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December 01, 2017

Are the free-falling Flyers in denial about who they really are?

About an hour after the “Fire Hakstol” chants dissipated in a half-barren Wells Fargo Center, it had more the look of an impromptu intervention than it did a postmortem. 

Following yet another Flyers’ defeat Tuesday night – they dropped their ninth straight, 3-1, to the visiting San Jose Sharks – there stood general manager Ron Hextall, surrounded by media in the middle of the same locker room where a players-only, closed-door meeting took place about 20 minutes prior.

Hextall looked his inquisitors in the eye and then blurted out something that was worthy enough for anyone to scratch their head and do a double-take: “We’re a playoff team.”

Then Hextall challenged anyone in the room.

“Have you seen us play recently? I’m pretty good with the way our team’s played,” he said. “I think tonight we ran a little bit out of energy. Obviously, results lately are not very good. We deserve better, but we haven’t gotten better. If we were playing poorly, I would be the first to say we’re playing poorly. We are not playing poorly. 

“If you look at the way we’ve played from the start of the year, I’m pretty good with the way our team has played the last nine games. I think tonight we ran out of energy. Obviously, we gotta find a way. To look objectively at our team right now, to say we are playing poorly right now, no. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot at times? Yes, we are. Critical mistakes at critical times, yes. Kind of what happens when the snowball starts to go the wrong way.” 

From the outside, it sure looks like that snowball is on the verge of becoming an all-out avalanche. But the Flyers don't see it that way.

Maybe they're just in denial about what’s transpired over the course of November, when the Flyers went 2-5-6 (2-11, if excluding ties) and 0-4-5 over their last nine. That is as stone cold as Dave Hakstol’s effusive demeanor. 

These are the realities the Flyers seem to be ignoring. Their defense needs help. Hextall tosses that up to inexperience. Granted, it’s doesn’t help losing Andrew MacDonald for a month with an injury and Radko Gudas to a 10-game suspension. But the Flyers’ penalty-kill special teams is atrocious. Philadelphia is 29th in the NHL in penalty-kill percentage (75.3%). The Flyers are second in the league in power-play goals given up (23), behind Pittsburgh and Edmonton, which are tied for first (24 goals each). 

Offensively, the Flyers are 22nd in the league, scoring an average of 2.80 goals a game. 

Some things are hard to deny. The one glaring area in which the Flyers are lacking is their inability to hold a lead. In their league-leading seventh overtime loss, the 5-4 defeat to two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh on Monday, the Flyers blew a two-goal lead for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in their last six games — it was also the second-straight game in which they blew a two-goal third-period lead. 

The Flyers will carry this winless streak — the longest the Flyers have had since the 10-game winless streak in 2008, from Feb. 6, 2009-to-Feb. 23, 2008 (0-8-2) — into Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins. 

The fortunate thing for the Flyers is the overall parity of the league right now. A mini-hot streak could pull them in the playoff picture. Though nothing appears imminently positive when it comes to how this team is playing right now — despite what its GM says.

“It falls on all of us,” Hextall added. “We’re all in this together. Nobody’s falling off any ship here.”

That may be the only thing that’s undeniable about the Flyers right now.

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