At this time of year, coaches of struggling teams are always looking to play the blame game, attempting to slow and/or reverse negative momentum heading into the postseason.
This isn't, as they say, Peter Laviolette's first rodeo. So we bow to the Philadelphia Flyers coach for his terrific spin on the Flyers' 4-3-5 slide, informally titled "All of You Negative Nancy's Would Shut Yer Yaps Were It Not For This Pesky Shootout."
The Flyers, who can clinch the Atlantic with a win over the Ottawa Senators and a Penguins' loss to the Devils (or a point vs. Ottawa and a Pens' regulation loss), have lost seven of 10 shootouts this season, and are 1-4 in the skills competition since March 17. Laviolette, to the Cherry Hill Courier-Post:
"There's no question (shootout results) cloud things. I'm pretty honest when we play poor. But if we win those shootouts, we're cruising home (with 108 points) and all we did is score on some breakaways."
"It misrepresents the game and the minutes," Laviolette said. "That's one thing a shootout can do. Is it entertaining? Sure it is. Does it bring a conclusion to the game? Sure does. One way or the other, you'll get a conclusion, but it doesn't always represent the game or how you played.
"You leave that rink after battling hard against a desperate team [Rangers] and yeah, we could have done some things better, but we lost the game on breakaways. That's why you got to put things in perspective. We played a competitive game [Sunday]."
Now, this shootout bashing obviously warms the cockles of our skills competition-loathing hearts, but let's not obscure the issue: Are the Flyers in trouble?
Courier-Post writer Chuck Gormley notes that "the Flyers' power play has been atrocious, going 0-for-10 the past three games and 2-for-29 the past 11 games." That included an 0-for-4 against the Rangers, minus Danny Briere(notes) (14 power-play points) and Chris Pronger(notes) (14 PPP), the power-play triggerman out since March 8 with a broken hand and due back in the first round of the playoffs.
With Pronger out, they're 5-3-5 and have a 2.54 GAA, which is only slightly up from their seasonal average (2.53). Anyone who saw but a minute of the playoffs last season knows what he means to this team, both in the box score and intangibly.
Which is to say that despite their struggles recently, and the fact that the top seed in the conference is now in play, the Flyers are going to be fine when they're healthy.
And not just because there's no shootout in the playoffs. Thank the Hockey Gods.