Can Briere turn things around before playoffs?

Can Briere turn things around before playoffs?
March 27, 2012, 3:31 am
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They were attempting to praise him. It was bad timing. And yet picking that ultimately inopportune moment was fitting in a way. Things have not gone all that well for him this season, and so it makes sense that timing wouldnt be any different.

Midway through the first period, while the Flyers and Lightning were still scoreless, a complimentary message was posted on the giant scoreboard that hangs above the ice at the Wells Fargo Center. It was a digital back pat, an electronic 'attaboy for Danny Briere, a guy who hasnt had many of those over the last few months. The missive, and were paraphrasing for simplification purposes, had to do with Briere depositing two pucks behind Montreals goaltender over the weekend.

About a week and a half ago, Briere scored an empty-netter against the Devils. Technically that goal broke his interminable goal-scoring slump one that lasted 23 games, the longest single-season drought of his career. After that game, Briere seemed relieved (see story), but he was also a touch tough on himself for almost botching the empty-net opportunity, saying it was a perfect example of someone whos not playing with a lot of confidence.

From there, it took Briere another six games before he scored twice against the Canadiens, his first goals against a goaltender and not an empty net -- since early January. No wonder the Flyers wanted to give a little credit where it was (over) due. So the message went up on the scoreboard on Monday evening. Briere was on the ice when it was posted. It was a nice enough moment. But thats all it was a moment, one that was quickly overshadowed by what happened next.

Seconds later, with the positive memo still looming over his head, Briere lost the puck around center ice. It was quickly gobbled up by the Lightning. Ryan Malone then took Tampa Bays first shot of the night. To no ones surprise, it found the back of the net. Even worse: The Flyers were on the power play when it happened.

I changed my mind too many times there at the blue line, Briere admitted. I had no speed. It would have been a better play to dump it, but on a power play youre trying to keep control of the puck instead of chasing it. I tried to force a play that ended up being a bad decision.

So there was that, and there was this, too: Not so long thereafter, with the first period all but exhausted, Briere got two minutes for interference. That penalty gave the Lightning a power play, and Tampas dynamic center, Steven Stamkos, capitalized, beating Ilya Bryzgalov with only two seconds remaining before the first intermission.

Briere had an assist on Scott Hartnells power-play goal with 1:13 left in the game, but by then the affair had been decided. Brieres early miscues certainly werent the only things that went wrong for the Flyers on Monday Matt Carle, for instance, gave the puck away in the third period, which led to a critical Tampa goal -- but they did enough to help the Lightning win, 5-3.

Mentally, we werent sharp, Briere said. Mental lapses hurt us more than anything else.

Mama said thered be days like this, but she failed to mention anything about large portions of a season.

After the aforementioned Canadiens game over the weekend, Briere copped to it being an up and down year. Even so, he could probably use a few or several more ups to balance the downs as the playoffs approach.

Briere is unaccustomed to struggling this way. Hes 34 years old now, but he was a first-round draft pick once and hes played in the NHL for 14 seasons. That is no easy thing for a 5-foot-10, 179-pound center to accomplish in an often brutal and physically demanding sport. Briere has lasted because there is big talent in that small frame.

Last year, he finished with 34 goals and 68 points, good for second on the team in both categories. The year before that, he was third on the Flyers in goals (26) and fourth in points (53). And during his first season in Philadelphia, back in 2007-08, Briere posted 31 goals and 72 points. With the exception of the 2008-09 campaign, when he played in just 29 games due to groin surgery, Briere has never failed to produce for the Flyers.

This season, however, has been different. If you throw out the injury-shortened 08-09 season, Brieres 16 goals and 43 points this year are his fewest in both statistical pursuits since 2000-01 when he played for the Phoenix Coyotes. He was only 23 years old then and appeared in just 30 games that season.

Brieres performance this year is perplexing, and it is no doubt frustrating for him, too. But, for the Flyers, it must also be worrisome. There are a mere six regular season games remaining before the playoffs. Over the last four years, Briere has scored 29 postseason goals for the orange and black. The Flyers have counted on him in the past, and he has almost always made them look smart for doing so.

But now things are not going so well for Briere. And now the playoffs are quickly approaching. And now, and not for the first time, you wonder whats going on with Briere, and whether he can fix whatever is broken before the games take on added importance and the time to tinker is officially over.

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