Flyers lacking heart through first third

Montreal Canadiens' David Desharnais (51) collides with Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Montreal, on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (Graham Hughes/AP, The Canadian Press)

MONTRÉAL -- Captain Claude Giroux called out his teammates for “going through the motions.”

Danny Briere said the Flyers “need to want it more.”

Kimmo Timonen pointed toward the Flyers’ attitude and said “it needs to change.”

“You have to go beat people to win games,” Timonen said. “The attitude has to be that ‘We’re the Flyers.’ We go into games and people should be afraid. They’re not.”

Canadiens backup goaltender Peter Budaj certainly wasn’t afraid on Saturday night at Bell Centre. Why should he have been? The Flyers managed just 2 shots in the first period - and 6 total through the first 32 minutes of the game. They were on-pace to set a new franchise record for fewest shots (13) in a game.

The end result, a thorough 4-1 beating, was predictable based on the start.

The harsh words from the Flyers post-game were just that: words. There is nothing this team has done on the ice this season to strike fear in any opponent. And it many ways, it is mind-boggling. 

For once, it hasn’t been the goaltending. That trend continued on Saturday night, even as the Flyers turned to their backup - Brian Boucher - for the second time in 16 games this season.

It hasn’t been penalty kill. The Flyers have killed off 16 straight power plays and they’re 33-for-35 (94.3 percent) in their last 9 games. 

It certainly can't be because of talent. Look at the rosters of the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, or Devils - teams they've lost to on this road trip. Can you say the Flyers are inferior to those teams talent-wise?

The offense deserves a lot the blame - from Giroux on down. The Flyers have failed to score more than 2 goals in 11 of their 16 games this season.

“With all of the scorers we have on this team, it’s tough to understand at this point,” Briere said. “There’s a lot of frustration.”

To me, the Flyers' offensive struggles, like almost every other deficiency with this team, seem to stem from their own brains.

How else do you explain going offsides 4 times in one period alone? Finishing second on seemingly every puck battle? A too-many-men on the ice penalty at a crucial point in the game? Three power plays without a single shot on net?

“We were not competing,” Giroux said. “We were not winning battles. It’s just frustrating to see. We need to cut those mistakes down. We’re aware that mental mistakes are out there. We need to cut that.”

It was amazing to see that no matter how bad the Flyers’ start was on Saturday, they were still trailing just 2-1 entering the third period. It was a very winnable game - even before you consider who was in net for Montreal.

Instead, it seemed like once Briere’s shot snuck through Budaj to cut the Canadiens’ lead in half, they settled rather than pushing the gas pedal to the floor. 

“We need to just want to win more,” Giroux said. “In the third period we were down 2-1. We need to find a way to get it done.”

The same thing happened in New Jersey on Friday night. The Flyers battled for a 3-1 lead. Once they got it, they hit the snooze bar.

Twice this season, the Flyers have scored in the first minute of the game - as they did in Toronto last Monday night - and they’ve found a way to give it back rather quickly.

“Playing not to lose, that’s what comes to mind,” Timonen said. “It’s too much up and down. You can’t win games in this league that way.”

Yes, the Flyers have injuries to key players. Yes, their schedule has not been easy - they’ve played 5 back-to-back sets already of their 16 games. But they’re no different than any other team in the league in both of those categories.

It’s impossible to look at any one of the Flyers’ 9 losses and say they didn’t have a chance to at least take the game over at one point or another. They’ve been right there in a lot of games, and a lot of them have turned out to be lopsided losses. Four of them have been by 3 goals or more.

“We’re in the game and it’s like the game keeps slipping away from us,” Mike Knuble said. “We’re just having a hard time mustering the tying goal or the goal to get us back in the game. Once they get on top of us, it’s been easy for teams to close out the game on us. The game’s on the line and we’ve just kind of played it out. It’s the will to win, I don’t think it’s been there enough for us yet.”

It’s time to get concerned. Peter Laviolette said the Flyers were “concerned before the game,” and they’ll continue to be concerned. The Flyers are the first team in the NHL to have played a third of this 48-game schedule. They’re 2-8-0 on the road. Teams that they’re chasing for playoff spots - like the Jets, Rangers and Hurricanes - all have 3 games in-hand at this point.

“The league’s not going to wait around,” Knuble said. “Nobody’s happy about it. That’s unacceptable for our group, from our last player to our top guy. You don’t have time to practice your way out of it, you don’t have time to play your way out of it. The urgency, it’s got to be there. You’ve got 60 possible points left to get. Other teams are going to win their share of games, it’s going to get harder and harder to climb your way up the ladder.”

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers