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Toxic offense dooms Flyers' playoff chances, and change won't be easy

Toxic lack of offense dooms the Philadelphia Flyers to also-ran status, but change will be difficult.

When the Flyers look back on this lost season, they'll point to a crushing defeat on March 7 as the moment when their wheels came off.

Of course that 3–2 loss to the Bruins—one in which they allowed Brad Marchand to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining and then win it 3:52 into overtime—was only symptomatic of the Flyers’ fatal flaw: the inability to win the tight one.

This team mastered the “close, but no cigar” result. Forty of the 76 games that Philadelphia has played so far this season were decided by a single goal. Just 14 of them, a lousy 35%, were won by the Flyers.

Broken down, that’s six of 15 in regulation. Five of 12 in overtime. And in the shootout, just three of 13.

Their 17 defeats after regulation are the most of any team in the league.

And the problem only got worse as the season worn on. In their past eight one-goal games, the Flyers are ... wait for it ... 0–8.

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It’s not too hard to finger the culprit, either. For all the grief that lands on this team’s defense, it was Philadelphia’s ham-fisted attack that sailed this ship into the rocks.

One-goal margin or not, this team can’t score. Jakub Voracek is challenging for the Art Ross Trophy, but he's pretty much the show. The Flyers rank 22ndin offense this season, averaging 2.57 goals per game. Sure, they’re aces on the power play, but at five-on-five, they’re 25th. There’s not a lot of fruit down that path.

It was a shocking reversal of fortune for a team that ranked eighth last season after scoring an average of 2.85 goals per game. In fact, the 2013-14 Flyers boasted one of the most balanced attacks in the league with seven 20-goal scorers: Wayne Simmonds (29), Claude Giroux (28), Voracek (23), Matt Read (22), Scott Hartnell (20), Vincent Lecavalier (20) and Brayden Schenn (20).

This season, the sunshine list is down to just four: Simmonds (28), Giroux (23), Voracek (21) and Michael Raffl, the only newcomer, who scored 20. While that contribution helped, there was too much slack for one man to pick up. Schenn’s in the neighborhood with 14 goals, but the others fell well off the pace. Read and Lecavalier have scored just seven each this season. Hartnell has 25, but he’s scored them for Columbus. The man who replaced him in Philly, R.J. Umberger, has just nine. 

As a group, the Flyers forwards averaged 5.9 points per game last season. This season? They clocked in at 5.3.

The reasons for the decline are clear. While Craig Berube’s system defense-first system has stabilized the back end (Philly’s goals-against are down slightly this season to 2.75 from 2.77) it has stifled the flow of every line but the first. Of course it’s not all on the coach. Sean Couturier may be a second-line center at some point in his career, but he’s ill-suited for the role now. Lecavalier, an ill-fitting part in Berube’s eyes, has been relegated to spare part status. Umberger was never going to contribute the way Hartnell could, even if he’d been healthy. Read suffered an inevitable decline after a career year. And Schenn stopped shooting.

It’s a toxic mix that left the team incapable of coming up with that big push when they needed it most.

So what do the Flyers do next? Barring an unexpected jump in the salary cap—or GM Ron Hextall finding someone to take the bloated salaries of Luke Schenn or Nik Grossman off his books—they don’t have the room to make any significant additions. And with few impact players expected to be available in free agency or via trade, they’re probably coming back with basically the same group next season.

How does he sell that to owner Ed Snider who, at age 82, is probably disinclined to wait out another frustrating campaign?

Hextall has one move. Fire Berube and put someone in charge who values scoring.

No telling who that could be yet, although Guy Boucher might be a nice fit. The former Lightning bench boss, currently coaching Bern of the Swiss league, knows how to motivate an offense. Bern finished third in the league this season with 158 goals.

Clearly something has to change in Philly. And it has to start with the offense.

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