Primarily, this comes from one key event that transpired early in the season. The Flyers started slow out of the gate -- 0-3 to be exact -- the same record they started last year's lockout-shortened campaign that saw them miss the playoffs for the just the second time in the past 19 seasons. With history appearing to repeat itself, general manager Paul Holmgren made what some would consider a drastic move: he fired head coach Peter Laviolette. Laviolette was the man who took the reigns from John Stevens after the organization relieved him of the head coaching duties in December 2009. After sneaking into the 2010 playoffs, Laviolette proceeded to guide them to a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Laviolette was replaced by one of his assistants, Craig "Chief" Berube. Berube is a man who's well-indoctrinated with the practices of the Flyers organization. Not only did he formerly don the Orange and Black as a player, he also manned the bench as the head coach for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms.
Berube took over, and the team proceeded to best the Florida Panthers in that game, 2-1. The knee jerk conclusion was that the problem did indeed stem from Laviolette, and that Berube would turn the team's record around from here on out.
It didn't take long for the wheels to fall right off that bus. The next four games that followed saw the Flyers lose just as badly as they had under Laviolette.
So did Laviolette's firing really help, or have things just started to fall into place at this particular time? Have the bounces simply started going the Flyers way, regardless of who stands behind the bench?
Their loss to Anaheim in the 11th game of the season would tell an interesting tale.
It's best to remember that the Laviolette-led team only lost close games, and he was released after a tightly contested 2-1 loss to Carolina. The team wasn't getting massacred 7-1 every night, they just weren't catching the breaks. Anyone who watched the games saw every conceivable 50-50 bounce fall out of the Flyers favor. Pucks just didn't settle for a player staring at an open net, causing their shot to go wide. Or a defender's stick would snap at the worst time, creating a pristine scoring opportunity for the opposition.
Vincent Lecavalier was arguably our best player in the early going. When he got injured in the 5th game of the season against Phoenix, it not only hindered the team's attempt at building consistent chemistry, but also the Flyers potential offensive output. Despite missing 3 games, Lecavalier currently leads the team with 7 points: 5 goals and 2 assists. Three of those goals were earned in their 5-2 win over the Islanders on October 26, when he was put on a line with captain Claude Giroux and rookie winger Michael Raffl.
Of course, this point would speak to the fact that Berube's shuffling of the lines and mentality on who should be paired with whom is paying it's dividends. Yet this was something that Laviolette barely had the time to assess and go over, much less consider.
Now, while some people will be quick to jump to the theory that Laviolette and his system was in fact the problem, it bears reminding that Berube inherited a slump, and began tweaking the system implemented when he took the reigns, as most head coaches do. There's bound to be a rocky adjustment period, which is what we're seeing now. But the real test to see if this early season falter was the fault of lackluster coaching and strategy will only come when the Flyers regain their footing, only to find the fortunes no longer favoring them once again, and what course of action Berube takes to pull them to their feet.
On October 29th, the Flyers stepped into a game against a powerful but gimpy Anaheim Ducks team. It was a good test for the stumbling orange and black team, who was coming off their first win streak of the season (though it was only a modest two games, mind you). The Flyers started out hot, but then --- just like they did against Toronto in the season opener -- they began to flounder as the game progressed. The energy level that saw them dominate the first period and jump to a 2-0 lead slowly but surely vanished. The team proceeded to relinquish two goals in the third period, eventually losing 3-2 to the Quack Attack.
As I sat there at the game peering through the glass, astonished at what I was witnessing first-hand, I started thinking: maybe this is more than a question of luck of the draw or fortunate bounces from the hockey gods. Perhaps it's simply a question of heart. Maybe this team hasn't found the mysterious ingredient that gets them to channel the desire they start the game with for a full three periods.
A month into the season, and only one thing is certain: the Flyers' current woes stretch far deeper than the man behind the bench.
D.G. Williams lives in the Philadelphia area and is an avid hockey fan. A recreational goaltender when his spare time allows, he has been following the Flyers for the better part of the past 20 years.
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