Before Wednesday’s lackluster 5-2 loss to the struggling New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia netminder suggested to local reporters that losing twice in a row (presumably in regulation) to the Devils in a home-and-home battle this week and the Flyers would be “done."
The danger when you attach significance to a regular season game or a stretch of games vis-a-vis whether your season is about to go down the tubes or not, and then when you don’t respond to the artificial challenge, it’s hard to bounce back. We’ll see how the Flyers respond Friday night at home but the indicators aren’t positive.
You can’t blame Bryzgalov, really, for putting such a fine point on this two-game set piece. The Flyers were coming off a week that had seen them drop games to Pittsburgh (against whom they blew a big lead), Boston and the New York Rangers. They were four points back of the 7th-place Devils and the Devils had a game in hand. Win both, and the Flyers would be tied in points, firmly back in the playoff mix in the East. Lose both and, well, eight points back is a big hill to climb with 20 games remaining.
Welcome to the climb.
The ugly loss marked the third straight to the Devils this season and the fourth in the Flyers’ last five games as Philadelphia continues to stagger around the nether regions of the Eastern Conference. For a team that always has lofty ambitions, the lack of any sign of turning things around appears to be nearing critical mass. They have struggled at even strength with one of the worst 5-on-5 goals for/against ratios (they rank 26th). They are 26th in goals allowed per game. They have been beset by injury but their healthy players have not produced enough timely scoring or strong enough defensive play to turn the tide.
Owner Ed Snider does not take losing lightly and GM Paul Holmgren is as gutsy a GM as there is in the NHL. So, what next? A trade? A coaching change? All of those possibilities swirl about a team that has suffered ongoing injuries but whose healthy players have struggled.
Although Bryzgalov wasn’t terrific, this loss can’t be pinned on the netminder who has been a lightning rod for so much of the discontent surrounding the Flyers. The Devils are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL and the Flyers made them look positively potent, falling behind 3-1 by the end of the first period. New Jersey was also playing once again without Martin Brodeur, who continues to nurse a sore back. Without the peerless Brodeur, the Devils had won just two of their previous seven games. Yet Johan Hedberg, who has struggled at times during Brodeur’s injury, was sharp, turning aside 23 of 25 shots.
Of course, if the Flyers do lose Friday, they won’t be technically eliminated from the playoff race. But for a team that has not won more than two games in a row all season, it’s not hard to see why the Flyers had attached so much importance to this two-game tussle with the Devils. Even if they wish now they hadn’t.