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Game of the Week preview: Three reasons why the Flyers are suddenly struggling

Mar 5, 2011, 11:31 PM EDT

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Philadelphia Flyers v Florida Panthers Getty Images

When you play a grueling (and occasionally tedious) 82-game season, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll hit a brick wall or two. Even the most dominant Stanley Cup winners of the past stuttered a little bit during their king’s speeches.

Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers probably struggled as often as they triumphed, as the team needed a shootout win over the New York Rangers to clinch a playoff spot in the last game of the 2009-10 season. Some thought that the team might regress a bit after their red-hot run to the Stanley Cup finals, but Peter Laviolette’s deep, talented group hasn’t missed a beat.

Until now, of course.

The Flyers are a pedestrian 7-6-1 in 14 games since the All-Star break and have lost their last three games (along with four of their last five). CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio captured the “it’s better to struggle now rather than the playoffs” type-mood in the locker room, which is a sentiment that’s difficult to deny. Still, it’s also difficult to deny that they are struggling, so here are three reasons that might explain why.

1. A lack of hunger?

Look, professional sports teams always want to win. If athletes were indifferent to the idea, they’d probably be in a different field.

Still, there’s a reason why there is “bulletin board material” in sports. Sometimes you need that extra bit of motivation, something the Flyers probably lack to some degree. After all, it’s easier to win those late February/early March board battles or block that extra shot if you’re fighting for your playoff lives rather than simply trying to protect the top seed.

Philadelphia will see a desperate, but less talented team in the Rangers at 12:30 pm ET for the NBC Game of the Week. Chances are, if the Flyers match the Rangers’ intensity, the East’s first ranked team should win.

2. The Flyers’ scoring is drying up.

While the “hunger” factor is mostly subjective (and thus a hypothesis), the next two reasons are purely concrete. It’s surprising to see, but their vaunted offense is sputtering more than a bit lately.

Since their first post-All Star Game contest on February 1st, Philadelphia hasn’t scored more than three goals in a single game. It’s natural to point to goaltending when the Flyers struggle – heck, it’s a time honored tradition to blame their netminders – but what makes this team scary is their staggering offensive and defensive depth. If wave after wave of quality forwards can’t get it done, it’s not fair to fit Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky with goat horns.

3. A lack of closing strength.

The previous two points converge into their last problem: an inability to finish games strong. Ryan Bright highlights a disturbing stat during the Flyers’ last seven games: the team has been out-scored 12-3 during the third period (not counting empty netters). Call it a lack of hunger, goaltenders dropping the ball or simply a lack of punch, but that’s the kind of number that should raise a few eyebrows.

***

While many will point to the Flyers’ net as their biggest source of concern, there’s only so much the team can do about that right now. Yet as the playoffs approach, the team can improve their scoring, get better in the third period and learn to match the desperation of their opponents.

After scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs last season, the Flyers could sleepwalk into the postseason this year and still be in the mix. They would be wise to avoid taking that route if they want to go deep in the tournament, though.

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