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What if the Flyers’ young defensemen aren’t that good? | Sam Donnellon

After a 98-point season that placed them in the playoffs, the Flyers entered training camp with the motto,`Raise the bar'. The only thing raised in their home debut Tuesday was doubt.

Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim, right, has struggled since being called up.
Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim, right, has struggled since being called up.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The big free-agent offseason acquisition was a 36-goal scorer.

The afterthought was a defenseman.

Both players wore business suits for the Flyers' home opener Tuesday night, distant bystanders to another ugly night of defensive breakdowns and unfavorable trading wars, the latest leading to an 8-2 whupping from the aptly named – for this night anyway — San Jose Sharks.

His leg damaged by a puck early in Saturday's 5-2 loss in Colorado, James van Riemsdyk will be unable to help his team until at least mid-November. On the ice for that game in Colorado, journeyman depth defenseman Christian Folin would have been the most unlikely of saviors Tuesday night, replaced in the lineup by much-maligned Radko Gudas, now in his fourth season with the Flyers.

That Gudas was not on the ice for any of San Jose's four first-period goals is either a cause for cautious optimism, or it adds to the dark possibility that hovers around this team's rebuild: that not all youth movements result in the ultimate success that this franchise appears to have assumed since it promoted Ron Hextall to general manager and began an ambitious rebuild four seasons ago.

The Sharks, who finished with 100 points last season, scored 252 goals and allowed 229. Their key offseason acquisition – a training-camp trade that cost a steep price in prospects and draft picks —  was 28-year-old two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, once considered to be the player the Ottawa Senators would rebuild around.

Last season, the Flyers scored 251 and allowed 243. They have been operating now for two-plus seasons under the premise that a top-notch defender was not only unneeded, but an impediment to the grand plan of building a stellar core from within. Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere — they were all out there Tuesday night, playing … badly.

Big boys Samuel Morin (injured), and Philippe Myers are on the doorstep. Feisty Mark Freidman stayed in training camp to the bitter end, making a spirited bid to make the team. No doubt Myers will be here at some point this season and Morin maybe by the next. But they are highly unlikely to quickly change the dynamic witnessed Tuesday night,  and on way too many nights of a rebuild too often marked by wildly erratic play in its own end, foolish risks on the other end, and a endlessly unstable goaltending situation.

Hextall is right to say that you can never have enough goaltenders.

He is also right to leave out the following descriptive words when he does: Healthy, dependable, steady … well, you get my drift.

Brian Elliott was a mess Tuesday night. Two games beyond a hopeful debut in the Flyers 5-2 victory in Las Vegas, he provided this season's nightmare scenario.  Logan Couture's first goal seeped through a large space between his pads, quickly flipping some early Flyers momentum. The first of Joe Pavelski's two goals that period came on the juicy rebound of Kevin LeBanc's rather soft shot, the second after Elliott and his defenders poked for the puck as if it were a contact lens.

But hey, 23 first-period shots are 23 first-period shots. For sure, the forwards own a chunk of this, as well. Buoyed by a spirited start, their aggressiveness ultimately allowed San Jose to gain incredible speeds through the neutral zone, swarming the scoring zone around Elliott as if it were an unprotected naval base. And while Elliott's positioning and balance bordered on tragicomedy at times, so too did the effort from young defenders who are crucial to this team's belief in a promising present and future.

In the final year of a two-year deal, Elliott won't be around for that. If plans go as scheduled, that will be 20-year-old Carter Hart, the two-time reigning Western Hockey League Most Valuable Player whom many fans wanted to see make this team out of training camp, without any AHL seasoning.

He might have kept it close in that first period Tuesday.  He might have stopped more than 38 of the Sharks 46 shots, the way Elliott ultimately did. But it's hard to argue that he should be here, playing behind that.

After a 98-point season that placed them in the playoffs, the Flyers entered training camp with the motto,  "Raise the bar."

The only thing raised in their home debut Tuesday was doubt.

Lots and lots of doubt.

For their present. And for their future.