Flyers Backcheck: Pounded at ‘The Rock’

The good news is that the heinously long road trip is finally over. The bad news, however, is the manner in which they’ll be returning home. The Flyers took a 5-2 licking at the Prudential Center on Saturday night, giving the orange and black a five-game losing streak. Philly’s first loss at the Rock since Mar. 3rd, 2013 was downright unwatchable. But at least there’s somewhat of an excuse for that.

Limping Home

We knew coming into Saturday’s game that Claude Giroux was listed as day-to-day from Friday night’s scare in Carolina. What we didn’t know, however, was the lower-body injury Scott Laughton apparently sustained in that same game. Nonetheless, the Flyers could’ve used their pair of top six forwards in Saturday’s 5-2 lashing.

Jaromir Jagr’s 15th career hat trick turned out to be the difference, beating Ray Emery twice in the first period, and Steve Mason once in the second. Emery, of course, was replaced after 20 minutes of play, giving up three goals on 10 shots.

Giroux or no Giroux, it took only a period to recognize the Flyers would cap their season-long eight-game road trip with yet another defeat. An embarrassing 5-2 thumping at the hands of the Devils cemented a 3-4-1 record for the trip and perhaps provided a new low point to this hockey season in Philadelphia. — Jake Kaplan,

Just to illustrate how bad the Flyers have been lately, New Jersey was not only outshot by Philly, but they only registered 18 shots. And they still won by three goals.

The defense was more embarrassing than it usually has been, and the penalty kill gave up another power play goal. Don’t look surprised. The two teams combined for more penalty minutes than they did shots (50-38). And directly tied into all that, or so you could suggest, was the return of Zac Rinaldo.

Because of the Laughton injury that came out of nowhere like a Randy Orton RKO, Flyers coach Craig Berube dressed seven defensemen. Rinaldo’s seven penalty minutes were par for the course, with the second of his two first period penalties deemed as an “elbowing” penalty.

Regardless, it was a borderline dirty hit on Scott Gomez that was completely unnecessary. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with finishing a check, going up high, like Rinaldo did to Gomez, is what’s earned Rinaldo the reputation he carries in the league.

The Flyers have lacked an identity all season long. But without their captain in the lineup, they looked as if they were completely lost on Saturday. While part of that can be attributed to rolling out 11 forwards, it wasn’t the first time this season they’ve done so. But it was the first time they dressed seven defensemen without Claude Giroux in the lineup.

Giroux last missed a regular-season game in Pittsburgh, April 7, 2012. He sat that game out because it was the final regular-season game of that season and meant nothing in the standings. The Flyers were going to open the playoffs there in Pittsburgh, anyway.

So ended a 168-game playing streak for Giroux. He hadn’t missed a game due to injury or illness since Dec. 19, 2011. — Rob Parent, Delaware County Times

In other words, you had to know Saturday’s outcome was coming.

The Flyers did get goals from Andrew MacDonald and Vinny Lecavalier, avoiding their fourth shutout of the season. But that’s where the silver linings end.

“The way we played tonight, we could have had Wayne Gretzky in our lineup and I don’t know if we would have won,” said forward Wayne Simmonds.

How’s that for brutal honesty? At least they know it.

Chief on the Hot Seat?

As the losses accumulate, the dissatisfaction with coach Craig Berube is starting to gain traction. That’s not to say the fan base has completely turned on the second-year coach. But the criticism from a faction of it is unquestionably growing louder and louder. Saturday’s effort, of course, did nothing to hush those who are calling for Berube’s head.

The polarization of the coaching situation in Philly is beginning to turn into a battle of ideologies with the emotion that’s comparable to the Lincoln-Douglas campaigns.

The players aren’t aloof to what’s going on either. After all, many of them were around last season when Peter Laviolette was fired after only three games into last season.

“Obviously, we’re not playing,” said goalie Steve Mason. “[Coach Craig Berube] has given us a game plan and we’re not sticking to it in any form. We’re letting down Chief. We’re letting down ourselves and the Flyers organization’s reputation as a whole. This is not what we’re supposed to be known for.”

With the exception of a few extreme cases, players will always go to bat for their head coach in times like these. Not only is it the professional response, the players have to still practice and play for that head coach. Furthermore, trashing your coach to the media doesn’t exactly make you look like a player other head coaches would want to bring onto their team in a potential acquisition.

But there is another side to all of this. One that preaches patience and perspective.

Make no mistake about it, the more cautious approach is a responsible one. It’s a way of thinking that sheds away knee-jerk reactions like unwanted pounds on a strict diet. But is it a stance that can be considered “too cautious?”

That, of course, depends on which side of the aisle you stand on. On one end, a case can be made that in-season coaching changes have been effective in the past. Just look at the Flyers from a season ago. On the other, there’s an argument that not all changes on the bench during the season have paid off. And then there’s always the issue of who to hand over the reigns to.

An offseason change gives an organization the proper time to execute a concise process. And unless there’s an obvious choice, who’s not only available, but willing to accept the job, firing a head coach in the middle of the season has more of a likelihood to be counter-productive than it does to be fruitful.

Whether Craig Berube survives the chopping block or not, the decision should hinge on whether or not he is a coach that can lead the team to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1975. Yes, circumstances can, and should always be weighed into the situation. But dismissing the possibility that Berube has lost the team based on the fact that it’s professional hockey is misguided.

Coaches throughout all professional sports can, and have lost their teams. It was one of the driving forces in canning Laviolette last season, and it’s what makes a “shakeup,” or a “new voice” affective. Expelling the human emotion aspect from the conversation is strictly an analytical approach. But if that way of thinking were infallible, the Flyers wouldn’t own a five-game win streak against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Regardless, it’s a debate that’s going to continue until either the end of the season, or an in-season firing. The Flyers have appeared to mail it in, which isn’t an endorsement for the current coaching regime.

Tidbits from ‘The Rock’

Jagr, the Ageless Wonder

Former Flyer Jaromir Jagr became the oldest player in NHL history to record a hat trick on Saturday night. At 42 years, and 322 days, Jagr surpassed Gordie Howe, who was 41-years-old, for that distinction. With Saturday’s trifecta, Jagr now trails Phil Esposito by three goals for fifth place all-time among NHL goal scorers.

Jake Voracek Watch

The gap between Jake Voracek and Tyler Seguin may have closed a bit, but Voracek still stands as the NHL points leader. Voracek’s league-leading 33rd assist on Andrew MacDonald’s second period goal gives the 6-2 forward 48 points on the campaign – two more than Seguin.

Now you’re just asking the man to play with an arm tied behind his back.

Pounding Faces at ‘The Rock’

Fighting may be down throughout the NHL this season, but you’d never know that watching the Flyers and Devils going at each other on Saturday. The Metropolitan Division rivals dropped the gloves a total of four times. While Zac Rinaldo, Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn unofficially won their rounds of fisticuffs, it was a much harsher result for Wayne Simmonds, who squared off against Mark Fraser.

THW’s Evil Perspective

THW is rich in New Jersey Devils coverage. Their outstanding lineup includes Dan Rice, who covered the tilt at the Rock on Saturday, as well as the following writers. Although they cover the Devils, their knowledge for the team and game definitely make them a great follow on Twitter.

Dan Rice

Leo Scaglione Jr.

Chris Wassel

Michael Gwizdala

Skate Gate… Part III?

With skate induced injuries in the previous two games, Saturday’s game featured another scary moment when Devils goalie Cory Schneider took the boot portion of Jake Voracek’s skate to the face. Schneider’s mask flew off during a Flyers rush, leaving his head and face exposed. The 28-year-old was incredibly lucky to come out of the play unscathed, even if he did take a foot upside the head.

Finally, Back Home

Now that the season-long road trip is finally over, the Flyers will return home to faceoff against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. The Sens will bring a two-game winning streak to the Wells Fargo Center, but have dropped three of their last five in Philadelphia. Ottawa last tasted victory in Philly on Apr. 13th, 2011.

At 16-14-7, the Senators have won five of their last 10 games. Did I mention that they fired their coach (Paul MacLeon) last month?