PITTSBURGH - Another day, another goalie, and another loss for the Flyers yesterday against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the ancient, lame-duck Mellon Arena.
Amid the penguins and the ducks, the Flyers got the bird from the referees during the 4-1 loss. That's disappointing enough, particularly for Flyers fans who think the NHL stays up nights conspiring against their team. What was more disappointing, however, was that the Flyers let a bad call early in the second period take away their energy and drive to go ahead and win the game anyway.
With seven games remaining in the regular season, starting tonight with a Wachovia Center meeting against the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers have drifted into a virtual tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They have suffered through a long, frustrating season, endured a coaching change, watched as their top goaltender was lost, and maybe now have reached that intersection where they stop and look both ways for reasons to lose.
Tonight, after five consecutive losses, would be a fine time to reverse the trend and make it seem as if they are doing something other than ticking games off the calendar. Now that they have reached eighth place in the conference, ninth place won't be far behind if they don't make a stand.
Not that they don't have a lot of handy woe-is-us material, particularly regarding the goaltending situation. They lost Ray Emery to an abdominal strain early in the year, and that injury and their subsequent struggles led to the firing of John Stevens and the hiring of tough guy Peter Laviolette.
After Emery's injury, the Flyers went to veteran Brian Boucher, not very successfully, then picked up Michael Leighton on waivers. That went well enough until Emery briefly returned, only to be lost to another injury, and then Leighton suffered an injury of his own. The Flyers tried Boucher again for a few games, with the same results as before, and that brought us to yesterday and the NHL debut of 28-year-old Johan Backlund.
Backlund has experience in the Swedish Elite League and the AHL with the Phantoms, and, just to prove he could fit in with the Flyers, he went out and got injured during yesterday's game.
"It seems like everyone here gets injured when you put the mask on," right winger Ian Laperriere said.
Only because they do. In fairness, Backlund had a groin pull with the Phantoms earlier this season and tweaked it yesterday, making it through two periods before being replaced by Boucher.
"In the first period . . . I heard something snap there," Backlund said. "I wanted to continue and I had so much adrenaline that it felt OK, but it got worse and worse. . . . It doesn't feel good."
It wouldn't have felt so bad had he left with a 2-1 lead instead of a 2-1 deficit, and that easily could have been the case. A Simon Gagne goal was disallowed in the second period, with the referee waiting until he heard the disapproving roar of the crowd after it watched the replay. As it was, the call was more than borderline.
"The referee didn't really give us an explanation. He just told us to stop screaming at him," Lapierriere said. "You have to move on. He's not going to say, 'OK, guys. I'll go change it again.' You can't let stuff like that rattle you, but we did for a little while."
"It seemed like we started to lose our steam," Laviolette said.
They never got it back, particularly when Boucher replaced Backlund, and the indignities continued. When the Penguins scored to make it 3-1 midway through the final period, that goal was made possible when Ruslan Fedotenko cross-checked Blair Betts out of the way before slipping a scoring pass to Matt Cooke.
Well, boo-hoo. Bad calls happen, and if it seems that everything bad is happening to the Flyers this season, they just might agree with you.
"It was a tough call. That could have been a totally different game, but it's another loss for us," Gagne said. "I don't even know if it's allowed to look at the scoreboard to make a decision. If it's 10 seconds after the goal, OK. But not a minute after the goal."
They will try to catch a break tonight against the Devils, but they will be trying to catch it with Boucher back in goal. He isn't all bad, although he's struggled badly, but he certainly isn't their first choice.
The Flyers have learned this season that they don't get their druthers very often. Things have not gone entirely their way.
What they need to work on, when things don't go their way, is continuing to play as if they hadn't noticed.
Contact columnist Bob Ford