After watching the way the Flyers handled the New York Rangers Saturday, I was fairly confident they could win their final two games and win the Atlantic Division title. Apparently, I was mistaken.
While I didn't see the game against the Devils Easter Sunday, I saw enough replays to allow me to come to a few conclusions. One, Peter Forsberg is not going to be completely healthy until after the season, and two, this team has serious issues putting together back-to-back solid performances.
For a team with as much talent and ability as the Flyers, it shouldn't be hard to come out hard and ready to play. Yet for some reason, they just can't do it consistently. Twice in four days, they get smoked by the Devils. Was it the unexpected absence of Forsberg that took the wind out of the sails of the orange and black? Or is it a lack of leadership in the dressing room? In the absence of Keith Primeau, Derian Hatcher was named captain. Hatcher has not proved himself worthy of wearing the "C" in Philadelphia. Maybe he was the right fit under Ken Hitchcock in Dallas, but not here. If you can't get your team and teammates ready to play in a huge game like this, then you are not a solid captain.
It's quite obvious that Primeau's presence both on and off the ice is sorely missed. He is a captain and leads by example. What does Hatcher do to lead? Takes dumb penalties and can't skate a lick. While, Hitchcock is a great coach, he should have thought long and hard about who would be captain in Primeau's absence.
Back to the inconsistent play. There has been no jump in the Flyers step in any of the last four contests with the Devils and it is going to cost them dearly. With a win, and a Flyers and Rangers loss on Tuesday, the Devils could take the division and wind up hosting the Flyers in the first round. Not exactly something anyone wants to see.
As the season has wound down, the team has struggled to play well consistently. In their last nine games, they have alternated wins and losses, with five of those games being losses. That isn't something that gives the fan base a lot of hope heading into the playoffs. Especially in a season that started with so much promise. Granted, the team can still win the division with a win and losses by both the Devils and Rangers. Let's just all pray they don't wind up playing the Devils.
As for who is going to start in net come playoff time, that question has been up in the air for the last four months and still has not been answered. It probably has been answered by the time you are reading this, but as of Monday night, no answer was available.
I thought Antero Niittymaki would surpass Robert Esche on the depth chart as the Flyers number one goalie, but that hasn't happened. It seemed like it was inevitable, but then Esche started playing very well after declaring that "the writing was on the wall," meaning Niittymaki was the top guy. Clearly, that isn't the case.
While Esche has played well the last few weeks, he did not fare well against the Devils on Sunday and was yanked in favor of Niittymaki in the second period after allowing three goals. Who will wind up between the pipes in the playoffs is anyone's guess.
Let's hope that something clicks with this team once the playoffs have started and we will all see the team that has dominated the Rangers, Hurricanes, and Senators this season. Or else, it's going to be another long summer without another Stanley Cup Championship.
If you have any comments or opinions about this column, email Nick Browne at firstname.lastname@example.org