This Is Not a Freefall. There Is No Need for Alarm.

This Is Not a Freefall. There Is No Need for Alarm.

Five straight losses. Going from second the conference to on the brink of being on the outside looking in. Being compared negatively to the Sixers. Another concussion. Costly turnovers by should-be-Phantoms. No skate that fits. No clear-cut number 1 in net. Again.

All these elements have many Flyers fans digging through closets for baseball gloves and fastidiously reading reports on pitchers and catchers in Clearwater. In Philly, we know all to well how to rush the season, talkin' Mel Kiper Jr, fifth outfielders, and ping pong balls. But it's nowhere near time to write off this Flyers team. I'm not saying don't go out and have a 37º catch in the yard. By all means... Just don't get off the Orange & Black bandwagon before the homestretch.

True I may not have seen the worst of these recent Flyers games. Someone had to look pale and out of shape by a pool in Arizona while all ya'll chipped ice off your windshields and played bumper cars on 76 and the Blue Route. But I have a theory about these recent losses: They're a good thing...

Virtually every great season sees a time of failure and futility—a slump. Slumps are inevitable over a several-month season, whether you're talking 162+playoffs on the diamond, 16+ on the gridiron, 80+ on the hardwood, or 82+ on the ice. Pretty much every decent-to-great team has that reality check, look-in-the mirror, cold-shower leg-sweep. But as long as two very important things are part of the equation, there's no need for alarm.

These two elements are fairly simple in theory: (1) the team must learn about its weaknesses and make adjustments to correct them; and (2) the timing must be good. The first is easy enough to understand, but undoubtedly harder to implement. The ability to make these improvements is what separates Theo Epstein from Ed Wade, Bill Walsh from Andy Reid. The timing thing is more tricky, and has a lot more to do with luck than anything else. But its importance can't be discounted. Ask the Patriots if they'd have liked to lose their only game of the season on a Sunday afternoon in week 8 or intermittently between multimillion dollar commercials. The timing of a slump is everything. Too early, and you may slump again later, peaking too early. Too late, and it can spoil the playoff run. But timed just right, it can be one of the keys to going deep into the postseason.

So how does Goldilocks feel about this pile of porridge the Flyers are in? It might be just right. For starters, it's before the trade deadline. Adjustments can still be made, and the rumors have been flying about puck-moving defensemen, and of course, Peter Forsberg, although the latter seems less likely with every passing day. Paul Holmgren has made some great adjustments since taking over, so we can be confident in his ability, but will he be able to part with any of the pieces he so recently brought in? Time will tell, but I'd bet on him.

One rumor had Scottie "Menage" Upshall being tradebait, but his lingering lower-ex ailments could hurt his return value more than his playing time. Also, if there's one thing about this year's batch of trade rumors, it's that they definitively lack substance. First Rob Blake is a target, then he's not willing to play in the East. Tomas Kaberle. Dan Boyle. Your dad. The reason we haven't covered the trade scenarios is that there's just no reason to. Most of them have no possibility of happening, although there's a good chance something will.

Finally, as I wrap this up, and not a moment too soon, it's important to remember who this team is. One year removed from finishing dead fucking last in the league, the worst season in franchise history, a GM in his first full season has made a very complicated cocktail of leadership and potential, and many of the faces on the roster weren't even here last season. It's entirely unreasonable to expect them to hold on to first place in the division all year, or even to finish there. Also, have you seen the NHL playoffs? Seeding doesn't matter much, and you can get the same shitty match-up with the Devils whether you're the 3 playing the 6 or the 7 playing the 2.

There's a great chance that the playoff inclusion and seeding will continue to shuffle for the duration of the season. Over the past several months, most teams have traded spots multiple times, and we've seen nothing to indicate that the trend won't continue on into that first week of April. Don't get me wrong, I'll be pissed if the Pens win this division. But it's not the end of the run if they or the Devils or even the Rangers (ha!) do.

So even if the Flyers drop 2 of 3 against Montreal and Ottawa, let's not get too hasty to call it a season. They're still the same team that played with an air of dominance for long stretches this season, but they're also still getting to know exactly who they are and what they've got.

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 22 points in a triumphant Chicago debut, Jimmy Butler had 24 and the Bulls won their season opener, beating the Boston Celtics 105-99 on Thursday night.

Wade nailed a 3 from the corner in the final minute to make it a five-point game. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and the new-look Bulls got off to a winning start after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 25 points. Avery Bradley had 16, and Jae Crowder 14 points, but the Celtics came up short after opening with a win over Brooklyn the previous night.

The Bulls remade their roster in the offseason, jettisoning one hometown superstar and welcoming another when they traded Derrick Rose to New York and signed Wade to a two-year deal worth about $47 million in a move that stunned Miami.

The three-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star is off to a good start with the Bulls after 13 seasons with the Heat.

Wade hit 4 of 6 3-pointers in this game after making just seven all of last season (see full recap).

New-look Hawks roll past Wizards
ATLANTA -- Dwight Howard dominated the boards in his Atlanta debut, Paul Millsap scored 28 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. ignited the new-look Hawks to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in their season opener Thursday night.

Howard grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points, just what the Hawks expected from their new center, and it certainly wasn't unusual for three-time All-Star Millsap to lead the way in scoring.

But Hardaway's performance was totally unexpected given the way he struggled in his first season with the Hawks, when he was largely confined to the bench and even forced to spend time in the D-League.

He scored 21 points, matching his high in an Atlanta uniform, and broke open a close game with back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth. The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).