Injuries piling up for woeful Flyers

Sean Couturier is out for the season as he recovers from back surgery. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

No hockey team can be expected to compete without its top two centers and a top pairing defenseman.

But in the same breath, this disastrous Flyers season goes well beyond injuries. And the Flyers aren’t the first team in hockey history to suffer in this way. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins, who seem to do it every year and still make the playoffs. 

The recent announcement that longtime Flyer Sean Couturier would miss the remainder of the season after undergoing successful back surgery was a pretty significant message to the fans that this season is done.

Perhaps it was strategic to pile the bad news at once. Ryan Ellis is also unlikely to return this season after playing just four games since arriving via trade with the Nashville Predators in the offseason.

Kevin Hayes could, too, be out indefinitely following a pair of abdominal surgeries that haven’t seemed to fix the problem for the 29-year-old center. 

You can’t help but feel a little sympathy, as the Flyers certainly wouldn’t have been this bad if all those guys were in the lineup every night. Would they be a playoff team? Tough call. But they certainly proved they weren’t Stanley Cup contenders. And if you’re not in it to win it, what are you?

After losing a second straight game to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, the Flyers’ record dipped to 15-24-8. Through the weekend, they were sitting tied for the fourth-worst record in the National Hockey League with the Buffalo Sabres.

That’s right. It’s gotten Buffalo bad.

To their credit, the Flyers seem to be taking the right approach with the remaining chunk of this season. For the first time in ages, this franchise isn’t patching holes in a lost season and trying to make a late push. The losses are piling up. Attendance is low. And the Flyers seem OK with that. It’s the right thing to do. And announcing a handful of potentially season-ending injuries lessens the blow to the fanbases who could have a tough time grasping rebuild. 

The Flyers said a few weeks ago that they would fix this thing fast. But at least they aren’t trying to do it right now.

There may not be a Sidney Crosby or a Connor McDavid in the 2022 Entry Draft but there are good players at the top of the draft who could be building blocks for the future. The Flyers would only be foolish to try to piece together a winning streak and finish somewhere like 22nd place. 

With that, don’t mistake the fact that there is pride in the locker room and the Flyers players aren’t going to try to intentionally lose games. With the way rosters normally turn over, in addition to the promise of changes in Philadelphia in the offseason, there’s no incentive for current players to lose games when they might not even be around to see the benefits from it.

But management can do its part by pushing the right buttons. Shut down players who might have nagging injuries. Give Carter Hart more time off. Trade away expiring contracts. Bring up young players and let them make mistakes. 

Now is the time to do it.

Unusual Stats

After back-to-back losses to the Red Wings, the Flyers’ record against Original Six teams dropped to 1-7-1 on the season. Their only win was a 6-3 win over the Boston Bruins in the third game of the season. 

The good news is, the Flyers still have two more games against the Montreal Canadiens who hold the worst record in the league, although the Habs did beat the Flyers in a shootout in December.

If you think that record is bad, the Flyers have won only five times in 28 tries against Eastern Conference teams. The Flyers are 5-18-5 in those contests and haven’t won a game against a conference opponent since a Dec. 14 win against the New Jersey Devils. That’s a span of more than two months without a win in the East.

On the Plus Side

The Flyers’ minus-44 goal goal differential is fourth-worst in the league. However, Cam Atkinson has managed to keep his head well above water as a plus-10 through the weekend. Atkinson is one of only four Flyers who have played more than half of the team’s games who have a positive rating this year. Justin Braun (plus-2), Joel Farabee (plus-1) and Travis Sanheim (plus-1) are the others.