GRANTED, it isn't the worst - it has golf courses, after all, and plentiful April tee times - but there is a special place in hockey hell for teams that waste the kind of goaltending the Flyers currently are wasting.
The truth is that, if Steve Mason continues to play at the level he is playing, the Flyers should be a playoff team. History says it, as does common sense. The slow start should not matter, the fired coach should not matter, none of it should matter if Mason stays within the top handful of goalies in the NHL. That is where he is today, even as the team around him slinks around the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Last night at the Wells Fargo Center was typical. The Flyers built a two-goal lead over a solid Anaheim team and played as dynamic and as balanced a first period as they have all season. Then they started giving the puck away, and the whole thing began to spin out of control. Only Mason kept them in it, especially in the third period - when the Flyers became the Same Old Flyers. Overall, he stopped 34 out of 37 shots, but the three goals - all of them off turnovers, none of them remotely Mason's fault - were enough to keep the Flyers looking up at pretty much everybody. Same old.
"I think it started in the second period," Mason said. "We came out with probably our best period of the season in the first period, and we just didn't follow it up in the next two. It's disappointing all around."
As for the giveaways, Mason said: "I think it's just guys having confidence and not overthinking. When you're second-guessing yourself sometimes, that's when mistakes happen. You're thinking too much and not just reacting."
Whatever the reason, it was another great Mason effort that was set on fire. Going back to last season with the Flyers, he has yet to allow more than three goals in a game. Before last night, his save percentage was .930, tied for sixth in the NHL among goaltenders who play a lot.
The Flyers have not enjoyed such work in their net in, well, let's not torture ourselves with the calculations. Still, they cannot turn it into wins and points. Over a longer term, you keep telling yourself, the Flyers should be able to turn it around if Mason continues to play this way - that's the theory, anyway. But games like last night's are stunning. They are the reality that sometimes can slap a theory silly.
Here is the recent history: Over the last five seasons, if you have a goaltender who plays at least 60 percent of your games and he is in the top 10 in the NHL in save percentage, you have about a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs. In the last three seasons, it's 80 percent. Again, Mason is tied for sixth. He has room to drift down a little and still stay in the top 10.
So you tell yourself all of that, and you do the glass-half-full thing and figure that the numbers are the numbers. But then you watch the way the Flyers imploded against the Ducks and you start considering the half-empty side of argument.
Some pretty good goaltenders have had excellent seasons and missed the playoffs. Again, it is the minority - but it does happen. Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky missed by a point last season in Columbus. Henrik Lundqvist missed by a point in 2010 for the Rangers, because a certain team beat them in a shootout in the final game of the season. Tomas Vokoun missed year after year after year when he played in Florida. And you sit there and tell yourself the Flyers are not anything like those wretched Florida teams and, well, OK.
The point is, it does happen. And the Flyers, even acknowledging signs of recent improvement under new coach Craig Berube, still have those horrorshow moments - moments that actually can last for a half-hour at a time.
"We didn't really have the effort that we needed to close out the game," Mason said. Then, he added, "I thought Anaheim was in our zone for the majority of the [third] period. We just had trouble getting out. We were running around a little bit. When that happens, you're not going to win hockey games."
After the tumult of Peter Laviolette's firing after the third game of the season, the Flyers are working desperately on the restoration. They are trying to pick themselves up, to begin again, to find order after all. There have been nights recently where it appeared that the whole thing had begun to stabilize. You could see it.
Then, this. What a waste.
On Twitter: @theidlerich