PHILADELPHIA – Not even a month ago, the Flyers talked about earning a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
Instead, after a seven-game losing streak, panic is now the word of choice around the team. Desperate is getting some play, too.
And the hopeful comeback of Peter Forsberg, their former captain? Well, that’s over, as well.
The Flyers – or any other NHL team – won’t be adding the two-time Stanley Cup winner and former MVP to their roster this season. Forsberg, who has not played since ending last season with Nashville, decided Monday he was not healthy enough to attempt a comeback.
General manager Paul Holmgren had wanted to sign Forsberg ever since the former Flyers centre decided to train for a possible return to the NHL. Forsberg, who spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Flyers, has been rehabilitating in Sweden and practising with his hometown club, Modo.
“We certainly weren’t counting on it because Peter was very clear he was going to test his foot and see if he could play or not,” said Peter Luukko, president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the Flyers and Sixers. “If he was going to play, it would have been great to see him in a Flyers uniform.”
Baizley said Forsberg had not made a decision about attempting a comeback next season.
The Flyers went 0-13-3 without Forsberg in the lineup last season before he was dealt at the trade deadline. This month’s problems go far deeper than the absence of one star.
Injuries, mental lapses, and shaky defence have all plagued the Flyers during a season-long losing skid that dropped them from the top of the Atlantic Division to seventh place in the East, only one point ahead of Boston and Buffalo (64).
“It’s seven games now. I would call that a little panic already,” defenceman Kimmo Timonen said.
Centre R.J. Umberger said “desperation is the word right now” after the Flyers lost 5-3 to Montreal on Sunday, their second loss in two nights to the Canadiens. The loss prompted coach John Stevens to hold a closed door meeting to try and restore some confidence before the season really does slip away and the Flyers miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
“You love the effort and the intensity and the resilience, but we’re making mistakes that are costing us hockey games,” Stevens said.
No play exemplified Philadelphia’s breakdown quite like the one that led a Montreal goal in the final seconds of the first period. Montreal’s Josh Gorges goaded Flyers defenceman Jim Vandermeer into an apparent fight near the Canadiens’ net. Scottie Upshall and Mike Knuble stood nearby waiting for punches to be thrown, leaving Francis Bouillon all alone on a 3-on-1 break to score his first goal in a year.
Gorges laughed at Vandermeer as he skated away.
“That’s a play where we’re not thinking,” Stevens said.
Perhaps if the Flyers were at full strength, some of this losing would be avoided.
Simon Gagne has played in only 25 games and might miss the rest of the season with a concussion. Joffrey Lupul, who has 18 goals, could miss up to three weeks with a high ankle sprain. Defenceman Derian Hatcher (knee) might be out for three weeks, and forward Stevie Downie is out with a concussion.
“You can’t hide behind the injuries,” Timonen said. “Everyone has injuries.”
The ones who are playing have done nothing to show that a turnaround is imminent heading into Tuesday’s game at Ottawa. After a strong start, centre Daniel Briere is a staggering minus-21 in plus/minus and has started to hear some boos from the Philly diehards. He has only one goal in the last 12 games, no points in his last three and Mike Richards has one goal and five points in the last seven games.
The Flyers, one of the best at converting power-play opportunities for most of the season, have even struggled there. They went 0-for-6 against the Canadiens on Sunday.
With the Feb. 26 trade deadline looming and Forsberg out of the picture, the Flyers need to turn to other alternatives to snap out of their funk.
“We’re very happy with our team,” Luukko said. “Peter would have been an added bonus, but we like where we’re going in the future. We’re playing for the long haul.”