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Frank Seravalli: Plenty of problems but Flyers coach Stevens isn't to blame

For Flyers coach John Stevens, the clock has been ticking since Oct. 22, 2006 - the day he was hired.

Flyers coach John Stevens may not be the reason for the Flyers' recent struggles. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )
Flyers coach John Stevens may not be the reason for the Flyers' recent struggles. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )Read more

For Flyers coach John Stevens, the clock has been ticking since Oct. 22, 2006 - the day he was hired.

With the Flyers, perhaps more than any other franchise in this town, coaches are hired to be fired. Having been here continuously since he scored the Phantoms' first-ever goal in 1996, Stevens knows that.

Remarkably, he is just 58 games away from passing "Iron Mike" Keenan for second all-time in franchise history for regular-season games coached.

Stevens probably couldn't care less about that record.

For now, it is another record that has our attention. Twice under his reign, the Flyers have racked up losing streaks of 10 games. That is a dubious franchise record.

The alarms sounding for Stevens' job - due to the Flyers' inconsistency - have been heard for seasons now. During their 10-game losing streak last season, rumors floated that Stevens was on the hot seat. He wasn't.

Many said that Stevens would be axed if the Flyers lost in the first round of the playoffs to Pittsburgh. He wasn't.

The same goes for a three-game losing streak in the second week of the season. Now, the Flyers - who previously went 7-1 in an eight-game span before the current 1-5 stretch - have questions that need to be answered.

Is it the injuries? The Flyers have been without Simon Gagne, Darroll Powe, Danny Briere and Blair Betts for stretches this season. None of those four played on Saturday.

Once heralded as the best offensive depth in the NHL, the Flyers' AHL replacements have been horrible. In their collective seven games as callups, Jared Ross, Jon Kalinski and Andreas Nodl have combined to score zero points.

Think that's bad? They've been worse defensively. Per 60 minutes on ice, Nodl averages out to be on the ice for 5.94 goals against. Ross (2.92) and David Laliberte (3.00) have been no better.

Up front, the Flyers have gotten away from attacking the net. During their seven wins in eight games, Scott Hartnell helped wreak havoc in the opponents' crease. They've backed off since then, settling for outside shots. Not coincidentally, the Flyers have averaged just two goals per game over the last six games.

Their once league-best power play has scored just twice in six games. They also have been missing the defensive scoring production that was a bonus in the last few weeks.

It is easy to point the finger toward the bench. But players have a way of throwing subtle hints toward the media when they don't think a particular coach is working out.

There are none such suggestions in this Flyers locker room. If you ask them, they will tell you they need to be better. How else do you explain a 1-0 loss when you outshoot (and outchance) the opponent 34-18? Stevens can't score for his team.

"It's not Johnny," one Flyers player said yesterday, asking to not be named. "We have a lot of problems right now. He's not one of them. His systems work. He is in our face when we're not doing what we're supposed to. He has a lot more fire than people know about.

"For whatever reason, we've let him down."

The Flyers are now projected - if they continue at this period-on, period-off pace - to finish with 96 points. That's three points worse than last year and just another three points back of the playoff cut line. For a team built this well, that's unacceptable.

As for Stevens' cut line, he has been through rough stretches like this before. It's not time to pull the plug. Yet.

Predicting Betts' injury?

Was it possible to predict that Blair Betts would be out again on the injured reserve with a dislocated right shoulder? Logic says no. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said that Betts was injured when his shoulder popped out while reaching for a puck in the air last Saturday in Phoenix. The statistics dictate otherwise.

In all of his games before Nov. 16 against the Devils - the day before the Flyers started their road trip out West - Betts was the Flyers' best faceoff man, winning 54 percent of his draws.

He only won five of 19 (26 percent) faceoffs against Los Angeles on Nov. 18, six of 17 (35 percent) against San Jose on Nov. 20, and didn't win a single draw (0-for-4) in Phoenix on the night he left the game. That's a rapid decline.

Since this is the sixth time Betts has dislocated the same shoulder - and the second time this season - it's possible that it never fully healed. The Flyers are paying the price now. Not only is Betts' replacement defensively inferior, the Flyers have been crushed in the faceoff circle in their last three games.

Slap shots

The Flyers had a day off yesterday after wrapping up their 10th game in 17 days on Saturday . . . Their next game is not until Thursday, the first of 15 games in December . . . Speaking of strange scheduling, how do the Flyers not play the Rangers - a fierce division opponent - until Dec. 19? That's the season's first meeting of the two teams.

By the numbers

** 5: Consecutive games for Chris Pronger without a point. Before this stretch, Pronger had gone pointless in just six of the Flyers' 19 total games.

** 24:57: Mike Richards' average ice time over the last three games. His 26:22 on Black Friday against Buffalo was a season high.

** 107: Shots on goal by Jeff Carter, 33 more than Mike Richards, the next closest player. Only 8.7 percent of Carter's shots have been goals, many of the rest of poor-angle attempts that result in turnovers.

The week ahead

vs. Vancouver

Thursday, 7 o'clock

With 4 days off in between games, the Flyers should be well-rested by the time the Canucks arrive in town for Thursday night's game. This is the Flyers' only matchup against Vancouver this season. The Canucks play Wednesday night in New Jersey. Before last night's game against San Jose, the Canucks were 4-1 in their last five games. They scored 24 goals in those four wins. Vancouver is led by the one-two punch of centers Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Henrik's twin, Daniel, recently returned from a broken foot.

at Washington

Saturday, 7 o'clock

The Flyers' first two battles with Washington this season have been epic. Each team captured a win (Flyers, 6-5, in OT on Oct. 6 and Capitals, 4-2, on Oct. 27). Since then, both teams have had good and bad stretches. The Caps went on a four-game win streak in November and also had a 1-4 stretch that included a bad loss against Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada. Alex Ovechkin is back after missing six games with a mysterious "upper body" injury and he still leads the team in scoring with 18 goals and 11 assists in 20 games. Mike Green has 25 points in 25 games from the point.

Phantoms Phile

Jon Matsumoto (16 points in 19 contests) will lead the Phantoms (9-9-1-0, 7th in East Division) back to Philadelphia on Friday night when they play a "home game" at the Wachovia Center against Norfolk.