PHILADELPHIA – In a season where winning the Stanley Cup was the only goal, the Philadelphia Flyers fell flat at the end.
A year after advancing to the Cup final, the Flyers positioned themselves as early contenders to play in June. Philadelphia spent a chunk of the season atop the Eastern Conference standings and was 40-15-6 in late February.
Week by week, the season unravelled.
Who’s in net? Who’s on defence?
Questions normally reserved for the off-season were asked daily during an abbreviated playoff run. The Flyers, who had perfected the post-season comeback, ran out of rallies and were swept in the second round by the Boston Bruins.
The Flyers were swept in a seven-game series for just the sixth time in franchise history and the first time since the 1997 Stanley Cup final versus Detroit.
“We never seem to get into it,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “We didn’t get a win. We didn’t get in the series.”
The No. 1 reason was in net.
The Flyers were repeatedly frustrated by their goalie situation. They used three different starters in 11 games and replaced the starter a whopping six times.
Sergei Bobrovksy, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton all got a crack at winning the starting spot. None of them was the answer.
Bobrovksy won 28 games in his rookie season and got the call to start Game 1 in the first round against Buffalo. He started Game 2 before he was yanked and didn’t get a start again until Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Bruins in Game 4.
Boucher won all four post-season games for the Flyers. The journeyman goalie, in his third stint with the organization, likely won’t be back. Leighton, who led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final, might also be on the way out.
The goalie-by-committee experiment will likely end. There are several-high profile free agents the Flyers could pursue, and perhaps, find some stability in net.
The Flyers did not have a shutout all season.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren refused to blame the goaltending for the early exit.
“I know it looks bad when you pull a guy all the time, but goaltending, and I have said this before, I believe is a function of your team,” he said.
Then consider reason No. 2. Defenceman Chris Pronger played only three of the 11 playoff games, a huge blow for the Flyers, especially on the power play.
The leaky defence was evident throughout the Boston series. Pucks were left to hang near the crease and the Bruins gladly pounded them in for easy goals.
Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros were upgrades but more needs to be done.
“Our guys, as a group, I don’t think raised their game enough to be able to beat Boston in this series,” Holmgren said. “Would we have liked to have had Chris?
“Yeah, but the other, I know four of those guys have a lot of playoff experience and I don’t think as a group they played the way we needed them to play.”
What the Flyers did get was a clear that sign James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux have emerged as the future stars of the franchise.
Giroux led the Flyers with 76 points and made the all-star team. Van Riemsdyk had seven goals in the post-season.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were once the 1-2 forwards expected to lead the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup title since 1975. They’ve hardly been slouches—Richards is the team captain, Carter led them with 36 goals.
But for the second straight post-season, Carter missed significant time with injuries.
While the Flyers had seven players with at least 20 goals, they were still shutout twice against Buffalo. Before winning the regular-season finale, the Flyers had a five-game losing streak. They were shut out once and never scored more than three goals in any of those games.
The Flyers had no answers for the late-season scoring funk.
“I don’t really know what happened, to be honest,” van Riemsdyk said. “I don’t really know.”