The countdown has already begun.
By the end of this week, if not sooner, the Flyers will almost certainly be dead men skating, even though the regular season will go on another week. Following four straight losses in which they scored a total of three goals their “tragic” number is down to six.
If the No. 8-seed Rangers get six points — or five in the case of the Islanders and four with the Senators — the Flyers will officially be eliminated from playoff contention.
In other words, the Flyers’ next big moment will be the April 29 NHL draft lottery, where they’re hoping to land one of the top picks in what’s considered a strong draft.
Of course, no one’s going to admit that until it really is over for head coach Peter Laviolette’s underachieving 17-21-3 team which heads to Montreal tonight, before hosting the Rangers tomorrow — a potential four-point swing off the tragic number. They’ll point to injuries (of which they’ve had more than their share, especially on the defense), the NHL’s truncated 48-game season (even though it was the same for everybody) and bad bounces for their decline.
Typical of that mindset was Saturday’s 1-0 loss in Buffalo, where the Sabres scored when a shot caromed off the boards and deflected off goalie Steve Mason’s skate into the net.
In reality, the Flyers’ downfall has been more about their own inadequacies. A number of players — particularly second-year men Sean Couturier (three goals), Brayden Schenn (seven goals) and Matt Read (nine goals) — failed to perform to their rookie standards. Others, like Scott Hartnell (four goals in 25 games), Danny Briere (five goals in 27 games) and even new captain Claude Giroux (12 goals) didn’t measure up nearly as expected even factoring in their injuries.
Couple that with a slow defense which had trouble clearing the puck from their zone even before injuries to Niklas Grossmann, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros set in, along with an inconsistent goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov and the recipe for disaster was set.