SUDDENLY, all that depth the Flyers had at forward is looking a little thin.
The first game after trading away popular and pesky winger Scottie Upshall, the Flyers lost center Danny Briere. Again.
Briere aggravated the groin injury that has tortured him all season and caused him to miss 51 games. By the look on general manager Paul Holmgren's face afterward, that number will climb.
"All we know is that he tweaked his groin again and we'll see how it is [today]," Holmgren said dejectedly. "He's having a tough time right now as much mentally as physically."
While Briere's injury could change the dynamic of the Flyers' season, it had little to do with the 5-1 drilling the Flyers suffered at the hands of the visiting Flames last night.
"It was a good old-fashioned butt-whupping there," coach John Stevens said bluntly. "That's what it was."
Calgary jumped out to a four-goal lead in the first period and all that was left was to salt away the remaining minutes. Trailing by four to the Flames and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff might be the Western Conference equivalent of being down four to the Devils and Marty Brodeur.
It was so bad . . .
* . . . that Mike Richards and Kimmo Timonen turnovers were ending up in the Flyers' net.
* . . . that when CBS3 traffic reporter Bob Kelly appeared on the center ice scoreboard between periods, he was booed, presumably because he was wearing a Flyers jersey.
* . . . that the crowd cheered when the highlight of Upshall scoring for Phoenix last night was shown.
"We turned the puck over a lot and didn't really stick to our system," Richards said. "We didn't hit too many bodies, either. When you have something like that go on, it's not going to be pretty, that's for sure."
And it wasn't.
Ironically, it was trade-deadline acquisition Olli Jokinen who led the Flames' charge.
Teamed with Jarome Iginla and Mike Cammalleri, Jokinen scored two goals and would have had a hat trick if not for a sweet glove save by Marty Biron in the third period. Biron was the only bright spot for the Flyers. He replaced Antero Niittymaki after Niittymaki gave up four goals on 19 shots in the first. Biron stopped 21 of 22 shots.
Last night was especially disappointing considering the effort the Flyers showed beating Eastern Conference leader Boston in Beantown on Tuesday. They came back home, against a very good team from the other conference, and laid a Grade A egg.
"We made a lot of mental mistakes," Timonen said. "That's not us. We don't usually do that. If you [look at] the Boston game, the way we played defense as a team. If we do that, the next 19 games, we'll do well. If we don't do that - and play like tonight - we're not going to make the playoffs."
About the only drama left after the first period was to see if Riley Cote and Andre Roy would continue their heated personal rivalry.
It was last March when Roy was playing for the Lightning and ended up on the receiving end of a straight left hand by Cote. It was a one-punch knockout that was replayed over and over for the enjoyment of the Wachovia Center crowd. Roy lost his composure and shouted uncontrollably at the Flyers across the benches. Four days later, the Lightning sent him home . . . for good.
Cote and Roy came together in the first period, but their tussle led only to matching roughing penalties. They were relative angels the rest of the way, much to the chagrin of the crowd announced at 19,513.
If Briere's injury is long-term it probably couldn't have come at a worse time for the Flyers. The impetus behind the Upshall deal was to free up salary-cap space. As crass as it sounds, had Briere been injured the day before the trade deadline, the Flyers would have had more flexibility and certainly had more options.
Jay Bouwmeester, anyone?
"I feel bad for [Briere]," Holmgren continued. "He's had this issue pretty much most of the season and to come at this point in our season is not good news."
Holmgren was referring more to the fact that the playoffs are a little more than a month away than that the trade deadline had just passed. But the reality exists.
"I never looked at it that way," Holmgren said. "He's a good player and we want him in our lineup." *