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JJ's View from the Booth

Flyers broadcaster gives his observations from high in the sky

by @nhlflyers

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger"

It's a phrase that has been around for a long time. It's used to motivate people battling illness, and depression. It's used in presentations in the business world when companies are struggling, and it is certainly used in the sports world during times of adversity.
As the calendar gets set to move from November to December, it appears the Flyers' situation may just apply. With a nine game winless streak dropping them to the basement of the Metropolitan Division, adversity has most definitely arrived.
This is the time a season can be made or it can be broken. When a club goes three weeks between wins, tension mounts. Some members of the media look for someone to blame. Fans get frustrated. A myriad of outside influences act as potentially divisive elements.
It's actually at this time of crisis, that a team's reaction can define it. If the club gives in to the negativity and starts to break apart via blame casting or infighting, then there is little or no chance of a recovery. However, if the group remains unified, it can discover a lot about its makeup and which players can be part of getting the team back into a better place.
Captain Claude Giroux called a closed door team meeting after the team's listless loss to San Jose this week. It's a sign he is trying to keep this club together and follow the second of the two options above. If they power through this rough stretch and stick together, they will be a stronger team for it heading toward the second half of the season.
If the team is able to keep it together, just how do they turn things around? There are some different possibilities:
Some may feel not all that much has to change. A look at the nine games in row without a win reveals six one goal losses and five that went past regulation. Any of those games could easily have wound up in the win column with one or two plays going the other way. The Flyers have held the lead in seven of the nine games, four times by at least two goals. Clearly, the opportunity to win those games was there. They were not getting blown out or completely overwhelmed with the exception of the loss to the Sharks on Tuesday when it's quite possible the totality of the streak finally wore them down.
This is a young team, 5th youngest in the NHL by average age. There will be growing pains. There will be improvement. Staying the course gives the youngsters the opportunity to get their sea legs and get established. As long as the atmosphere does not disintegrate and the veterans keep it together, then talented first and second year players should get better which should help this team as the season progresses.
The truth is, though, that several of the game turning plays this month have been errors by veteran players and not the younger players. These mistakes will have to stop. If you are a proponent of staying the course, the veterans have to be better in the clutch than many of them were in November.
Perhaps, some changes are called for from within. Dave Hakstol has hesitated to break up the top line thus far. It is one of the most productive lines in hockey so you can understand his hesitance to do so. However, there is little scoring depth up front beyond Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Giroux. It is so difficult to win consistently when relying almost exclusively on one line, even as dynamic as this one has been.
Giroux could go back to center and try to get Wayne Simmonds going. Michael Raffl or Jordan Weal could move up to play with Couturier and Voracek. That's simply one scenario of several that could be tried to spread the wealth some. Change for change sake can be misguided, but there's also something to say about using the same recipe with unsuccessful results. A different look might just refresh some of these players.
These changes don't necessarily have to be permanent. Few line combinations are anymore. However, sometimes it's good to give everyone a different look.
There will also be those that want more extensive changes. They will call for more promotions of young players, a trade or two, or even a coaching change. For many years, the Flyers were known for reactions like this. End a short term malaise by making significant personnel changes or a switch behind the bench.
That was then. This is now. General Manager Ron Hextall seems determined to stick with his plan to build this team for the long haul. That plan would include not rushing young players, not trading youth for veterans, and giving the team consistent coaching leadership. I wouldn't hold my breath for a drastic change right now.
That being said, if Hextall can find a deal where he doesn't threaten the future of this team, while still improving the present, he will consider it. A young player for a young player deal, for instance. Or, perhaps he can find someone interested in one of his veteran players that could bring back some impressive young talent.
Hexy's comments this week would indicate he feels this team has not performed as badly as its recent 0-4-5 stretch would indicate. The numbers bear him out. However, losing, even in competitive fashion, can eat away at a team and Tuesday's loss would seem to show it's having an impact.
The question now is whether or not the team can work its way through the adversity and emerge even stronger for it, or whether they need a little help to go in that direction.
December should let us know.
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