Tyler J. Altemose
8 March 2011
It is an inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun.
The Philadelphia Flyers—once on a torrid pace to not only take the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but to break club point records—are now in the midst of what seems to be their annual slump.
It all started last Saturday, February 26th, when the Flyers lost 4-1 to the lowly Ottawa Senators. Given the team’s successes this season, losing by such a lopsided margin to one of the league’s worst teams sent tremors of discontent throughout Flyerland. But the Flyers were still holding onto quite a record, having not lost consecutive games since late December.
All of that was lost, however, as the Flyers fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs by a final score of 3-2 later the next week. Some blamed the loss on the fact that the Flyers had a long four-day break. Others felt that team injuries and illnesses were to blame. And of course there were those blaming the team’s complacency against a team fighting to make the playoffs. After all, the Flyers were (and still are) sitting pretty in first place in the conference.
Still though, the Flyers had fallen in consecutive games not only for the first time since late December, but to sub-.500 teams.
The Buffalo Sabres came into town two days later on Saturday, March 5th. The Flyers opened up with one of the greatest periods of hockey we’ve seen in recent weeks, edging the Sabres by a two-goal margin. But as the same old song and dance would dictate, the Flyers let another lead get away as they eventually fell 5-3.
If the panic button wasn’t already being pushed after the Flyers entered a three-game skid, it certainly was after Sunday’s contest to the New York Rangers. To say the Flyers lost would be an understatement. To say they were soundly defeated wouldn’t quite do the event justice. Frankly, the words don't exist to fully explain just how poorly the Flyers played—just how badly they were whooped by their division rivals. And if they do, I don’t know them.
But let me try to do something that I don’t see enough Flyers fans do. Let me try to take the silver lining out of this dark, dark cloud.
First, this four-game losing streak is good for the team because it gives them a sense of mortality. Many of us have used the phrase “sitting pretty” to describe the Flyers being tops in the Eastern Conference. And after seeing what has become of this team, it’s clear to me that there is no better phrasing to describe the Orange and Black prior to this “February Flop/March Massacre”.
This span of games against sub-.500 teams was meant to boost the Flyers above and beyond the rest of the Eastern Conference. Frankly, it should have let them in a position to be literally untouchable. Instead though, we’re seeing just how badly this team has been struggling against teams that shouldn’t be able to compete with the Flyers.
But given the fact that retrospect is always 20/20, I see now that I’d rather have the Flyers be in a position to understand that any team can beat them in any given game unless they’re ready and willing to commit a full sixty minutes to playing hard-nosed Flyers hockey. Had they continued to breeze through these teams like they’re nothing, there is little to suggest that they would understand this. And as we all know, the playoffs are a different animal entirely. Remember, the 7 and 8 seeds played for the Eastern Conference championship last season, so it’s important to understand that any team can beat any other team in any given game.
Now that the Flyers understand this, I feel that they’re better prepared for the postseason, no matter what their seeding may be.
Another good thing about this debacle is that it gives them a chance to “start over”. Head coach Peter Laviolette gave the team the day off on Monday and told them to come back Tuesday “ready to play”. In my opinion, that’s the best thing for this team. Giving them the day off gives the team a chance to get healthy (for those of them infected with whatever strain of the flu it is that their flu shot didn’t protect them against), clear their minds, and relax.
After all, a focused team is a winning team, right?
The timing of this debacle is also pretty good if you ask me. As I’ve suggested earlier, this kind of thing always happens to the Flyers. That’s why I can joke about things like the guys partying, intra-team tension, yadda, yadda, yadda—because there is always a slump and everyone is always an expert on why it’s happening. If the Flyers didn’t slump, I can’t joke. If I can’t joke, all of you miss out.
But more importantly, the timing of this skid—late February, early March—gives the team a chance to get it all out of their system but still allows them time for a late-season push should they slip in terms of positioning.
And that leads me to my next point. Another good thing about this slump is that it keeps the team’s eye on the prize. The things GM Paul Holmgren and Co. did to prepare for this season was not to allow the Flyers a legitimate chance to win an Atlantic Division championship. It was also not to give the Flyers a legitimate shot at winning another Eastern Conference championship and another chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
No—the things Paul Holmgren did to prepare for this season, and the mentality within the organization, was to end the team’s 36-year Stanley Cup drought. The Orange and Black aren’t out to prove they can make it to the Cup. They’re out to prove they can win the Cup.
But somewhere along the road the Flyers got themselves in a position where, frankly speaking, they got cocky. In October they knew they could do it, but also understood that it wouldn’t be easy. After all, the road to the Stanley Cup is a grueling, eight-month journey from October through June. What else to remind the team of exactly how long and arduous the task at hand is than a four-game losing streak to teams fighting to even make the playoffs?
Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, this losing streak gives the team’s leaders a head start on carrying the team on their shoulders before the playoffs start.
Mike Richards, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere, and Jeff Carter— I’m looking at you.
It’s time for these guys to get healthy and get out of their respective slumps (although I’ll admit that Timonen isn’t one of the guys you’ll ever see on the top of the stats sheet even though he remains a keystone to this team’s defense). The sooner they do that, the sooner the team is lifted out of this slump. The sooner they’re out of this slump, the better.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve prided myself as a fan of this team’s balance and chemistry. Certainly other guys play big roles on the team, and it’s their balance both on offense as well as defense that gives them a legitimate shot at bringing Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Broad Street.
But we know who the key players are. We know who perennially leads this team in points. We all saw Mike Richards collide with Jaroslav Halak, get up, and backhand the loose puck into the net in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season. We all saw Danny Briere nearly break a playoff point record last season. We all saw Chris Pronger stealing all of those pucks during the Stanley Cup Finals.
Remember, ladies and gentlemen. This team is built to win the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are no better or worse off now than they were in October. There are a few teams nipping at their heels now, but 15 are guaranteed to join them in April, and each of them stands a chance to win it all. They needn’t be concerned about that. They must first be concerned with themselves. The rest of the pieces will fall into place.
As a Beatles fan, and especially of George Harrison, this line always comes to mind when the Flyers are in this kind of position:
Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It's not always going to be this grey
The Flyers will find a way. And it’s this slump they’re on that’s going to help them get there.