Flyers need to string together some wins, and soon

SCOTT MORRISON

, Last Updated: 1:07 PM ET

As we've seen in Chicago a week ago, it's never too early to panic.

Thanks for the memories and the four games, Denis Savard...

Or last year in Atlanta.

Those six games were a blast, Bob Hartley ...

Or two years ago in Philadelphia...

It actually was two years ago to the day yesterday that the Flyers, off to their worst start in 17 years, just 1-6-1 and dead last in the NHL, fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and bumped general manager Bob Clarke back upstairs.

That season didn't get much better, of course, but a massive overhaul was started by GM Paul Holmgren and last season the Flyers improved by 39 points and advanced to the Eastern Conference final under coach John Stevens.

Thus, expectations are sky high this season, but so far the results have pretty much been rock bottom.

Fairly or not, there have been whispers that Stevens may be under the gun in Philly.

Last night, the Flyers finally won their first game of the season, defeating the New Jersey Devils 6-3.

The Flyers had started the season 0-3-3, which tied the longest winless start in club history. In 1999, they started 0-4-2.

As you would expect, the Flyers have many warts.

Interestingly, the Flyers were showing some signs of cracking down the stretch last season, too, enduring a stretch of 5-16 in the final months, before Stevens got them pointed in the right direction in the final weeks of the season and took them on that impressive playoff run.

While he has suggested all aspects of their game needs improving, what has been most notable is an overall lack of discipline, incredibly shabby defensive play and subpar goaltending. Heading into last night's business, they had given up a whopping 29 goals in six games, a league-high 4.8 per game. Neither Martin Biron, who was terrific in the playoffs last spring, nor Antero Niitymaki has been very good, but that applies to those around them, too.

Now, it's early and the Flyers know how good they can be, but patience has not always been a virtue in that organization.

"If we have must-win games now, I think it's going to be a long year," Flyers captain Mike Richards said.

"Everybody wants to win. Everybody's excited about turning this thing around and kind of getting on the right path and righting the ship."

Whether you would classify them as must-wins or not, there is a big-time need for this team to string together some victories. As the old cliche goes, you don't earn playoff spots in the fall, but you certainly can lose them with a wicked start.

GOOD VALUE

A year ago, when he was making $10 million US and scoring 36 goals, Sabres winger Thomas Vanek was considered to be wildly overpaid. But the Sabres didn't have a choice but to pony up.

Two summers ago, the Oilers presented Vanek, who had a 43-goal, 84-point season, with a seven-year, $50-million offer sheet, the Sabres simply had to match. Whether it was the pressure of the big ticket or that he simply was part of an overall slip in Buffalo, Vanek scored seven fewer goals last season and 20 fewer points. And with the big ticket, he was dubbed an overpaid under-achiever, although 36 goals hardly is a bad number.

He struggled out of the gate with just four goals in his first 19 games and didn't get his eighth goal until his 26th game (Dec. 6). This season, of course, Vanek (like the Sabres) has been red hot. Before last night, he led all scorers with eight goals in seven games and was second with 11 points. The seven goals he had in the Sabres' first five game was the most in club history to start a season.

"I know how quickly it goes the other way," Vanek said. "It's nice, but I know how hard it is to stay on top of the game. I'm going to try to stay on top of it."

He's making $8 million this year and will make $6.4 million in each of the next five seasons. If he continues to play this well and produce that much, you could safely argue that Vanek has gone from overpaid to a bargain.

THIS AND THAT

Blues rookie Alex Pietrangelo hadn't played since he was driven into the boards by Toronto's Ryan Hollweg back on Thanksgiving Day, Oct. 13 ... Matt Pettinger, who was picked up on waivers by Tampa Bay earlier in the week, is a friend of Lightning co-owner Len Barrie. Not only that, he is an investor in Barrie's Bear Mountain resort in Victoria, as is Gary Roberts and Mike Vernon, who is a special assistant with the club. Needless to say, Barrie was asked if business relationships impacted hockey decisions. "I wish it could be because we'd have a Hall of Fame team." ... There were fears in Colorado, because of the tough economic times, that the Pepsi Center might have been a ghost town when the Oilers visited Thursday. They ended up with an announced attendance of 14,898 ... Sabres coach Lindy Ruff earlier this week said he happily would accept an assistant coaching position with the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. Fact is, he should receive strong consideration for the head coaching job. Another guy who deserves strong consideration, in addition to obvious choices such as Detroit's Mike Babcock, is Oilers coach Craig MacTavish ... For just the second time, all 30 teams are in action today. The other time it happened was opening night 2005, the first post-lockout action. But the lights are out in all 30 buildings tomorrow. According to the league, that hasn't happened since 2001 ... Taking a page from the baseball Dodgers, on Monday the Los Angeles Kings are offering an "All-U-Can-Eat" ticket. For just $27 (down from $36) you get a ticket to a game between the Kings and the Red Wings as well as unlimited hot dogs, pop, nachos, peanuts and popcorn, as well as a team calendar.


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