So, last night’s game has everyone angry, confused and, most sobering of all, coming to the realization about this Flyers team as currently constructed: It’s not good enough. I almost want to write this article as a series of links to my Twitter rant about the Flyers today. I had a back-and-forth with Andrew Porter, Dave “Dance” Mangels, and The 700 Level’s Andrew Kulp. With Porter, we drew our disagreement lines in the sand on Peter Laviolette. Lavy reminds me of Andy Reid with his flashes of effective adjustments but inevitable, stubborn reversion to core principles. With Kulp, we drew our respective lines in the sand on our Ilya Bryzgalov opinions. I maintain that Bryz isn’t good enough, especially not in this system behind this defense, to carry the Flyers, to be the necessary, legit franchise goalie. The guy who can make a series of momentum-changing and shouldn’t-have-made-that-save saves, stone breakaways, steal a game in which the Flyers otherwise are outplayed. I’m just looking for something to make me believe. After an encouraging first 10 games, Bryz has regressed to inconsistent, no bueno form. I see a lot of the same errors from last season. The inexcusable misplay of angles, the astonishingly poor lateral movement and delayed reactions. My most recent gripes include both Rick Nash goals, the deciding goals, in the third period against the Rangers, and Bryz consciously, almost casually lying flat on his stomach while straddling the post for an extra half second as Sidney Crosby gathered the puck, went behind the net, and slid a perfect backhand pass to Pascal Dupuis for the empty-net goal that got the Penguins’ comeback underway. Where’s that sense of urgency, that spur-in-your-ass desperation? Still don’t see it. Easy to always blame defensive breakdowns (of which there are too many), but isn’t an ELITE (even merely viable) goalie sometimes supposed to bail out his teammates when they screw up? Things aren’t going to be perfect all the time, you know. Let’s not absolve Bryz of a healthy share of the blame because to do so would be incredibly disingenuous. Also, this is what happens when a team’s GM replaces puck-moving, mobile defenseman with stay-at-home, plodding ones.
I have offered my conclusion about this Flyers team in the recent past. It’s the same one I have now. I wasn’t confident going into the season, something I admitted in my first article a month ago, and the main reasons for my overriding pessimism have come to fruition. Where’s evidence to the contrary?
Jakub Voracek (aka Vorabeast, aka Scoracek) has been an undeniable bright spot and is emerging as one of the league’s best wingers. Claude Giroux has fluctuated between brilliance and oddly uninspiring play. Bryaden Schenn has steadily been putting up points, even as he makes questionable decisions with the puck. Wayne Simmonds is just so f’ing cool in every way and on his way to becoming a regular 30/30 guy. I’m terrified that the team might be prematurely, unjustifiably souring on Sean Couturier because he hasn’t taken that leap offensively this season. Trading him at all — especially for anything less than a stud franchise defenseman approaching or already in his prime, which probably won’t happen — would be an egregious, regrettable error perhaps on par with what would’ve happened had the team acquiesced to the Panthers Giroux-for-Bouwmeester demand three years ago. Give Sean another two years and he’ll be an annual 60-point, Selke Trophy finalist forward. That’s a rare, precious commodity. Patience truly is a virtue, and the Flyers would be wise not to screw this up. By the way, while we’re on the topic of Couturier: Perhaps he did something to draw Laviolette’s ire (failing to easily clear puck on first Penguins goal?), but there’s no way he deserved to play less than 11 minutes last night, including a paltry 1:47 in the third period. What’s the explanation for that? Are the Flyers trying to systemetically destroy a young, preternaturally gifted player’s confidence at the ripe age of 20? Nice talent development, fellas.
The next seven games will make or break the season, and the slate of opponents isn’t forgiving. Saturday matinee against the Bruins in Boston, followed by vs. Buffalo, @New Jersey, vs. New Jersey, @Tampa Bay, @Pittsburgh, vs. New York Rangers. Hey, would you like to guess the Flyers’ combined record against the Devils and Rangers over the past two seasons? It’s a ghastly 5-17-1. That’s not a misprint, nor should it be a surprise, given how terrible these Flyers are at matching up with defensively disciplined, responsible teams. Let’s just say my overall confidence level is low.
Lastly, even if things go to hell completely… no panic trade, please. PLEASE, SNIDER AND HOLMGREN, I’m begging you. I know this plea will fall on deaf ears, but this Flyers team isn’t just one or two players away. The ingredients aren’t there on the back end. Dealing Scott Laughton or Nick Cousins or picks in a loaded 2013 draft (best since 2003) for short-term, veteran stopgap rentals who won’t put this team over the top is not the smart way to conduct business. I’m serious. Sell players and recoup value, load up on prospects and draft picks. The Flyers will be better off in the future for it, I promise.