Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

It's do or die time for Holmgren, flawed Flyers

This ain't no carnival in Flyer land, these are very stressful times, especially for the general manager.

It's do or die time for Holmgren, flawed Flyers

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. (Matt Slocum/AP)

The often incoherent, grammatically challenged ramblings of a man who has watched too much sports, listened to too much music and devoured too many club sandwiches.

The Philadelphia Flyers held their annual Wives Carnival Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center, but as this week begins it is hard to ignore what took place in that building the previous afternoon when the team was taken apart by the Boston Bruins.

It was an embarrassing, ugly loss. And it was one of those losses that will make a team and organization search for even short-term answers. It was the team’s fourth consecutive loss, a stretch of games in which the Flyers picked up one of a possible eight points.

Making matters worse, the Flyers now begin a gruesome stretch of games, which begins Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. The Flyers can expect an ornery crowd, and if they get behind they will all wish they were all back at the dunk tank at the carnival, instead of in front of a knowledgeable crowd that rightfully expects a better product.

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What is the Flyers' biggest problem?
Poor offense
 
  92 (5.3%)
Poor defense
 
  810 (46.3%)
Coach Craig Berube
 
  25 (1.4%)
General manager Paul Holmgren
 
  821 (47.0%)
Total votes = 1748

The Flyers really need that win on all sorts of levels. They need it because their confidence has evaporated almost as fast as the fans' patience. But even more importantly, they need it because following the game against the Red Wings, they travel to the NHL's new terror zone – California.

These days, the trip to Cali is what it used to be like to visit Western Canada when the Flames, Oilers and even Canucks were riding high. Out on the coast, the Flyers will face the powerful Anaheim Ducks, L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks. Unless things change fast, the trip out west could spin the Flyers on the fringe of the playoff picture, and into a redefined look at the future.

The loss to Boston was ugly in every area: effort, cohesion, discipline, and flat out talent. However, it was also nearly as ugly a few nights earlier at home against a Carolina team with not nearly the skill as the Bruins, and so too at Columbus, a team poised to take the Flyers’ spot in the playoffs.

Flyers coach Craig Berube has pulled all the usual tricks out of the coaching bag, but he can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat. Berube has changed goalies, benched players, moved lines, called unexpected practices, and sent out the storm troopers when he had to try to change momentum.

None of it worked.

The only logical conclusion is that this is not a roster from which you can expect long-term success. General manager Paul Holmgren made some sweet moves with an eye to the future with solid young players such as Brayden Schenn, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, but the collection of players appears to be unmanageable in terms of chemistry.

Brayden Schenn has some sweet moves, Simmonds is a bull, Voracek’s a natural talent, Sean Couturier is savvy, Matt Read is an offensive threat and Claude Giroux is a bona fide star, but throw them all together with the rest of the roster, and they are not any better than the sum of the parts.

And unless the parts are players such as Sid Crosby or Zdeno Chara, sum of the parts is not good enough in the NHL.

There are times it all works, and the irony is that it works best when they are scrambling from behind in the third period of games. It is only then the Flyers look like a team with the grit needed to even stay level with the better half of teams in the NHL.

One of the problems has been Vinny Lecavalier, the prized catch in the free agent market. He has some big goals, but overall he doesn’t have the legs from start to finish. And any hope that he could be effective at wing appears wrong headed. He doesn’t look able to stop and start with speed as a winger.

As a result, he has been placed back at center for now, where he can move a little more freely, but that isn’t the best scenario for the team. Neither is that fact the Lecavalier isn’t just a one-year addition.

The bigger problems are on defense, where the Flyers are far too easy to pin in their zone. To be fair, movement from forwards to allow the defensemen to get clear could be better.

However, if the Flyers ever did get in a playoff series, the video study by an opposing coach would include a session complete with popcorn and soda on how to pressure the defense with a two-man forecheck – force the puck up ice – and pick off the turnovers.

Luke Schenn, never unwilling to give up his body, has struggled all year as a defender, and the Flyers still lack even the first “tic” as in “tic-tac-toe” to get the puck out of the zone with speed.

There are nights it’s so bad you wonder if Berube doesn’t have to go back to a dry erase board from Hockey 101 and diagram a center making a simple C-cut to come back and get the puck from the defense.

One of the most bizarre situations this half season has been the up and then very down play of Steve Downie, who has never looked the same since his concussion. There are stretches where he looks as if his skates are on the wrong feet, and his head in the wrong place.

This is astonishing, because he has never had a problem with effort, and it makes you wonder if he still isn’t in a recovery stage, or worried about another concussion.

Of all the major sports in our culture, hockey is the strangest in that -- at least for a period of time -- a team can go one way or the other based on goaltending or emotional play.

For once, the goaltending is not the big issue. This is a team that appears to need a kick in the rear to get going on a nightly basis, and more than just from the coach, it needs it from within the locker room from either the captain or a veteran, and perhaps the general manager in terms of a trade.

No secret that Holmgren is on a very hot seat as the club's general manager, and after changing coaches early in the season the heat is even more devilish. He is a man who has never shied away from a bold move, and unless the Flyers turn California into a proving ground rather than a burial ground, you can bet there will be changes in the roster around the Olympics.

When your job is on the line, you can only wait so long for things to come together before you change the ingredients – or they change the chef.

This ain’t no carnival in Flyer land, these are very stressful times, especially for the general manager.

Nuf Ced.

Al Morganti is a member of the WIP Morning Show (94.1 FM) weekday mornings from 5:30 til 10 and a hockey analyst for Comcast SportsNet. His twitter handle is @nufced.

Al Morganti Philly.com
About this blog
Al Morganti is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about sports and entertainment.

Al Morganti Philly.com
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