Injuries reveal source of Flyers’ problems

By JAY BOEHMER
Senior Hockey Insider — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com
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Captain Mike Richards, who will undergo offseason surgery, has faced questions and accusations regarding his leadership. (Courtesy Philly.com)

The days immediately following a playoff exit are interesting and exciting, but not enlightening. To really understand what went wrong, it’s best to wait until the dust has cleared, the worst of the headlines have been run, and the players finally reveal what’s been ailing them.

It’s those injury reports that trickle out day-by-day that really show where things fell apart for a team that was swept out of the playoffs.

Those players that were put on trial, driven out by the witch hunts in the days after the Flyers’ loss may not have been as guilty as they seemed – their playoff performances weakened not by a lack of drive, effort or ability, but by injury.

A laundry list of players, including captain Mike Richards, Andrej Meszaros, Blair Betts and Kris Versteeg will all undergo surgery – while Scott Hartnell, Jeff Carter, and Chris Pronger will be evaluated to see if surgery is necessary.

Mike Richards, who leads not with his voice but with his actions, was subject to myriad reports that his captaincy should be removed following the frustrating ending for the 2011 Flyers.

It’s no secret that Mike Richards doesn’t get along with the media – he gives short answers, turns down questions, and sometimes just walks away when being interviewed. When the media turns this around to the public, he looks like nothing more than an immature playboy who can’t handle the pressure of the NHL.

His teammates, on the other hand, know him to be a focused, determined and silent leader. No one questioned him when he dominated the 2010 playoffs – from his series-changing hit on David Krejci to his diving goal against the Montreal Canadiens.

So for a guy who leads with his play on the ice, an unimpressive playoff run leads to questions. But when he turns right around to have surgery, the real answer appears.

Mike Richards, like many of those on the Flyers’ hospital wait list, played through an injury that kept him from performing at his best.

Andrej Meszaros, voted the team’s best defenseman during the regular season, clearly wasn’t his dominant self during the postseason. This isn’t a player choking, or failing to “flip the switch,” as the Flyers talked at length of doing going into the playoffs.

Meszaros was just another guy playing hurt.

Scott Hartnell, Kris Versteeg and Jeff Carter were non-existent – contributing only one goal each. Should these players be shipped off as a knee jerk reaction? Absolutely not. Versteeg will be having a procedure to repair a sports hernia, while Hartnell and Carter are looking into hip surgery.

Blair Betts – the Flyers’ defensive faceoff specialist – completely failed at those duties from the time he returned from a finger injury during the season right up until the final game against the Bruins. It was no more noticeable than it was against Boston, where he was decimated in the faceoff circle.

His plans for surgery on that finger show that, despite what everyone said, it wasn’t completely healed.

While the Flyers clearly didn’t play their best hockey and deserved to lose to the Boston Bruins, it’s not entirely for a lack of effort on their part.

Everyone plays the playoffs with some level of pain, but the team that stays healthiest is often the one that’s going to move on. And for the Flyers, who have a long list of players in need of repair, health was not on their side.

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