By Tim Rinehart
The already struggling Flyers were dominated by the Boston Bruins on home ice Saturday, losing 6–1 in a game that saw Steve Mason pulled after giving up four goals in under two full periods and Philly’s lone goal scored not until about seven minutes left in regulation. The loss marked the Flyers fourth consecutive game without a win (0-3-1), and the team hasn’t won a game at home since January 18 against the Islanders.
Now, as a Philadelphia sports fan, the important question that remains, much like we have to ask ourselves every time Ryan Howard strikes out, or Chip Kelly breaks the “conventional rules” and goes for a two-point conversion instead of an easy one, or when the Sixers step on to the court to play a basketball game of any kind:
What should we realistically expect?
As of this writing, the Flyers are still in the running within the Metropolitan Division, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place and sitting in a three-way tie for one of the last two playoff seeds in the East (Columbus and Detroit, which visits Tuesday) with 56 points. We’ve already seen that they have the ability to contend with the big teams in the league, at least in single-game play — they’ve split with the Penguins and hung in with both Anaheim and Colorado — but lately they don’t have that trademark fighting spirit that they’re famous for; and, yes, I’m referring to that Broad Street Bullies brand.
If the team remains this inconsistent — too many shots allowed on net and not enough quality chances on it’s offensive end — then it might not be worth entering the Cup tournament.
Though many fans may not be pleased to acknowledge the following trend, the Flyers are now just 2-8 since center Zac Rinaldo landed on injured reserve for six weeks with a high-ankle sprain Jan. 9 following a win against the Canadians. Rinaldo’s absence is no coincidence to the lack of grit this team has shown during the past three weeks.
This team is and always has been built around bruiser hockey despite what the detractors to that think — even when the defense is in the position it’s in today. You may be incredulous at that, but your defense is not able to finesse its way into relevancy and you’re this seriously affected when your leader in penalty minutes is on the shelf, the old adage that calls for a special blend of boot-in-the-ass hockey, believe it or not, can be your most impactful ally. For the better part of two seasons, Rinaldo has played that role and, especially in 2013-14, has effectively set that tone when healthy to positive effects.
(Hey, this is just my opinion; if you take issue with it I might have to send him your way.)
It should also be noted, however, that two years ago he finished second in the league in sin-bin minutes. The Flyers were in the playoffs.
But, I digress …
It’s also important to note that some lines are just not working for the Fly Guys, but this can still be chalked up to Craig Berube tinkering with his club. Wayne Simmonds (who leads the Flyers in goals with 17 and earlier this week lead the NHL in scoring since Dec. 17) has been fantastic, but needs better guys securing the puck behind him — the passing game has been horrific. He also needs Claude Giroux to be firing on all cylinders and be the badass we know that he is.
There’s still a lot of hockey left to play this season, and the Flyers have the chance to bounce back from this recent tough set of losses, screw their heads on properly and get back onto the ice as the team we know they could be. But time is running short if they’re going to give themselves a real chance to fight for relevancy.
Tim Rinehart is on staff with Philly Sports Jabronis.