The Flyers captain and former NHL MVP skipped practice with the flu and might miss Saturday’s game against Buffalo, leaving Philadelphia without its best player against one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Even with a sniffle-free Forsberg in the lineup, the Flyers have been the worst team in the league this season. While Philadelphia wasn’t picked as a legitimate pre-season Stanley Cup contender, no one could have predicted this dramatic freefall to the bottom of the standings.
“It looks so bad right now,” Forsberg said.
The Flyers are 3-11-1 overall for a league-worst seven points. They are the only team in the East with a single-digit point total.
Firing the coach flopped; the Flyers have responded to John Stevens as poorly as they did to Ken Hitchcock. Changing the general manager had no effect; Interim general manager Paul Holmgren has made no significant moves.
Shuffling the lines, shaking up practice drills, even using a “Shooter Tutor” to jolt the Flyers out of their scoring funk has not changed their dismal spot in the standings.
“It’s been the same game after game,” Forsberg said.
Consider this: the Flyers were 11-3-1 at this point last season and didn’t lose their 11th game until Jan. 19th.
Philadelphia has been outscored 60-30, including 42-17 in the first two periods.
It could get worse. The Northeast-Division leading Sabres come to town on Saturday.
The Sabres have been a stiff stick to the gut of the Flyers since knocking them out in the first round of the playoffs last spring. Buffalo exposed the Flyers’ lack of mobility on defence in that series, a concern that wasn’t addressed in the off-season.
Then in October, Buffalo embarrassed the Flyers in a 9-1 win, scoring six goals in a second-period outburst. Goalie Robert Esche allowed nine goals on 37 shots and played the whole game.
Flyers chairman Ed Snider later said he knew after that game he had to fire Hitchcock.
The Flyers aren’t thinking about another blowout this time. They believe a win against the Sabres might be the tonic for putting a heartbeat into the season.
“A win would be something to build around,” left-winger Simon Gagne said. “But it’s going to be a long 60 minutes. They’re going to come at us hard. They don’t care about what’s going on around us. They’re going to try to kill us again like they did the last two games.”
It’s already been an arduous season for Forsberg, a free-agent at season’s end who has never played on an NHL team that finished with a losing record. He’s taken his knocks almost since the day he was named captain after Keith Primeau retired.
He didn’t want to be one of the first Flyers to shoot in a shootout loss to the Rangers, citing new sticks, and blew off the media last week after a loss – a very un-“C” manoeuvre.
Forsberg missed a game with a sprained wrist and has struggled to find an answer to the skate problem that’s causing him discomfort to his surgically repaired right ankle.
All that, and a measly five goals and nine points in 14 games.
“To be honest, if you’re going to win games, your best players have got to be your best players and I’m definitely not a good player right now,” he said. “I’ll take the blame for not doing the right things, but I’m not the only guy out there though.”
Gagne has slumped badly, also, with eight goals and 11 points in 15 games. Not awful, but far below the 17 goals and nine assists he had at this point last season.
The Flyers did not sell out Thursday’s loss to the Islanders, marking the fifth time in eight games the normally packed Wachovia Center was well short of capacity.
“It’s hard for us, but at the same time, it’s got to be real hard for the fans, too,” said Flyers right-winger Sami Kapanen.
There are no easy answers to fix the Flyers. While the Flyers could dangle Forsberg in a trade and try and rebuild, both sides say they want to work out a new deal.
How the Flyers finish may play a key role in whether Forsberg wants to return. He conceded after Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Islanders time is running out for the Flyers’ post-season push.
“We’ve been talking about turning it around for a long time now,” Forsberg said. “New start, new coach, everything. We’ve had a lot of chances to turn it around.”
The Flyers won’t get many more.