The Philadelphia Flyers find themselves 0-3 for the first time since 1995, in what was also a locked-out season. There have been many pitfalls for this team thusfar, and from what I've seen the team is playing worse and worse each game.
In the Pittsburgh game, the two goals Pittsburgh scored on Bryzgalov came immediately off of faceoffs, the first one a PP goal on 3 Pittsburgh opportunities, with an empty net on the PP for Pittsburgh. Ilya played a solid game and should not be blamed. Claude Giroux was the lone goal scorer, and the powerplay was a dismal 0-5. Given the talent level of the Penguins, a 3-1 loss would be considered a valiant effort by the Flyers, who should have expected the Penguins to rebound after an embarrassing playoff elimination last April.
Against Buffalo, this team broke down even more. The penalty kill was a horrendous 3-6. While Claude Giroux finally scored a goal for the PP unit, the team was 1-4, and this has been the only PP goal thus far the team has scored. Thomas Vanek was a scoring monster, accumulating 5 points on 2 goals and 3 assists. The defense was too slow to stop him, giving Vanek a 1-on-1 breakaway goal against Bryzgalov. Again, Bryzgalov played well, only allowing a juicy rebound on the Hodgson goal after a Vanek shot. The defense needed to clear that off the porch, though, and didn't.
Last night versus the New Jersey Devils, Bryzgalov played his worst statistically speaking game, allowing 3 goals on the first 4 shots of the game. There is more to the story than the stats, however. On the first goal, Zubrus moves right around Meszaros, almost effortless, brings the puck behind the net, feeding it to the defender to shoot, and an uncontested Zajac picked up the juicy rebound to score. On the replay, you see Sean Couturier let Zajac just cut to the net and look completely slow on the play. While Bryzgalov needs to do a better job with big rebounds like that, Couts is expected to be there to shut Zajac down. He was successful against Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin during the postseason last year, so there is no reason Sean could not be there to stop the play. The second goal was a complete collapse by the penalty kill. Sean Couturier first loses the faceoff, giving sniper Ilya Kovalchuk a point shot wide, which both Meszaros and Timonen go to recover behind the boards. While they run into each other, two Devils, one of them being Clarkson, capitalize by taking the puck and wrap-around off Fedotenko's skate past Ilya Bryzgalov, who was busy trying to get his stick that he lost on the side of the net. Bryzgalov was preoccupied with the stick (which he needed) and was not ready for the puck. This goal was 9 seconds into the Devils' power play. No Flyer was ready for this play. The third goal was a penalty shot for elite sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Bryzgalov had little chance of stopping this, you cannot blame him. The defense should not have allowed him a breakaway opportunity in the first place. The Flyers immediately gave up on the game though, which is unacceptable. The PP was again a dismal 0-6 in this game.
Through 3 games, Bryzgalov has averaged a little over 3 goals a game because they have to keep pulling him for the extra attacker at the end of the game. Besides a somewhat shaky game last night, he has played well. The focus should not be on him.
The defense has been incredibly sluggish. Both of Pittsburgh's goals don't really get to show it because they were right off the faceoff. The penalty kill is a terrible 10/16 so far (62.5%). Last night, they were 6/7 on the PK, showing a vast improvement over the BUF game. However when teams score on the Flyers PP it looks ugly, with PP goals coming seconds after faceoffs, or allowing snipers like Thomas Vanek to get breakaways on the power play. This team needs to win faceoffs when on the penalty kill, but should look to avoid killing penalties as much as possible. This team is too slow, allowing early goals, frustrating players and drawing stupid penalties that dig the team into deeper holes.
The powerplay has been even worse, 1/15 (6.7%), with one goal against Buffalo on Giroux's one-timer. They have failed to have any real success and are clearly missing Briere and Jagr. Simmonds and Hartnell need more quality opportunities in front of the net and have not got them yet. I thought Hartnell had plenty of good opportunities last night, and if he is not out for long, it will be a matter of time before he finds the back of the net. The offense has not beat a team to the tally yet this season, and the team has only one lead against Buffalo for about 11 minutes in the second period. Allowing the first goal, or two as seen in 2 of the first three games, is discouraging for the offense, and may make it difficult for the team to get going. You cannot be in comeback mode every game.
So, what should the Flyers do?
Change the system.
This defense is horribly slow. Defensive forwards like Sean Couturier have not yet met expectations, and Rusty Fedotenko has been on the wrong end of goals as well. Laviolette needs to change his system to play the defense back a little more and put them in the position to help Bryzgalov out. IF, AND ONLY IF he does not change his system or make his system work, it's time to find a new coach. It is no new problem for the Flyers' play on transition; you saw it last year all season, and against the Penguins and Devils.
Trade Jake Voracek.
When the Flyers resigned Jake to a 4 year, $17 million deal this offseason, it was expected the young winger would replace Jagr on the wing of the Giroux line. While he's only 3 games in, you can look at last season and see that he was never going to be an adequate Jagr replacement. He passes the puck too much on opportunities where he should shoot, and tries to be too fancy handling the puck. This was another rushed, overgenerous extension by Paul Holmgren who saw a glimmer of good, just like he did in JVR. I'm not saying Voracek is bad, but he does not deserve $4.25 MM/yr.
Find at the very least a rental winger with scoring talent.
With Brendan Morrow coming to the FA market this offseason, don't be surprised if Dallas looks to move him this season and get something for him. Morrow is a talented forward and captain of the Stars. While certainly not a sniper, he has amassed a fairly impressive 518 points in 809 games. Corey Perry, Simon Gagne, and Jarome Iginla are
all possible options as well as these guys could be on the move this offseason.
If the Flyers would prefer to save their draft picks, a long-term option could be a star winger like Bobby Ryan or Evander Kane who are both reportedly unhappy with their respective teams, but would come at a cost of a player such as Couturier or Brayden Schenn.
Stay disciplined, patient, and hope Briere returns soon.
Although Giroux was the virtually unanimous decision for captain, and rightfully deserves it, the team seems to be losing motivation. Danny Briere will provide the talent and experience to help this team through its rough patch.
The next three games for the Flyers:
Thursday vs. the New York Rangers
This game is a must-win for the Flyers, who need a win to turn around this sour start. With the day off, expect the Flyers to be studying how the Rangers play tonight against the Boston Bruins. A solid team like the Bs should wear the Rangers down. Don't be surprised if you see Marty Biron in net Thursday if Lundqvist plays tonight. Flyers will need to capitalize, and hope Hartnell's foot is okay after taking a Timonen shot last night versus the Devils.
Saturday vs. the Florida Panthers
The Panthers do not have incredible talent, and the Flyers ultimately should win this game. Anything short of a win is an utter disappointment, as the Flyers have a better roster.
Sunday vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning
With Rocket Richard winner Steven Stamkos running the offense, the Flyers will have a tough time matching the Lightning on the score sheet. The Flyers have better goaltending though, and should look to capitalize any possible time they can.
Look for the Flyers to take at least 2 games of these next three. If they fail to get a win against any of these teams, it would suggest the team will be looking at a 7-8 seed if they can turn it around or a lottery pick. Hope for the team to win their next three games so they can quickly get back to the .500 record.