What a difference six weeks can make. When the Flyers last
encountered the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 5, they were one of the most
dangerous teams in the NHL, averaging nearly five goals per game en route to a
6-2 start. But while the Bolts are still second in the league in scoring, those
numbers have sagged quite a bit – as has their record along with it.
Tampa Bay is in the same boat as Philadelphia now. Since the
Flyers exacted some revenge in a 2-1 victory, the Lightning have gone 6-13-1, putting
them right about even with each other in the playoff race – which is to say toward
the rear of the pack. The similarities run much deeper than in the standings
though. Both squads are laden with talent up front, but are defensively-challenged
and face difficult questions in net.
They sound like clones in certain respects, only the
Lightning seem even more prone to wildly uneven performances from night to
night if that’s possible. They have the ability to hang a five-spot on
any given opponent, but too often the offensive output is merely ordinary,
lighting the lamp 2.65 times per tilt over their last 20. That simply isn’t
good enough in their current situation.
Still, it’s almost impossible to look at the two clubs and
not draw any comparisons. Perhaps the biggest difference is Tampa appears to be
in more of a state of freefall, whereas the Flyers just can’t stop spinning
their wheels whenever they get set to take off. Philly hasn’t won three consecutive
games at any point this season, but they haven’t lost more than that many in a
The Lightning have experienced a total reversal of fortune.
The Flyers have never really budged at all.
Why such inconsistency? The Flyers have their share of flaws,
yet in a gritty 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday, they proved
how tough they are to beat when they choose to tighten up at their own end of
the ice, not to mention how the goaltender suddenly develops confidence when
odd-man rushes are no longer constantly bearing down on him.
General manager Paul Holmgren heaped the lion’s share of the
blame for the franchise’s struggles this season on the players last week.
Basically he challenged every man in that locker room to look in the mirror and
accept responsibility for where the team is at. So far they’ve responded, but
we’ve seen them bounce back before only to flat-line once again. Actually, we’ve
seen that on numerous occasions already.
The Flyers will be skating against the Lightning tonight,
but the question is whether the biggest roadblock standing in the path to the
postseason truly is their own mindset. The answer, it seems, varies from one game to the next.
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