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Every Game Matters

By Bill Campbell

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Flyers are in trouble. They've lost five of their last six, and nine of their last 14.

I'm sure you've noticed that a lot of fans are talking about the Flyers these days, and it is not happy talk.

After last Saturday's disappointing matinee performance against the New York Rangers, two things stood out in bold relief. This was the Flyers' fifth straight defeat at the hands of the Rangers, and the Flyers' contention for the Stanley Cup seems more in jeopardy than ever.

What is even more serious is that the Flyers are talking about it publicly, in comments that usually come from the general manager or the coach.

Veteran defenseman Kimmo Timomen has put it into words, in thoughts expressed outside the locker room.  When asked why the Rangers seem to have the Flyers' number, Timomen didn't mince any words.

"They're a top team," he said, "that's why they are at the top. They play the same way every night. They work hard. They use the same system night after night. Their goalie plays really well every night."

Timomen also expressed his disappointment at his team's effort, particularly on the emotional level, against a top team. In his words, "To be honest, I think we have half the guys going and half the guys not."

I can't imagine a more realistic assessment, especially coming from a player who is right in the middle of it all.

To be sure, this frank appraisal coming from an authoritative source would not be unusual. But it is surprising indeed from a player.

The trade deadline is February 27th. General manager Paul Holmgren has reaped some disappointing rewards, especially from his large investment in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and the 39- year-old Jaromir Jagr.

Add to this the fact that Timomen himself is a fading veteran, as is Chris Pronger, who is out for the season.  Holmgren must account, too, for the trading of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. He has some decisions to make.

It used to be Sidney Crosby at Pittsburgh who had the Flyers' number.  Or Alex Ovechkin in Washington.  Now it's New York, defying the predictions of Flyers' owner Ed Snider, who felt that all the Flyers needed was a top-notch goaltender.

It is the Rangers, formerly a third or fourth place finisher, who got the top-notch goaltender.  His name is Henrik Lundquist, and he has been the difference.

Timomen referred to that after last Saturday's Rangers game when he said, "If there is a breakdown, their goalie makes the big save."  He wasn't talking about Bryzgalov, who is now out with the flu and who has been inconsistent all season.  On Saturday it was Bobrovsky.

But there were far too many defensive breakdowns, which shouldn't be blamed on the goalie.  Timomen commented on effort and talent when he said, "There's not much skill level difference from the bottom team to the top in the NHL.  It comes down to the system, how you execute the system, how you play with consistency every night. Sometimes you just skate up and down and that's how you lose games.  That is not championship play.  Every game matters.  You have to be able to bring it every night. I don't care if you're nineteen years old or forty -- every game matters."

When Timomen's comments were relayed to coach Peter Laviolette, he declined to endorse them. "I'll have to go back and take a look at it," was his only response. You wonder what he has been looking at all season.

The Flyers' problems continued following the Rangers' departure.  They traveled to Detroit and lost to the Redwings.

Bobrovsky has allowed 12 goals in three games since replacing Bryzgalov. Just to rub it in a bit, it was Detroit's 20th consecutive victory at home, tying the world's record shared by the 1976 Flyers and the 1930 Boston Bruins.

Before Thursday's game here against Buffalo, the Flyers had suffered from a combination of poor defense and substandard goaltending.


Baseball's spring training begins on Sunday, just two weeks after football's Super Bowl. There must be something about the year 2012 that brings these two events closer together.

It could be that both the Eagles and Phillies face decisions that could have dramatic effects on the futures of both teams. The Eagles must come to some sort of decision on DeSean Jackson -- whether to trade him, franchise him, extend his contract (which isn't likely to happen), or sign a new one.

The latest rumor is that Jackson and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are looking for five years and $50 million, which probably isn't negotiable either.

The Phillies' question mark is not quite as complicated, but could develop down the road depending on Ryan Howard's recovery from his torn Achilles problem.

They've already taken some protective steps in case Howard misses serious time. They've brought in Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton, and they also have other provisions in the works.

But just the thought of the situations facing both the Eagles and Phillies provides the interesting reminder that the changing seasons in sports are far from over.  In fact, there's always a competition upon us in this world of sports, regardless of the date on the calendar. Aren't we lucky?

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