Flyers Lost the “Defense Wins Championships” Memo

Since Ron Hextall, being a goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers has been a “kiss of death”.  Much of the Flyers faithful have been pegging the team’s misfortunes on the shoulders of the man between the pipes, Ilya Bryzgalov.

It’s pretty simple to do given Bryzgalov carries with him a $51 million dollar price tag.  A player getting paid that much is a relatively easy scapegoat.

The woes of the Flyers aren’t Bryzgalov’s fault.

There is an saying that goes a little something like: You’re goalie is only as good as the defense in front of him.

Ilya Bryzgalov Flyers
Ilya Bryzgalov will look to bounce back in 2012-13 (Icon SMI)

Frankly, the defense in front of Bryzgalov has been utterly atrocious.  And I am putting that VERY lightly.

The Flyers are three years removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance where their goalie, Michael Leighton, was clearly the problem.  Certainly the 3rd pairing of Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek didn’t help much, but their top 4 really pushed them within 2 games of winning the Stanely Cup.

Fast forward to present day.  Paul Holmgren finally had enough of the goalie fiasco and spent the big bucks on free agent Ilya Bryzgalov.  The Russian netminder was a standout goalie on an otherwise mediocre Phoenix Coyotes.  Bryzgalov wasn’t a top goalie in Phoenix on pure skill alone.  Dave Tippett, the head coach of the Yotes, brought a “defense first; offense second” mentality to the team, which benefited Bryzgalov tremendously.

Philadelphia now sits four points out of a playoff spot having played two more games than the 8th place Carolina Hurricanes.  The team is 24th out of 30 teams for goals against average per game with 3.00, a -17 goal differential, have a .80 GF/GA ratio, and are on the outside looking in.

On paper, the defensive pairings don’t look all that terrible.  On the ice – well that’s a whole different story.

Too many times the defense have been caught out of position.  Too many times someone on the blueline pinched up a little too far resulting in a 2-on-1 break the other way.  Too many times the puck has been turned over in the defensive zone.  Too many times…you get the picture.

Flyers defensemen Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossman (Christopher Szagola-USA TODAY Sports)
Flyers defensemen Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossman (Christopher Szagola-USA TODAY Sports)

Niklas Grossmann has been the only consistently solid defenseman all season, and even that isn’t saying much.

Timonen, although having been a staple in the defensive corps, has started to lose a step or two or six or nine.  Luke Schenn is playing top pairing minutes when he is (at best) a #3 defenseman.  Braydon Coburn has a team worst -11.  Meszaros finally arrived from injury, but has looked more out of place than Dustin Byfuglien at a dietician.

Factor in the 6th and final defensive spot has been occupied by Bruno Gervais for most of the season, and you just might be able to see why Bryzgalov hasn’t played as well as his salary warrants.

Coming into the season, if there was going to be any flaw with the team, it was going to be there defense.  Fans knew it.  Pundits knew it.  And I believe somewhere (deep down inside) Paul Holmgren knew it.

We are more than halfway through the season and Homer seems to be twiddling his thumbs waiting to see if the defense finds their groove.

Head Coach Peter Laviolette and General Manager Paul Holmgren
Head Coach Peter Laviolette and General Manager Paul Holmgren

If there is any way for the Flyers to salvage this season, the GM needs to do his job and acquire some defensive help immediately.

Teams have players/prospects sitting in their minors such as: John-Michael Liles, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jonathon Blum, among others.

This is not to say those players will make such a drastic change to the team defense that it will propel them to a playoff spot, but it is certainly a start.

Either that, or Holmgren can cash in his chips, continue to watching his sinking ship drop in the rankings, hope to get a top pick in the draft, nab Seth Jones, and see if guys like Zidlicky, Whitney, Hainsey, etc. are willing to join the team in the offseason.

I’ve all but accepted the above statement to be the case regardless.

So Flyers fans, don’t get disappointed at the goalie.  For once, goaltending isn’t the problem.

Follow Shawn Reznik on Twitter for up-to-date Flyers information: @ShawnTHW