from last year (despite his numbers). Vancouver has Roberto Luongo.

Out of 16 teams in the playoffs, the Flyers were one of three teams that went into the playoffs without a goalie capable of stealing a game. One of the other teams, Chicago, is riding the hot hand, but still was prepared in having a previous All-Star goalie on the bench. The last of the three, Washington, rolled the dice just like Philadelphia and I would not be surprised to see the Caps lose in the second round.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that the Flyers are one of those stubborn few that go into the playoffs with a question mark in net year after year. This is nothing groundbreaking as far as analysis. TSN, and all the other hockey media outlets have been harping on this for decades when it comes to Philadelphia.

Ed Snider, Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren are so focused on proving their theory that average goaltending can win a Stanley Cup that they handicap themselves every year. They went into this year with the same tandem that did them in last year—Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. The duo almost knocked them out in the Boston series when Boucher dropped the first three games and Leighton gave up three easy goals in Game 7. But the Flyers offense prevailed and got them to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals before the goaltending blew up. That's bad team management.

Yes, they did make a move for the future in signing a promising 22-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky. Yes, they were fortunate he could come in and play so well this year. Yes, he is their best goalie. But doesn't that speak for itself that the Flyers left their chances in net up to a rookie who never before played a game in North America?

Bobrovsky has played better than anyone thought he would and has really been a bonus, but in the end it is unrealistic to expect him to be the No. 1 guy on a team expected to win the Cup. But then again, because of neglect, he is the only one capable of doing it. (Side note: he better start Game 6).

In no way do I mean to knock Bobrovsky. No matter how bad the Flyers do this postseason, none of this falls on his shoulders. He was not given enough of a chance, and it isn't responsible to throw him into the fire and not expect/accept growing pains—the media and fans have not been able to do that all year long with Laviolette.

For the rest of these playoffs, however long they last, they need to give the reins to Bobrovsky. He is the only goalie capable of getting hot and bringing them deep into the postseason. You can't play Boucher. Boosh did worse than Bob did in Game 2 and Bob was banished to the press box.

What will the message to the young Bob be if they start Boosh in Game 6? I'll venture a guess: We trust the less-than-average and too streaky Brian Boucher but we don't trust you. Not a good message to send to your future franchise goalie.

So who is it going to be? The rookie with the chance of stealing the game, the journeyman goalie who has played only a few periods in the NHL this year or the career backup who is in his infamous cold streak? Not a very desirable situation to say the least. But thanks, management, for once again putting us in this situation.

For next year, they need to either ride Bobrovsky and accept the growing pains or step up and get a big-name goalie. And even if they do ride Bob, they need to go out and get a real backup. No more Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton. They just don't cut it.

2. Power Play

 Two-of-26. Yup. And one of those power-play goals was Jeff Carter's goal off the rush, where he went to dump it in, it went off a skate, bounced right back to him and he caught Miller out of position due to the bounce.

It's pretty pathetic to analyze one power-play goal and in essence be talking about half of the total power-play goals. Especially in the playoffs.

You can go ahead and excuse the Flyers for struggling on the man advantage because Chris Pronger is hurt. But in all reality, with a list of talented forwards and D, shouldn't the power play be operating a little more consistently? James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Mike Richards, Ville Leino, Danny Briere, Nik Zherdev (who barely sees PP ice time but that will be addressed in the coaching section), Andrej Meszaros, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Jeff Carter, Scott Hartnell, Kris Versteeg and Braydon Coburn. You would think you could compile one good unit out of the bunch.

Two-of-26. Too many pretty passes that are low percentage, too much perimeter play and not enough shots. It's simple. When you are struggling on the PP you make two or three passes and look for the shot with guys at the net and going to the net. But that's not what they do.

You can't win a playoff series when you choke on the power play again and again. Especially post-lockout NHL. Perfect example: Three minutes left in the third period of Game 5, tied 3-3. They get the power play and refuse to cash in on it. They lose in OT and are now down 3-2 in the series. If you want to win the Cup, you score on that power play.

3. Offense

 To begin, the Flyers have one of the deepest offense corps in the league, but you wouldn't know it looking at the playoff scores. Two 1-0 losses in five games. Unacceptable. Ryan Miller or no Ryan Miller, you need to score to win.

Let us look more closely at this deep offensive unit to spot the real issues though.

Jeff Carter: One Goal in Playoffs

Yeah, he picked up a PP goal, but he had many chances to hit open nets that he flubbed. He has been almost invisible this postseason except for when he misses a scoring chance that someone of his talent should not miss.

Again, he is hurt in the postseason. I'm not saying it is his fault, but didn't we just ship out a winger with a $5 million contract because he was hurt too much and thus unreliable? But hey, at least Gagne was clutch in the playoffs. Carter has never been.

Mike Richards, Captain: Zero Goals

I don't know whether he is hurt or not but he has been a non-factor in the physical aspect of the series, an aspect where he earned his big contract. At times he has appeared disinterested and unmotivated. He has not led by example or been very vocal on the bench/ice. While he has a playoff pedigree that warrants his contract, this year he has not been the Mike Richards who earned that C.

With that said, I won't be too hard on Mike. He needs to really work in the offseason on strength to keep his shoulders healthy and to add some more pounds to his frame. Honestly, he needs to model himself after Sidney Crosby and work hard to step his game up. Crosby and Stamkos train all offseason on and off the ice to be better. You don't hear those stories with Richards. Instead you hear that he's in Sea Isle with Jeff Carter.

Which brings me to my next point. The best thing for Mike Richards and this team is to move Carter this offseason. Not only does it clear salary (which is much needed and will be discussed in the management section) but splitting up Cartsie and Richie will be good for Richards' career. They moved Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul who were part of Richards and Carter's original crew.

There were rumors that those players were moved because they were too influential on Carter and Richards' lifestyles. Well, they are gone and not much has changed from No. 17 and No. 18. Obviously, No. 18 is more vital to the team and has proven he can step up in the playoffs while Carter has not.

The best thing to do now is to get value for Carter before his no-trade kicks in. Will it happen? Probably not with this management but we will get to that bit soon enough.

Back to players...

Scott Hartnell: Zero Goals

While he has a lot of heart, he has no hockey smarts and very rarely drives to the net, which is his most-needed asset. His contract is too big and was given out due to one year's production. He has a pension for turnovers and stupid plays. He is not good on defense and relies too much on his linemates.

My advice? See if there are any takers this offseason. Kris Versteeg is the same player with a lower cap hit and younger. Not to mention a Cup ring.

Kris Versteeg: Zero Goals

Versteeg has played increasingly better since Zherdev joined his line and in Game 5 played well. He hasn't had it this year with the Flyers but I think if the postseason continues he will start chipping in. I also think he will do well next year, and should be kept.

Nik Zherdev: One Goal

He has played in only three games but netted a game-winner and has brought life to Versteeg. He is one of the only forwards who constantly are looking for open ice in the offensive zone. He moves the puck quick and has game-changing ability. His physical play and defense have also greatly improved.

If I'm Philadelphia, I try to re-sign him and give him more playing time. He has been good in limited action.

Ville Leino: One Goal

This year has been hard for Leino and has really hurt his chances of a big payday. He has not gotten back to last year's playoff form. I doubt that last year was a fluke, but he turns the puck over a lot and refuses to make the simple play. He has been bad this postseason when we needed his line to step up.

I am skeptical of re-signing him, unless it's for cheap. I think he is redundant with Giroux on this team, and money would be better spent elsewhere.

Danny Briere: Three Goals

Unfortunately, he may be a victim of the salary cap, but Briere has three goals in five games and is the most clutch forward on the team. He has played well and always comes up big. He is the only veteran forward on this squad and right now he is their best shot at success this postseason. I think he needs to be a part of the Flyers next year, and be given better linemates.

Claude Giroux: One Goal

Along with Briere and JVR, Giroux has been one of the few constants on this team. He is their true No. 1 center and should be given top minutes. Despite what people think, Giroux is their main guy.

James van Riemsdyk: Two Goals

JVR has really grown into his potential and has proven all the haters wrong this postseason. The Flyers desperately need that to continue if they want a shot at getting out of this opening-round series. JVR and Giroux—not Carter and Richards—are the core of this team now. JVR has been good against Buffalo this series, and even in the regular season.

Blair Betts: Zero Goals

Not that goals matter with Betts, but he is starting to run out of gas. He may have another year in him, but this postseason, he has been fairly decent. Then again, he is not the problem.

Darrell Powe: Zero Goals

He has been good enough this postseason and is the only forward to constantly hit. Again, not the problem.

Dan Carcillo: One Goal

Despite his solid postseason performance, Carcillo should not be back next year. He is half the player he was last year and that's not saying much. The Flyers need "tough" Carcillo to show up in Game 6, not "head whip and back down" Carcillo. Especially if he wants a shot at being re-signed.

Andreas Nodl: Zero Goals

He is playing out of position in the postseason. As reliable and defensive-minded forward he is best suited for the fourth line when it comes to the playoffs. He has done his best playing top nine, but it hasn't reaped any production.

So what is the problem with the Flyers offense? Too many overpaid, overrated players that aren't willing to get the job done in the postseason. Too many chokers and no-shows. They can't afford the role players (or goalies) because they put too much money in forwards that are the same.

Hartnell and Versteeg. Giroux and Leino. Carter and Zherdev. Take one and ditch the other. Personally, Versteeg, Giroux and Zherdev have deserved to stay based on this year.

The Flyers need to have two scoring lines, a two-way line and a fourth line. That's how you get far in the playoffs. You commit to the system and you bring in the guys that fit the roles, instead of bringing in players and trying to adapt the system to them.

Scoring Line One

Power Forward: JVR

Play-Making Center: Claude Giroux

Clutch Shooting/Scoring Winger: Zherdev?

Scoring Line Two

Winger Who Crashes the Net

Play-Making Center: Danny Briere

Scoring Winger (not named Carter)

Two-Way Line Three

Gritty Winger: Kris Versteeg

Great Two-Way Center: Mike Richards

Two-Way Winger

Fourth Line

Blair Betts

Andreas Nodl

Darroll Powe

Tom Sestito

Free Agent or Philadelphia Phantoms' Matt Read/Ben Holmstrom

Right now they have holes in their seemingly strong offense that have them underachieving.

4. Coaching

 Let's be honest, Peter Laviolette has some blame to take in the Flyers losing the Eastern Conference top seed and so far choking in the playoffs.

He mishandled Zherdev all season long. While Zherdev could be even better than he is this postseason, he is not, because he didn't play in Game 1 or 2 and he barely played this year. The Flyers are missing a prime-time scoring winger and they sat on one the whole year. Hopefully Zherdev continues his good play and pots a few more this postseason to really make it obvious that Lavy screwed the pooch on this one.

But then again, Zherdev is not seeing enough ice/PP time, even though he has been one of the best forwards on the ice these past three games. It is frustrating and maddening to think about it but Peter Laviolette's stubbornness is keeping Zherdev from making an even greater impact on this series.

Then there are the playoff goaltenders. He pulls Bob in Game 2, which may have been a panic move. Usually in a 3-2 game, with only one soft goal being allowed, you take a timeout. Especially when not just the goalie but the entire team is playing badly. But he didn't.

Then he refused to go back to his most skilled goalie in Game 3. San Jose coach Todd McLellan when faced with the same situation after pulling Niemi while losing by four, went back to Niemi the next game. The next game Niemi played quite well and the Sharks took a lot of momentum from it.

Now, the goalie he decided was a better fit than Bob blows up on the team in a huge Game 5. In fact, Boucher played worst than Bob did in Game 2. We will have to wait to see who starts Game 6 to see if Laviolette makes another mistake in goaltending personnel.

And then you have the situation where Peter Laviolette's team has failed to put in a full 60 minutes. His job is to prepare the team and get them up to play the game. He has to take some responsibility for them not being able to come out strong in important postseason and regular-season games.

The fact of the matter is that this is a team that should have been a No. 1 seed, should be scoring more goals, should have a top power-play unit, should have won this series already and should be playing tougher.

Some of that needs to fall on the coach. I have been of the opinion that Peter Laviolette is not the right coach for the Flyers. After the playoffs last year, I was okay with keeping him on for another year to see what he could do. But now we have seen it and I'm not impressed. He, along with others, need to go.

5. Management

 Hindsight is 20/20 but let's not use that as an excuse to throw away this evaluation of the Flyers management. They made some good offseason moves, Mez and Zherdev (though the coach refuses to admit it). But they made piss-poor ones also, like re-signing Leighton and trading away their clutch winger Simon Gagne for a seventh or eighth defenseman.

Then there are the moves they haven't made, and the ones I feel they might never. Or at least, their track record gives one little hope. They fail to address goaltending (which was addressed earlier) and they fail to cut ties with players who they personally like, but aren't up to snuff (examples: Jeff Carter, Dan Carcillo, Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher).

There are also the players they never bring in, like the real scoring winger, the guy who gives us net presence, the role players and the gritty guys we need. There are a lot of "ands" in there aren't there?

What it comes down to it, the Flyers replaced Bob Clarke with a newer version of Bob Clarke. Man, could Bob Clarke make a good trade, but damn could he make a bad one. The same goes for free-agent signings.

Paul Holmgren also shares Bob Clarke's point of view on a lot of things, since Clarke is still in the organization and Holmgren has always been a part of the Flyers franchise. Whether it's their "a decent goalie can win a Cup" mantra or their ability to handle a star player who isn't so much a star, things are about the same under Holmgren as they were under Clarke—just a little better.

Unfortunately, that won't be changing soon. Holmgren is not going anywhere most likely and we will be forced to deal with the management decisions that have us down 3-2 to the Sabres when we should be looking forward to the second round this year, and for many years to come.

6. Heart

 This isn't a player problem or a coaching problem or a management problem. This is an all-of-the-above problem. The simple truth to why the Flyers are down and out right now is that there has been little heart all year. Blame the players for not giving a damn, blame the coach for not motivating the players and blame the GM for not bringing in guys that will give a damn and trading away one that does.

It is embarrassing as a fan to see this all year. For the Flyers to put it off saying they can "flip the switch" and act like its no big deal. Well, it is a big deal, and it does end up biting you in the end.

Teams need heart, effort and desire to win a Stanley Cup. We haven't played with any of that since last year.

You can blame it on Ian Laperriere being forced to sit out with an injury. Yes, that hurts but is there any reason why we can't go out and get someone with heart? Is there any reason why the other 20 guys or so can't have heart?

This team relies on skill and one hard period of play to win games. Until they find heart, these types of articles about the Flyers will be written every year.

In the end, you as a fan can blame the refs, blame the Mickey Mouse league for the Flyers failures. You can even blame injuries, like we have every year. But every team plays in this league with the same refs and every team gets injured. The Flyers have to rise above that and start making the right decisions, the hard decisions and simply try harder if they want to visit the promised land.

I am not counting the Flyers out yet, but it will be tough to salvage this year. I desperately want them to, as the playoffs without your favorite team is not as enjoyable. Still, maybe a first-round exit will bring about a sliver of change that will help us next year.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.