Flyers, Blue Jackets rapidly approaching rock bottom

There's really only one term for the 2009-2010 campaigns for the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets as Christmas approaches: Catastrophic.

It's not just that they're losing -- but, man-oh-Manischewitz, are they losing -- it's the manners in which they're losing. They're both in 14th place in their respective conferences and the traits that characterized their success last season, while promising greater achievements entering this season, are invisible.

It all speaks to fundamental cracks in the foundations built by general managers Paul Holmgren and Scott Howson, and legitimate concerns that the players and coaches can't patch them.

With their hapless 5-2 loss at the Phoenix Coyotes last night, the Blue Jackets are now 1-7-3 in December and remain one point out of the conference cellar.

Again, it's the way these teams are losing that's so baffling. Ken Hitchcock's team yielded 230 goals last season, ninth-best in the NHL and a number that probably would have been even lower if rookie of the year goalie Steve Mason(notes) had earned the starting job earlier. This season? They've given up 131 goals, tied for worst in the NHL with the Hurricanes, and Mason's numbers (3.41 GAA, .890 save percentage) are downright embarrassing.

Which is why the Jackets have pulled his starting card, via Puck-Rakers:

In the middle of the Blue Jackets dressing room this morning, before the team took to the ice for practice. Hitchcock told the players that Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon(notes) are now seen as equals on the goaltending depth chart. Mason is no longer the No. 1. Garon is no longer the back-up. They will alternate based on who is winning and who is playing well.

Cue the Andrew Raycroft(notes) comparisons ...

Light The Lamp is attempting to assess blame (some PG-13 language):

A lot of fingers have been pointed in Hitch's direction but for the first time I'm starting to question Scott Howson's "vision". Not so much his moves but his non-moves. Something has got to give here... this team is has lost any and all confidence it's had. If he's stickin' with Hitch then there absolutely MUST be a roster move to shake things up or this year is over for us. Runs like the Blues had last year in the 2nd half are few and far between and cannot be counted on.

Like a previous poster named Wally alluded too in another post... the Jackets are 8 mil under the cap and have no one to blame but themselves if a move can't be made... if ownership doesn't want to ante up and spend more now to try to save the season then I don't want to hear any complaining from that direction when season ticket holders jump off this Titanic at season's end.

That's a real concern for the Jackets: attendance. Winning was vital to the team ticking upward in attendance last season in a crap economy. Losing can have the opposite effect, and quickly.

The Flyers don't have to worry about attendance. Just everything else.

(Kudos to columnist Sam Carchidi for coining "Legion of Gloom," by the way.)

With their heartless 4-1 defeat on home ice to the Florida Panthers last night, the Flyers are now 2-8-1 in December; and the only thing keeping them from hitting 15th place in the East are the Carolina Hurricanes, who own the basement like a blogger that just cracked open the new "Call of Duty" game and a 12-pack of Mountain Dew.

Last season, the Flyers scored 264 goals, tied for fourth-best in the NHL. This season, they've scored 95 goals, 22nd in the NHL. They're on pace for about 218 goals on the season, which is putrid for this lineup.

It's not just guys like Jeff Carter(notes), whose 12 goals in 35 games are way off his 46-goal pace from last season and likely have him off the Team Canada roster. It's bigger, overall problems for the team, as Matt Reitz wrote on View From My Seats:

We have to dig a little deeper to find the Flyers problems. Are they just losing the close games? Their 5-5 record in one-goal games says NO. Are they a victim of the "loser point" in shootouts? Their 2-1 record says NO to that as well.

To find the problems with the Flyers, we have to compare this year's version to last year's. Even with the addition of Chris Pronger(notes), Philadelphia is 26th in the league in penalty kill (77.5%). But that's not the only time the opposition can score. After giving up only one shorthanded goal all of last season, the Flyers have already surrendered 6 shorties this season.

The shorthanded goals give us a glimpse into the major problem for the Flyers this season. When the opposition scores a shorthanded goal, it takes momentum away more than anything else in hockey. Emotion might be the biggest problem for the Broad Street Bullies this season.

Is it emotion? Holmgren was asked about the problems for the Flyers, via CSN Philly:

"I look at our team and we're having a hard time scoring goals right now," Holmgren replied. "I look at our roster and wonder, 'why?' Guys are fighting right now. Even our good players, who were fighting things tonight, guys that can make plays and score goals, were throwing the puck away a lot of times with five foot passes right there and we're not making it. ... When it gets like that, it's difficult. You got to take a step back and look at things and then go back to work."

His faith in the roster is unwavering, but you have to figure moves will be made, because the coach isn't going anywhere.

Of the two teams, we still believe the Flyers are the better bet to play out of this. Not only because Holmgren will be more aggressive than Howson, but because they'll eventually get Emery back, they're a better team overall than Columbus and the Eastern Conference is more manageable than the West. That isn't to say the Jackets can't make the playoffs, just six points out of the eight seed. But they might need Phoenix or Nashville to come back down to Earth to do so.

As for Philly, this passage from Flyers Goal Scored By ... sums it up:

The Flyers need to prove something to even their most diehard fans. The ones that actually do bleed orange because of serious iron deficiencies in their blood. They get a small window during the day to speak with their actions and they've been consistently blowing it and then we get another 48 hours of "we gotta work harder" quotes. We're hanging on hoping for something no matter how bad it gets but just stop already.

You didn't always lose, you won't always lose again. Start winning now.

Time's a'wasting.

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