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

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.

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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.

Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

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The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
2016-17: seven points in 36 games

He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.