Fixing the Flyers, Step One: Dont Panic Over a Shortened Season

Fixing the Flyers, Step One: Dont Panic Over a Shortened Season

It seems we’ve been on Peter Laviolette watch practically all
year, waiting for the inevitable to happen. The Flyers are notoriously tough on
head coaches. For instance when the Flyers began the 06-07 campaign with a
1-6-1 record, Ken Hitchcock was handed his walking papers that fast, while
general manager Bobby Clarke stepped down.

Coincidentally that was the only other occasion over the past
18 seasons where the Flyers missed the playoffs. This year the team started a similarly
awful 2-6, and from there we could never quite shake the feeling that Lavvy might
get canned at any moment, until Sunday that is. One day after the final horn
sounded, Paul Holmgren reiterated to reporters the message that he stuck to all
along: this head coach will return.

“Peter Laviolette is the coach,” Holmgren said. “I don’t
know where all this crap came from.”

“Our team played hard until the end,” he said. “Peter is a
strong motivator and a strong tactician. I expect him to lead our team back into
the playoffs next year.”

That doesn’t mean Laviolette won’t be looking over his
shoulder when the Flyers resume their quest for the Cup come October. While you
get the sense there is some legitimate support for the man inside the front
office, it might have as much to do with the fact that Lavvy will only be embarking
on the two-year extension he signed just this last summer, or in other words
saving face.

Still, keeping Laviolette on board (for now) – not to
mention Homer – is also the smart decision, primarily because it’s not the one
being made out of panic. In an 82-game season, eight games represent less than
10% of the schedule. In 2013, eight games was 1/6 of the slate.

Maybe this is the sign of an organization that concedes a
condensed 48-game season is not necessarily a complete representation of where
their hockey club stands today.

More quirks of a 48-game schedule

Make no mistake, nobody is trying to "blame" the shortened
season for the Flyers’ woes. Everyone had to play under the same conditions,
and the guys in Orange & Black simply were not good enough. Their 5-on-5
scoring differential ranked 25th in the NHL, the defense was plagued by constant
complete breakdowns throughout, and for much of the way there was essentially one
goaltender on the roster.

In a normal season though, eight games would not so heavily influence
the final outcome. In a normal season, the Flyers would be six points out of a
playoff spot with 34 contests left to play. And in a normal season, they are
just hitting their stride.

Don’t look now, but Lavvy’s squad started to turn the corner toward the end. Philly won six of their last seven games, and are 10-5 dating back to March 30. At the 48-game mark of an 82-game season, the Flyers would
widely be considered in the midst of their playoff push.

Instead, in a 48-game season every little misstep gets
magnified. It took 16 games, or 1/3 of the season, to figure out Claude Giroux
should be paired with Jakub Voracek. It took until the April 3 trade deadline
to add a truly viable backup netminder in Steve Mason, at which point Ilya Bryzgalov had
played in 22 games in a row – nearly half of the schedule.

Where would they be
if either of those changes had been made in January?

Some things just didn't fall their way

Then there is the matter of 262 man games being lost to injury,
2nd-most in the NHL by some counts, and also more than the Flyers endured in two
of the previous three full seasons (240 in 10-11, 205 in 09-10). Yes, that is an
excuse. Every team has to deal with injuries. But still, that averages out to roughly
five scratches per game – four even if Chris Pronger is removed from the
equation.

As a result the Flyers were forced to lean heavily on young players. By the end of the season, they had been relying on major contributions from as many as a dozen players 25-years-old
or younger, many of whom were in their first or second NHL seasons. Some of them did not enjoy the growth that the team was
counting on to be successful this year, most notably Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.

Remarkably that was yet another area where the Flyers did
not panic. Couturier in particular was linked in potential deals with San Jose
and Ottawa for Ryane Clowe and Ben Bishop respectively. However, Homer was not willing
to give up on the talented 20 year old, even though there was almost an
expectation from fans and observers that a struggling young player would be
moved for immediate help.

2013 was a disappointing hockey season for Philadelphia, one
that exposed some definite issues that need to be addressed. However, 48 games do
not indicate first- and second-year players have hit a wall, and therefore the Flyers need to be reinvented yet again. The actions of the front
office suggest they agree.

So far at least.

Previously: Positive Takeaways from a Lost Flyers Season

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Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

BOX SCORE

With two teams entering action on three-game losing skids and still trying to find footing midway through the year, it was one of those games - especially in the Big 5 - where, quite simply, someone had to win. 

And in a game that featured lengthy runs on both sides, Saint Joseph’s ended up being that team, holding off the University of Pennsylvania, 78-71, at the Palestra Saturday night.

St. Joe's, the official home team on the ticket at the Palestra, led by as many as 15 in the first half before a 12-1 Quakers run led to a four-point Hawks lead, 35-31, at the break.

Penn got a hold of the lead, 36-35, with an early second half spurt but the Hawks, led by Lamarr Kimble’s 23 points (13 in the second half), were able to make more plays and pick up their first win in two weeks.

The loss was the Quakers’ fourth straight. They’ve yet to win in 2017.

Joining Kimble in double figures for the Hawks were Charlie Brown (career-high 19 points), James Demery (15) and Chris Clover (10).

Penn was paced by Matt Howard’s 19 points. Freshman Ryan Betley had 15, including a couple key threes.

Betley’s corner triple got the Quakers within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left.

But the Hawks scored the next four to seize control.

Turning point
In a close second half looking for a turning point, perhaps a whistle was the moment the game turned.

Late in the shot clock, with the Hawks clinging to a six-point lead, Kimble rose up from deep and was fouled by Jackson Donahue of Penn. All Quakers coach Steve Donahue could do was walk quietly to the other end of his bench in disgust. Kimble made 2 of 3 to push the St. Joe's lead to 70-62 with a little more than a minute to go.

A stop, which Penn would have had if Kimble wasn’t fouled, and the Quakers would have had a chance to cut it to a two-possession game with a manageable clock.

What it means
St. Joe’s, now 51-35 all-time against Penn, needed a confidence booster as it turns back to the crowded Atlantic 10.

Penn is still trying to find the right rotations to win games.

Inside the box score
Penn took 18 shots from beyond the arc in the first half. The Quakers made four of them. They made four on 14 threes in the second half.

Off turnovers, Penn outscored St. Joe’s, 17-4.

The Hawks won the battle in the paint, 36-18.

Penn had 32 fouls as a team and had two players (Tyler Hamilton and Betley) foul out.

Kimble, coming off a nine turnover game, went 9-11 from the free-throw line and had five assists against two turnovers.

Up next
St. Joe’s gets back into A-10 play Tuesday at St. Bonaventure before hosting La Salle next Saturday on City Ave.

Penn plays at La Salle Wednesday before a tough Ivy League road weekend the following weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth to kick off February.

Instant Replay: Devils 4, Flyers 1

ap-michal-neuvirth-flyers-devils.jpg
Associated Press

Instant Replay: Devils 4, Flyers 1

BOX SCORE

Not even a five-day break in the schedule could save the Flyers from themselves.

Some costly penalties, even costlier mistakes, added up to their fifth loss in six games Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center as the New Jersey Devils torched them, 4-1.

The Devils scored two goals in the final four minutes of the second period to turn a tie game into a 3-1 lead. 

Michal Neuvirth started the game but was relieved by Steve Mason to start the third period. 

This was the first of a back-to-back games. The Flyers came into play 7-4-0 in the first games of such this season. They now have 50 points with a record of 22-19-6.

They went into the break getting burned 5-0 by Washington.

1st goal
Flyers allowed the first tally for the ninth time in 10 games as Pavel Zacha scored off a juicy rebound in the slot off the backhand for an early 1-0 Devils lead.

Notable goals
Kyle Palmieri scored the go-ahead goal in the second period off a 5-on-3 power play after a horrendous clipping call on Radko Gudas from referee Dan O’Halloran (see video), followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Wayne Simmonds for arguing the call. The entire game changed after that call.

Goalie report
Neuvirth was making his first start since Jan. 14 in Boston when he gave up five goals.

Power play
Couple chances on the first one for the Flyers and Travis Konecny ripped it off the crossbar. He made good on the next power play, jamming the puck under Keith Kinkaid to tie the game at 1-1 just after the PP ended. Overall, the first unit wasn’t very good in this game and the second unit had the goal. Officially, the power play went 0 for 6.

Penalty kill
After yielding five goals over the previous four games, the PK units settled down and killed three straight before the Devils scored off a 5-on-3 power play, then got another power play goal in the third period as well. Devils were 2 for 7.

Injuries
Gudas went hard into the back boards after a takedown from Miles Wood in the first period but seemed OK.

Fights
Wayne Simmonds improved to 2-0-1 after a bout with Wood (see video).

Scratches
This was Game 47 – the first time all season the Flyers have had an entirely healthy lineup. Defensemen Brandon Manning and Nick Schultz (both healthy); forward Dale Weise (healthy).

Up next
This is the 12th set of back-to-back games for the Flyers. They face the Islanders on Sunday night in Brooklyn. They will play 18 sets this season.