Unlike last year, the Flyers are guaranteed a spot in the postseason going into the final week but the Philly Phaithful are just as worried about their team. This season has been almost the exact opposite of last years. After last night’s loss the Flyer’s now sit in the number 2 spot in the Eastern Conference and just 1 point ahead of Pittsburgh for the division lead with just 2 games to play. You can’t point to just one reason for their slump but lack of focus and effort are some of the main reasons. Their recent struggles have been frustrating and have led Flyers fans on the verge of pushing the panic button.
About little over a month ago, the Flyers were cruising to what we thought was the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. We were just waiting for the playoffs and hoping we could overtake Vancouver to earn the President’s Trophy. After a 4-3 overtime win over the Islanders on February 24th, they had a record of 40-15-6. There play had most Flyers fans trying to figure out what team in the East could even stay on the ice with this talented team. They were getting production from almost every player who played and the goaltending was steady enough to win games. Since Meszaros's shot in overtime hit the back of the net against the Islanders, the Flyers have lost 13 of 19 games! That poor of a finish to the regular season is not something that is seen very often outside of Queens.
On March 29th against the Penguins, it looked like they had fixed the problem. They played a terrific game and went into Pittsburgh and got a decisive 5-2 win over their division foe. Two days later they played a hard fought 1-0 game against the Thrashers. They recorded 43 shots but Atlanta goalie Chris Mason stood on his head and stopped all of them. They even hit the post in the final seconds with the goalie pulled but they just couldn't seem to hit the back of the net. The next two games also ended in losses but they didn’t play horrible in either game. With a few bounces they might have left either game with the W.
Last night’s game was a complete embarrassment for the franchise. The game was played on the road but Ottawa is one of the worst teams in hockey. The Senators are filled with a lot of young players who are just trying to get their feet wet in the NHL. It is a game that they needed to have and team with the veteran leadership they have has to show up ready to play. Unfortunately they gave a pre-season like effort and didn’t seem to show any energy until late in the third period. The Flyers did get the early led and also led 2-1 early in the 2nd period. But the Senators scored 4 unanswered goals to end the game and send the Flyers to Buffalo with a 5-2 loss.
"It's not good enough at all, by any stretch," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
There have been rumbles that the Flyers were getting “bored” with the regular season play and they think they can turn it on when the playoffs start. But I have yet to ever see that switch that many sports teams talk about, and is something that I don’t believe exist. This is a time where the Flyers veterans will have to get in the ears of their teammates and emphasize the importance of the final two games.
“It was a big game for us and pretty much the whole team came out flat and didn’t really help our goalie,” said Claude Giroux. “We’ve got two games left and I don’t think you can turn on a switch when playoffs come, so I think the next two games are going to be huge. If we play like that in the playoffs, we'll be in trouble."
Flyers goalie Michael Leighton made it through re-entry waivers today and will join the team for Friday’s game in Buffalo. He was a crucial part of the team’s resurgence last year and played a key part in their postseason run. In 30 games this season with the Phantoms, he went 14-12-1with a 2.22 GAA and a .926 save percentage. The Flyers have not announced an official plan on their goaltending situation. The consensus is that Bob will be the starter in the playoffs, with Boucher backing him up and then Leighton being third on the depth chart. But you have to wonder that if Bob does struggle in the playoffs, would they go to Leighton and see if they can catch lighting in a bottle again.
Chris Pronger will not play the rest of the regular season but the team hopes they will get him back in time for the playoffs. It would be a huge lift to get Pronger back on the ice and his legs should be very fresh. The Flyers don’t need to win the final two games of the season to get to the playoffs but they would be huge for the confidence of the hockey team. Regardless of their play they are still a very talented team and have the capability to have a deep postseason run. Hopefully this will just be a speed bump on their road to raising the Stanley Cup in the next few months.