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Why the Flyers aren't living up to expectations

by Adam Kimelman

At the 2011 NHL Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers made three franchise-altering moves, dealing away centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and signing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract.

The struggles of Claude Giroux and the gradual erosion of the defense corps has combined to leave Philadelphia on the outside of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture. (Photo: Getty Images)

Bryzgalov was supposed to be the franchise goaltender the Flyers had spent the last quarter-century searching for, while offensively the hope was a few players would be able to step into the scoring void left by the two departing all-stars.

The 2011-12 season saw things go backward for the Flyers. They finished as the second-highest scoring team in the League, carried by their top line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr, along with major contributions from depth players like Wayne Simmonds, Maxime Talbot and Sean Couturier. Bryzgalov, expected to play at the same high level he had displayed with the Phoenix Coyotes, struggled for most of the season, and the Flyers were eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The common belief was that in 2012-13, Bryzgalov would shake off his first-season troubles and return to being a top-tier netminder, while the Flyers' offense would continue to sizzle. A number of prognosticators considered the Flyers contenders for the Atlantic Division title and a top-four playoff seed in the East.

However, they enter their game Tuesday against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) 13th in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a playoff spot, and their 16 regulation losses are tied for the second-most in the League.

There are many reasons why the Flyers have slipped so far in the standings. Here's a look at why a Stanley Cup Playoff spot is far from a guarantee with 17 games remaining.

The Tao of Jagr

After three years in Russia, no one was sure what a 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr still had left when he surprisingly signed with the Flyers in July 2011.

Jagr was better than advertised, totaling 19 goals and 54 points in 73 games, and helping Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell blossom into All-Stars who posted career-best numbers. Giroux's 93 points were third in the League and the most by any Philadelphia player in more than a decade, while Hartnell was sixth in the League with 37 goals.

Jagr's role on the ice for the Flyers has been filled admirably by Jakub Voracek. But the veteran's presence from a leadership standpoint has been missed following his departure to Dallas. (Photo: Getty Images)

Off the ice, Jagr was a priceless role model for the Flyers' crop of younger players. His work ethic was legendary, including his late-night skating sessions at the team's practice facility. He also wore a near-constant smile, keeping the locker room a positive place whether the team was winning or struggling.

"I was so thankful that I got the chance to be around him and see how he works and approaches the game," Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "His whole attitude -- it was really special to be a teammate of his last year."

But when the Flyers built their offseason around trying to woo Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Jagr felt unwanted and signed with the Dallas Stars.

His departure on the ice has been filled admirably by Jakub Voracek, who has replaced Jagr on the top line with Giroux and Hartnell. However, his absence in the locker room has proven to be a surprisingly difficult void to fill. Jagr's presence brought something extra that can't be measured, and it's something that's only noticed when it's missing. And this season, there's certainly been something missing for the Flyers.

Lack of offensive support

James van Riemsdyk was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jagr was allowed to leave as a free agent, but the Flyers believed they had more than enough left from the remaining players that their departures wouldn't hurt. However, a number of the secondary scorers who stepped up last season have regressed in 2012-13.

Brayden Schenn, who appeared to be coming into his own late last season and into the playoffs, has gone eight games without a point and 11 without a goal. And while he has 19 points in 30 games, eight of those points came in three games.

Sean Couturier
Center - PHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 45 | +/-: -11
Couturier, who had 13 goals as an 18-year-old rookie playing mostly on the fourth line, has seen his ice time go up but his production plummet -- he hasn't scored a goal in two months and is a minus-11, after registering a plus-18 last season.

Talbot had never scored more than 13 goals in a season before he had a stunning 19 last season, but he's back at his pre-breakout levels, with four goals in 31 games. However, the Flyers certainly were hoping for more.

Matt Read, who had seven goals in his first 17 games, has just one assist in seven games since missing two weeks with a rib injury that was supposed to sideline him for at least double that.

Simmonds has done well with 10 goals, but he has just one at even strength in the past 13 games.

And Danny Briere is on pace for the worst season of his NHL career. He has just five goals in 26 games, and none in the past 13. He also hasn't recorded a point in seven games, and now is out indefinitely with a concussion sustained in practice last week.

It's a second straight sub-par regular season for Briere, who had just 16 goals and 49 points in 70 games last season. However, he made up for it with an electric postseason, when he had eight goals and 13 points in 11 games. Briere is a career point-per-game postseason scorer, but at this rate he may not have a chance to add to his playoff totals.

Defensive adjustments

How desperate have the Flyers been to upgrade their defense? All you have to do is go back to the summer, when general manager Paul Holmgren made long-term, big-money offers to Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Those deals never came to fruition, and the Flyers have been performing damage control ever since.

Rather than bring in one of the free-agent all-stars, the only additions they made were trading for Luke Schenn from the Toronto Maple Leafs and signing fringe players Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster.

Luke Schenn
Defense - PHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 46 | +/-: 0
The result has been a group that has struggled badly, looking slow and unsure of where to play the puck at times, turning the puck over and missing coverages. They've struggled on breakouts and opposing forwards often have had little trouble cycling the puck in the Philadelphia zone.

Of the eight defensemen to play significant minutes for the Flyers this season, only Kimmo Timonen and Foster are plus players -- both with a plus-1 rating.

And compounding problems is Nicklas Grossmann, the team's most consistent defenseman and top shot-blocker, is listed as day-to-day by the team after sustaining an upper-body injury in practice last week. Grossmann leads the team and is tied for fourth in the League with 82 blocked shots.

One of the key numbers to look at with the Flyers' blueliners is the number of penalties they've taken. Braydon Coburn is tied for the League lead with 18 minor penalties, and Timonen has taken 15. In all the Flyers have been whistled for 145 minor penalties, second-most in the League, and 55 of which have been called against defensemen, among the most in the League.

In addition, they've also had trouble hanging onto the puck. The Flyers have been credited with 243 giveaways, tied for 16th in the League, and Coburn is sixth among NHL defensemen with 30.

All the defensive woes have resulted in Bryzgalov struggling again. He's 38th in save percentage at .900 and 31st in goals-against average at 2.75, and his body language and dealings with the media have given light to his frustrations.

Starts and finishes

Slow starts and poor finishes have been a hallmark of the Flyers' play this season.

They've been outscored 36-32 in the first periods of their 31 games this season. They've allowed the first goal in a game 16 times; while that's far from the most in the League, they have just a 3-12-1 record in those games. Ten times they've allowed the opposition to score multiple goals in the first, including four times allowing three goals in the opening 20 minutes.

And for a team that prides itself on its resiliency, they're 0-11-0 when trailing after one period.

As Hartnell said after a 3-0 loss in Boston on March 9, when they allowed the Bruins to score three times in a 2:18 span of the first period, "Just seemed like down 1-0 … it seemed like we just packed it up."

Their third periods have been even worse. They've been dominated in the final 20 minutes of games, being outscored 34-20 and giving up multiple goals in the third period nine times. That stands in stark contrast to the eight times they've shut a team out in the third.

Ten times they've entered the third period tied or with a lead, and eight times they've failed to emerge with two points (2-6-2). Their latest third-period meltdown came Sunday in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They led 1-0 going into the third, but were out-shot 11-9 in the period, and back-to-back penalties on Simmonds and Kimmo Timonen allowed Sidney Crosby to tie the game with a 5-on-3 power-play goal with 6:14 left, and then Tyler Kennedy scored in overtime.

Giroux's struggles

At the end of last spring's epic Flyers-Penguins first-round playoff series, Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette memorably proclaimed Giroux as "the best player in the world." And for those six games, no one really could argue the point.

Since then, though, Giroux has been far from that lofty perch.

Claude Giroux
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 28
SOG: 92 | +/-: -9
He has just 10 goals, and his 28 points in 31 games puts him well below the 1.20 point-per-game average he totaled last season. Named captain prior to the start of the season, he also appears to be pressing at times, pushing himself harder as the team has struggled.

The opposition is keying on him more this season, and having a lack of support scoring means teams can put out their best checkers and defenders anytime he's on the ice.

Not to be left out of the equation is the effect of Jagr's departure. The two became symbiotic in remarkably quick order, and while the Voracek is having a career-best season, the chemistry hasn't been the same. Hartnell missing a month earlier this season with a broken foot also didn't help, and the big power forward still is looking to regain his previous form.

So much of Giroux's game is built on his passion and enthusiasm, and when he's going strong, he has the ability to drag teammates up a level with him. However, there is such a thing as trying too hard, and Giroux appears to be in that area. If he can't figure out how to find the right level of play, it will be incredibly difficult for the Flyers to make up the ground needed to get back to the postseason.


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