Thursday, February 27, 2014

Backtracks: Flyers performance after the Olympics

For the fifth time in the last 16 years, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves having to jockey for playoff position following the Olympic break.

The previous four certainly saw their share of twists and turns, so the home stretch of 23 games in 2014 will likely turn out no different.

Unlike other years when the Winter Games were contested, the club did not send a single impact player to the major hockey powers although five skaters represented their home countries and Kimmo Timonen managed to help Team Finland rip the Bronze medal away from the Americans.

That doesn't mean, when the remainder of the schedule commences tonight against the San Jose Sharks, that things won't happen which will set Craig Berube's club on a memorable course.  Here's a look back at previous years:

Before Olympics: 29-17-9 (2nd Atlantic, 3rd in East)
After Olympics: 13-12-2 (2nd Atlantic, 3rd in East)  

The Orange and Black, under first-year bench boss Wayne Cashman, skidded into the Nagano intermission with five losses in their last six games. Once back from Japan, any ideas of catching the Devils for the division lead were squashed when Darius Kasparaitis elbowed Eric Lindros, causing a Grade III concussion which removed the club captain from action for the next 18 games. Despite a 4-0-2 homestand immediately after Big E's injury, the club -- now under the auspices of Roger Neilson -- played barely above .500 and in fact lost three of their last five games once Lindros returned. One bright spot was John LeClair hitting the 50-goal mark for the third straight season.

The game which singularly captured the sheer weirdness of the end of that season, was a Sunday night game on ESPN between the Flyers and Penguins in Philadelphia just over 24 hours after Lindros' woozy exit. Alexandre Daigle scored a highlight-reel overtime goal -- his first with the club -- to produce a 4-3 victory ad a split of the home-and-home set. Shortly after its end, Cashman was suddenly demoted to an assistant and Neilson was elevated to head coach. 

Playoffs: Buffalo, the surprising sixth seed backstopped by league MVP and Vezina winner Dominik Hasek, claimed a five-game first-round victory with Michal Grosek netting the series winner in overtime of Game 5 in Philadelphia. Ron Hextall was supplanted as the starter by the recently-acquired Sean Burke, a portend of the unfortunate end to Hexy's career.

Before Olympics: 33-18-6 (1st Atlantic, 1st in East)
After Olympics:  9-12-4 (1st Atlantic, 2nd in East)

The writing on the wall wasn't there yet for Bill Barber before Salt Lake City, as a crush of games in January and February leading up to the break didn't cause much fatigue, with the club going 4-2-1 until the quadrennial recess to remain atop the Atlantic. After the league's return, the wear and tear became more evident, and even the infamous deal to acquire Adam Oates from the Capitals couldn't stoke the fires of a dying offense. After going unbeaten in five, the Flyers ended the regular season on a dismal 2-7-1 string during which they scored just 16 goals yet somehow didn't abdicate their crown.

Playoffs: About as much of a failure from top to bottom as there has been in franchise history. Two names you need to have seared into your consciousness: Ruslan Fedotenko and Dan McGillis, who are the only two players to score in the entire five-game loss to the Ottawa Senators. Rusty's goal won Game 1 by a 1-0 count in OT, while McGillis' tally sent Game 5 into extra time before the Sens took the series. Barber took the fall, as a veteran core of players went over his head to complain directly to GM Bob Clarke, who later axed his former teammate one year removed from a Jack Adams Award.

Before Olympics: 33-16-9 (2nd Atlantic, 5th in East)
After Olympics:  12-10-2 (2nd Atlantic, 5th in East)

Buoyed by two potential Hart Trophy candidates in Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne, the Flyers shook off the losses of Keith Primeau and Eric Desjardins to stay near the top of the standings prior to the NHL heading to Torino. However, Ken Hitchcock couldn't prevent a 3-5-1 slide before the Olympics and then his charges promptly lost four in a row (0-3-1) right after games resumed. Curious trades to acquire Niko Dimitrakos and Petr Nedved and to get rid of Dennis Seidenberg accompanied this end-of-year skid, and the organization took no chances, dusting off Kate Smith for a Saturday afternoon matinee win over the Rangers -- the first time in years the famous rendition of "God Bless America" was dragged out for a regular-season tilt. The club scored 27 goals in their final 10 games, well below the searing pace the team enjoyed previously and well below some of the clubs above them in the conference.

Playoffs: The suddenly rejuvenated Buffalo Sabres, with a roster stacked unlike any time since the late 70s, steamrolled the Flyers in six games. Philadelphia, thanks to the guidance of two-time Cup winner Forsberg won Games 3 and 4 at home to even the series by a goal differential of plus-3. However, due to the overwhelming prowess of the Sabres' first three lines, they lost the remaining four contests by a combined 21-5 count.

Before Olympics: 32-25-3 (3rd in Atlantic, 6th in East)
After Olympics:  9-10-3 (3rd in Atlantic, 7th in East)

Up is down, night is day. Despite losing starter Ray Emery to congenital hip problems, and shepherding a roster still getting used to his methods after John Stevens was fired in December, Peter Laviolette aided his club to four straight wins and victories in six of their last eight before the pause to send the best and brightest off to Vancouver. When they came back, fatigue and a possible Gold-medal hangover from Canada's victory looked to be a factor in a 2-7-2 stretch which threatened to knock the Orange and Black out of the postseason race altogether. But they finished 3-1-0 and beat the Rangers in a winner-take-all shootout at home on the final day of the regular season to slip into the playoffs and vault into the seventh seed.

Playoffs: The Charmed Life continued through the Spring, with the Flyers knocking off the second-seeded Devils, then etching their names in the NHL record book by overcoming an 0-3 series deficit against the Boston Bruins, and finishing off their Cinderella ride by dispatching the eighth-seeded Habs to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Brian Boucher all suffered significant injuries, while Ian Laperriere's career came to an end in the first round. Down to duct tape, grit, determination and Michael Leighton in goal, Chicago wins the series in Game 6 here in one of the worst ways possible.

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