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Quick Hits: Wheels Falls Off in Washington, Alumni Game, and More

January 16, 2017, 10:49 AM ET [500 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT

1) For 40 minutes at the Verizon Center in Washington, the Philadelphia Flyers seemed to be getting back on the right track after a debacle in Boston on Saturday afternoon. It wasn't a perfect scenario, but it wasn't bleak, either.

On the dowside, the Flyers could not buy a goal against Capitals backup Phillip Grubauer (who went on record a 24-save shutout) and there was a clearing flub by Michael Del Zotto on a Washington power play rush that led to an Andre Burakovsky goal from the slot. They trailed, 1-0, entering the third period.

Overall, though, the Flyers entered the third period having held the high-powered Caps to just 10 shots. Philly had a chance to come away with at least one point from the game and a better feeling about themselves heading into a five-day "bye week" that will not see the team practice again until Friday or play until they host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

Then the wheels fell off, again. Before the Flyers knew what hit them, it was a 5-0 game.

Coverage breakdowns, failed clears, the goaltender (in this case, Steve Mason) being unable to make any saves to stop the bleeding and then allowing an awful goal (an unscreened point shot off the top of the glove and in the net), and too many one-and-done ventures in the offensive zone made for a torturous final 20 minutes. Michal Neuvirth, who got lit up in Boston with considerable "help" from the team in front him, mopped up.

2) The Flyers can't worry about what the fans or the media say about the state of the team. They are neither as good as their 10-game winning streak suggested nor are they as bad as they've looked for most of the 13 games since then. The most disturbing thing to see is the competitiveness level dropping off mid-game on several of these ugly recent games, with too many all-too-easy goals for the opposition and too much negative body language (including from the goaltenders, which is never a good sign).

At every position, there aren't nearly enough guys pulling their weight of late, which is why it's almost pointless right now to identify one particular area as "THE" problem. It's all about a process and the team has collectively gotten away from it, plain and simple. It's easy to point fingers at the goalies, since they play a so-called solitary position, but team defense and goalie play go hand in hand. Right now, each is dragging the other down, and team isn't scoring, either, when opponents play with any semblance of quality team D.

The club needs to use this five-day break to mentally regroup. Although the Flyers still technically hold the lower wildcard seed, the teams immediately behind them -- Carolina trails by one point and has three games in hand, Ottawa is two points back with a whopping five games in hand, and Florida is two points back with one game in hand -- all have ample opportunity to surge ahead this week.

Even if that happens, though, the Flyers are still very much in the wildcard chase. I despise the idea of giving up on a season, especially for a team that had 20 wins by Christmas. On the flip side, the way the team has played the last 12 games is unacceptable.

If that trend continues on the other side of the bye week, the team probably will look to trade some impending unrestricted free agents for draft pick assets. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has stuck by the mantra -- which he's held true each year as GM so far -- that he has no interest in trading assets for rental players and only way he'd make a trade involving young players would be as a trade that brought desired young players back in return.

Some will say, "Why not sell off some older players and call up prospects?" That will only happen if a) the Flyers continue to lose after the bye week, and b) Hextall and the Flyers hockey ops decision makers deem players like Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim sufficiently advanced in their development to be ready for the rigors of an NHL stretch drive. They set that bar pretty high, though, and prefer to err on the side of caution. That's the mindset, like it or not.

Translation: Most likely, the Flyers roster is probably not going to change much for the rest of this season, although some minor moves are possible. In terms of blockbusters isn't a deal out there to bring a latter-day John LeClair and Eric Desjardins into the mix to turn things around. Even if there was some miraculous big-impact deal to be made, the rest of the team already in place needs to pull things together in their two-way play.

They need improvement right now in every area -- team defense, scoring and goaltending. The good news, although it's hard to see right now, is that the team has had prolonged stretches in each of the last two seasons where things have been in order. The down side is that the same group has also shown a tendency to come apart at the seams for long stretches.

Final thought: The Flyers were a 53-point home team in 2014-15, a 54-point home team last season and are 14-6-3 at home so far this season. That is plenty good enough to be a playoff team if they hold their own on the road, which is usually where the genuine playoff teams get separated from the pretenders.

In the second half last season and for much of the pre-Christmas portion of the current season, the Flyers showed encouraging signs in their road play. They've been awful on the road over the current swoon, however, and poor road play was also what kept them out of the playoffs two seasons ago. That's a gauntlet thrown down to the team dressing room leadership, because the home-versus-road record splits overall in the last two-and-a-half-plus seasons are unacceptable.

3) Over the course of the bye week, most blogs will focus on prospect updates since the Flyers won't even be practicing for the first four days. Tuesday's blog will largely focus on the highlights of Alumni Weekend -- something which the participants and Flyers fans will never forget, and which was actually a welcomed oasis from focusing on the recent play of the current team. Wednesday and Thursday will be Phantoms/prospects blogs. Right now, though, I'm still on a high from the thrill of Alumni Weekend.

4) It was a huge honor to be asked to pick the three stars at the 50th Anniversary Game. I picked Bob Clarke as first star in his Final Alumni game because so much of the franchise identity is tied to him and so many young players (now Alumni themselves) grew up admiring him. Like a whole generation of Flyers' fans, Clarke was my own first sports idol and a big part of the reason why I was bitten by the hockey bug.

Eric Desjardins and Danny Briere were second and third stars based upon the actual game play. No surprise that Danny can still really go, because he's only a year removed from retirement. But Rico is still crazy smooth at both ends of the ice.

I actually added an honorary 1st star on the list I submitted: Ed Snider.

In the fall of 1969, Bob Clarke stepped into the Flyers' dressing room for the first time. On January 14, 2017, he suited up in a game for the final time. Likewise, Bill Barber first stepped into the Flyers' room in 1972, and played for the final time on Saturday night.

It is a little bittersweet, certainly, but the most important thing is that both men have the greatest things one could wish for anybody: contentment and happiness in their lives, friends, family and secure legacies.

Before the morning skate on Saturday, Bernie Parent chatted with Scoop Cooper, Kevin Cady, Dave Culp and myself and the subject dovetailed to Bernie's Cup rings. Bernie told a story about meeting Bill Gates and realizing that for all of Gates' billions of dollars, "he couldn't buy this [points to Cup ring] and he couldn't buy this [gestures at all his old and new friends laughing and joking around the locker room]."

All three of those hockey legends have all they could ever wish for. For all they have brought to the fanbase, the city and the Flyers organization, this weekend was a celebratory occasion.

If you were unable to watch the 50th Anniversary Alumni Game or would like to relive it, see below.

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