Monday, March 22, 2010

No Carter, No Goalie, No Playoffs?

First, Ray Emery got hurt, sidelining him for the season and possibly forever. Then, unknown Michael Leighton came in, lit up the place and promptly got hurt and is out the remainder of the season. Now this:

The Flyers playoff hopes took another broadside hit on Monday afternoon when the club learned that Jeff Carter will miss three to four weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his left foot.

Carter blocked a shot from Atlanta’s Clarke MacArthur in the first period of Sunday’s 3-1 loss. Carter finished the game but awoke in the middle of the night with severe pain and slight swelling.

Though X-rays were negative, an MRI revealed the fracture to the navicular bone. That bone is a non-weight-bearing bone near the arch area of the mid-foot, at the ankle.

Carter was placed in a walking boot.

Just great. Now a team that suddenly resurrected from the dead, played the best hockey of just about anyone in January and fought all the way to fifth place in the East is without its starting goaltender, his replacement and now its leading scorer. Suddenly, missing the playoffs doesn't seem like a stretch. After back-to-back losses against Atlanta Saturday and last night, the Flyers sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 10 games to go. They are just three points ahead of 8th-place Boston, who has a game in hand, just four points ahead of 9th-place Atlanta (probably wish you had those two games back) and just eight points ahead of the Rangers, who currently reside in 10th. That's not so far from the bottom.

All year long, the Flyers' biggest concern has been scoring. On a team loaded with offensive talent, the production just hasn't been there. It's certainly nowhere near last season's pace. The inconsistent overall play has coincided with inconsistent scoring. The lone Flyers who's carried his weight practically all season offensively has been Jeff Carter, who leads the Flyers with 33 goals and 60 points. Now he's gone for what amounts to the final 10 games of the regular season.

Not good. Add to that the fact that Carter has been arguably the Flyers' best forward all season long, and his line has been the best line the majority of the year, and you have yourself a team that's in trouble. Especially when you compound that loss of scoring with a shaky goaltender situation.

I hoped upon hope that Brian Boucher could somehow recapture his form from a decade ago, or at the very least recreate the kind of season he had last year in San Jose. I still hope he can. But I think it's pretty clear that Boucher is not going to be winning this team many games all by himself. In fact, there may be games he makes winning an obstacle, like last night. Yes, the Flyers managed to score just one goal despite firing 45 shots on net, but Boucher was horrendous. After the Flyers cut the score to 2-1 late in the 3rd, Boucher gave up the weakest of weak goals, getting beat by a soft wrister that he saw all the way, from pretty far out, less than five minutes later. That killed any momentum the Flyers had, and made a comeback that much more difficult.

I didn't see the game Saturday, seeing as I was in Atlantic City, but I think it's safe to assume that surrendering five goals on 28 shots isn't going to cut it, no matter how porous the defense was in front of you. With those question marks in goal, that makes scoring that much more of a priority. Losing Carter at this point is a killer, and it may prove to be too much to overcome.

The Flyers have just 10 games left. You have to wonder if a team that is down to its third goaltender, a team that is without its leading scorer, a team that has battled inconsistency all season long, will have enough to hang on. Even if they do, then what? Another first-round exit? That wasn't supposed to happen again. Not with this young core one year older. Not with Chris Pronger added to solidify the defense. Not with a coaching change that was supposed to (and did) spark the team. But here we are, one season after a disappointing finish in 2009, and the Flyers are actually in worse position than that underachieving squad that faltered down the stretch a year ago.

With no Carter, no Emery, no Leighton, no stability, can this team really hold on and make the playoffs? Or will the Wachovia Center be on hiatus sports-wise earlier than expected?

It's not as if the Flyers have the easiest road ahead of them either. The schedule does them no favors. They still have to play at Ottawa, at Pittsburgh and home games against Montreal and Detroit, not to mention a home and home against the Rangers to wrap up the regular season. Brutal stretch, a stretch they'll have to face without Carter and Leighton.

This much is certain: With the Sixers firmly entrenched in the lottery and the Flyers in danger of not making the playoffs, Philadelphia sports fans may have more time on their hands than expected this spring. All the more reason to hope the Phillies don't begin with their annual slow start, whether as a team or as individuals, like Jimmy Rollins last year and the team for a hundred years before that.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. Note to the Flyers: Lata Bitches
    Note to J-Roll: Don't run your mouth this year if you can't back it up