The Philly Phlop
The Flyers seek professional help after falling on hard times
The NHL's most dysfunctional family is going for therapy. This week the Flyers planned to spend two days with the Matishak Group, a Calgary performance-enhancing service that has a program designed to build unity in sports teams. Exercises include players' helping one another negotiate obstacle courses blindfolded and falling backward off tabletops into teammates' arms. "We'll be paying attention," Flyers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck said last Friday. "We have to find a way to deal with adversity."
On Feb. 6 the Flyers were 28-10-12 and appeared ready to run away with the Eastern Conference title. Since then, Philadelphia had gone 3-12-5 through Sunday and dropped to sixth place in the East. Flyers chairman Ed Snider attributed the fall to "a complete mental collapse."
A glint of madness was certainly discernible in the eyes of coach Roger Neilson during a 5-2 loss to the Blues on March 16. Irate that referee Bill McCreary had failed to call a blatant penalty on St. Louis, Neilson stood on the Flyers' bench and hurled a stick onto the ice. Neilson nearly harpooned linesman Lonnie Cameron and was suspended for two games by the NHL. In another sign of Philadelphia's questionable mental state, Neilson's boss, general manager Bob Clarke, says, "Roger was right [to throw the stick]."
In his five-year stint at the helm in Philadelphia, Clarke has pursued the Stanley Cup as obsessively as Ahab did the white whale, and his unchecked zeal seems to be undermining that pursuit Led by star forwards Eric Lindros and John LeClair, Philadelphia entered the season as one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup. Yet Clarke has made so many roster changes—nine new players have arrived through trades—that this week's group therapy should begin with player introductions: Hello, my name is...and I'm a Philadelphia Flyer.
"It takes time for players to get accustomed to one another," says Neilson, "but the guys we've traded for have helped us."
One thing that didn't help was Clarke's panicked decision to call up 21-year-old rookie goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier to start against Ottawa on March 4, ahead of Vanbiesbrouck and veteran backup Ron Hextall. The Flyers lost 5-0, and Lindros called the move "a slap in the face to everybody in this room."
Philly's players lament their recent lack of hitting and the mental lapses that continually plague them. "We're so tight," says Neilson, "we've forgotten how to execute. We have to come out of this as a team."
Blame It on The Coaches
Have you seen how the Flames have gotten into the playoff race with their (yawn) new passive forechecking scheme? Have you noticed how twice this season the Senators have so successfully clogged the neutral zone (zzzzz) that they have held an opponent without a shot on goal for a period? Apparently this constitutes progress in the NHL. "Coaching is much more advanced than it was 20 years ago," says Panthers coach Terry Murray, echoing an opinion held leaguewide.