NEW YORK - Your first impulse is that the Flyers, losers of eight of their last nine games, can't get any lower.
Then you quickly realize they are playing their next four games on the road, where they have lost seven straight, and you wonder whether Craig Berube will still be the coach when the team plays its next game at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 11 - or whether general manager Ron Hextall has Dan Bylsma on his speed dial.
To be fair, Berube deserves only a little bit of the blame. His team has no identity, has played mostly lifeless hockey, and he has steadfastly refused to bench slow-moving veterans R.J. Umberger (without a point in the last 16 games) or Vinny Lecavalier (goalless in the last 12 games) for an entire game and send a message: Produce or sit.
You can argue that the Flyers have not been ready at the start of games, having allowed the first goal in 17 of 23 contests. The Flyers have played 11 road games and, inexplicably, have failed to score first in any of them.
Berube did a terrific job reviving the Flyers last season and deserves more time to try to salvage a season that has gone terribly bad.
The Flyers slipped to 8-12-3 with a 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. At this point last year, they were 10-11-2 despite a 1-7 start.
Berube and the Flyers are paying for the shortcomings of general manager Paul Holmgren. Not because he left his successor, Hextall, with a mediocre team, but rather because he saddled Hextall with ridiculous contracts (see the since-traded Scott Hartnell, Lecavalier, Andrew MacDonald, etc.) and set the organization way back with one of the most lopsided trades in Flyers history: James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn.
Van Riemsdyk is on pace for his second straight 30-goal season. Schenn is minus-9, and he returned to the lineup Saturday after being a healthy scratch for two games.
Holmgren was promoted to club president, but his fingerprints are all over this mess of a team, one that has one productive line, a solid goalie, and little else - unless it plays with last season's tenacity.
A year ago, the players bought into Berube's defense-first system and played a relentless style. When they were 1-7, Claude Giroux predicted they would be in the playoffs, and this year's players have that same feeling, winger Wayne Simmonds said.
"We still believe in ourselves no matter what," Simmonds said when asked if he thought this team would make the playoffs. "You can't have any doubt in your mind. We've done it before, and we'll do it again. We just have to band together and make sure it happens."
"A lot of [media] guys were saying we were going to have the first draft pick after the first 10 games, and we took the Rangers to seven games in the quarterfinals," Jake Voracek said. "This is a good team. We have to make sure we dig in all together, and we'll be fine."
The players defended Berube. Voracek called him the best coach he has ever had. Simmonds said the blame is on the players.
"This has nothing to do with the coach," Simmonds said. "He doesn't go out there and play. I don't think this has anything to do with systems. It's up to us to get it done."
Said Berube: "We're all in this together. My job is to get these guys going in the right direction."
"Everybody is confident in Chief and follows what he says," Voracek said. "We just have to do a better job executing it."
If not, you get the feeling that if the Flyers play poorly on their West Coast trip, they will go into a rebuilding mode and heads will roll. If not Berube's, then the players'.