Flyers at crossroads again

Boston Bruins v Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers dropped perhaps their biggest and most embarrassing loss of the year this weekend, 6-1 at home against the Bruins.

The contrast couldn’t have been more vivid.

While several of the franchise’s best from its glory days 40 years ago watched in horror from a luxury suite, the team on the ice representing the current Flyers was performing at its absolute worst against the very same opponent.

This would leave a cynic to wonder if those old men who once beat Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito & Co. and hoisted the Cup might even now fare better than their modern day counterparts?

It wasn’t just the way the Flyers systematically broke down in all phases of the game in Saturday’s 6-1 humiliation by the Bruins that Claude Giroux called “the most embarrassing game I’ve ever been involved with.’’  It was the complete lack of competitive fire and submissiveness that had most of the hardy fans who braved the weather long gone by the time the final buzzer mercifully sounded.

Why stick around to watch a team that consistently can’t clear the puck out of its own end, commits foolish penalties—leading to three power play goals—and now is getting shaky goaltending from previously reliable Steve Mason and Ray Emery. Each has allowed at least three goals the last nine games?

Having now dropped three straight by a combined 14-5 to tumble down to ninth—and out of a playoff spot—with six games remaining before the Olympic break, the players know their season is again at a crossroads.

“If that loss doesn’t open eyes and isn’t a wakeup call for us, you’re not supposed to be on this team,’’ said a disgusted Kimmo Timonen. “That’s one of the top teams in the league, and they showed that to us. We got outskated by a mile today.’’

Perhaps having to face all those disappointed yet still loyal fans at yesterday’s annual Flyers Wives carnival will remind them who they’re playing for.  The problem is, even for a team playing well, the schedule is brutal.

After the Red Wings come to town tomorrow, the Flyers head to California, where they face the Ducks, Kings and Sharks, who’ve lost just 10 home games in regulation between them.

But the recovery—just as the way they bounced back from that 1-7 start that cost Peter Laviolette his job—has to start somewhere. Otherwise, not even a favorable schedule loaded with home games after the break, may save them.

“Right now we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs,’’ said Scott Hartnell, whose frustration  boiled over into a fight with Boston’s Johnny Boychuk after Reilly Smith made it 3-0 with a goal that caromed off the post, then bounced off Mason’s rear end into the net early in the second period. “Guys need to be ready to work harder, ready to battle. It seems like we’re just going to try to cruise through games and win them and that’s losing hockey for sure.  You go through some ups and downs, obviously. But If we let things slide like we have been we’re going to be on the outside looking in.’’

While some may be on the verge of panic, the coach isn’t among them.

“Right now, I look at our team as fragile,’’ said Craig Berube, whose club has gone just 3-5-2 since returning from that 5-1 trip during the holidays.  ”I don’t know why that happens. It shouldn’t. We’re in a little bit of a hole here and we have to dig our way out of it. To me, it’s not a crisis, but about getting back to doing things proper. When you do that, we’ll win some hockey games.”

The men who paved the way decades ago, but now can only shake their heads in dismay, could tell them what it takes to win. They had all the answers.

These Flyers, on the other hand, seem to leave you with nothing but questions.  Starting with just how much longer will that thirst for another drink from the Cup go on ?


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