The Nightmare Before Christmas

DAVID W. UNKLE -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 6:08 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA—In Greek mythology, it was Sisyphus who was compelled to roll a boulder up the side of a mountain only to have it escape him and have it roll back to the base.

In the case of head coach John Stevens, his punishment is to stand behind the Flyers’ bench night after night, leading a team that excels only in futility.

Looking to snap a franchise-record, eight-game losing streak, the Flyers had to be somewhat excited to see the Ottawa Senators.

The rivalry, which not that long ago featured two teams vying for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, is now about the two teams trying to find their way back to respectability.

But these are the 2006-07 Flyers, and Saturday’s 6-3 loss to Ottawa typifies a season without explanation.

When the Sens rolled into town sans Jason Spezza (knee injury), owners of a two-game losing streak in which they were outscored 35-15, and with Martin Gerber scheduled to start between the pipes, there was at least a glimmer of optimism.

But as Stevens and the Flyers quickly discovered, their Sisyphean tendencies serve only to frustrate their rapidly-dwindling fan base.

When the Flyers returned to the dressing room at the first intermission with a 2-1 lead, it represented only the ninth time in 35 games this season (and second this month) that the Flyers were on the positive side of the ledger.

Making this more impressive was the fact that the Flyers allowed the Sens to take a 1-0 lead, which has equated to a loss in 19 of the 20 games when their opponent has scored first.

But the Flyers seemed to chart a different course following Joe Corvo’s marker at 6:09 of the first period. Instead of self-destructing, the Flyers kept the pressure on Gerber, who stopped 14 of 16 shots in the period.

Just when Stevens finds a way to address one issue, in this case apathetic effort in the first period, another one emerges that is equally, if not more, frustrating.

In the Flyers case that would be their apathetic effort in the second period of hockey games.

Ottawa added a pair of second-period goals, 1:39 apart to take a 3-2 lead, and were out-shooting the Flyers, 16-3, before Kyle Calder knotted the score with under two minutes to play.

The rock continued to roll down the mountain in the third period as the Flyers were out-shot 18-5 by the Senators, who added three markers in the period, including one on a turnover by Flyers defenceman Derian Hatcher on the eventual, game-winner by Daniel Alfredsson.

“I gave that puck up in the third period and I know that I can’t do that and it ends up in our net,” said Hatcher.

“I know I made a mistake. Trust me, there’s no one more pissed off than me.”

So how did Stevens see things after the game?

“We thought we had a good first period, and just before (the coaching staff) addressed the players, we (acknowledged) that we’ve had a drop-off in (play this season) in the second period. Let’s really get together let’s make sure we’re focused, let’s really concentrate on the things that we did well here…and have a great, second period,” said Stevens.

“On the first shift (of the second period), we turned the puck over, spent maybe a minute and a half in our end, and it just kind of snowballed from there. Clearly, we got outworked from that point on.”

“In the first period, we were a pretty good hockey team, and in the second period, we were a horrible hockey team,” pronounced Hatcher.”

“I was in the (dressing) room, and there was nothing that led me to believe that we were going to come out (in the second period) like that. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I have all of the answers…but until we can figure that out, you’ll probably see a lot more of that.”

Perhaps the Flyers can lobby the NHL to eliminate the second period.

After looking at the proposed-Bettman model to re-structure the NHL, that idea may not be that far off.

David Unkle can be reached at: topcatsports@canoemail.com


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