WHAT COBURN’S ABSENCE MEANS FOR THE STRUGGLING FLYERS

By Sam Bush

Okay, the Flyers fell behind the Devils last night at the Wells Fargo Center and then hustled to tie it a 3 before losing 6-4.

And, they begun started the season 0-2, which brings back painful memories of last season’s 1-7 start.

But the big story on Action News is that defenseman Braydon Coburn suffered an injury during the Flyers’ season-opening loss in Boston the night before, one that apparently is significant.

In journalism, that’s what called burying the lead.

The Flyers will try regroup, then try to beat the Montreal Canadiens at home on Saturday night to avoid starting 0-3 for the third year in a row.

And after that, they’ll try to get this this 10-game killer of an October schedule without being buried in the standings like they were last season when starting a franchise-worst 1-7.

Keeping afloat won’t be easy without two key players from last season:

Kimmo Timonen, diagnosed with blood clots this past summer, probably isn’t ever coming back and now Coburn, who was on crunches Thursday, possibly will be lost for at least 4-to-6 weeks with an injury that may be a broken foot.

“It is obviously a fill in by committee,” Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds said after a three-point night in which he scored twice in the final minute of the second period to tie the game 3-3.

The Flyers better pray that Coburn’s problem isn’t a worse issue, because while he’s probably a second-pair guy on an elite team, he’s needed to play big minutes, kill penalties and be out there in crunch time.

His first game missing, the Flyers responded by allowing six goals – the final one was an empty netter – to a Devils club that was held to one goal or none 23 times last season.

“It’s hard to replace (Coburn), but we’ve got guys capable,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “I thought Schultz came in there and played a good game.”

Nick Schultz, past his prime at 32 but very experienced, took Coburn’s spot in the Flyers’ lineup after sitting out the opener and did OK on a night some of the other defensemen were worse.

Luke Schenn was victimized by a couple of bad bounces, but still ended up with a career-worst minus-5 after previously being a minus-4 just once – as a rookie with Toronto in 2008-09.

Schenn’s third-pair partner Michael Del Zotto wasn’t much better at minus-4.

As Berube’s been preaching all training camp, team defense involves forwards, and some of his best forwards were big minuses against the Devils, too, as Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek were minus-3.

“It is a team game out there,” Schenn said. “It is five guys. But it obviously starts with the defensemen when you’re getting scored on … goals off the rush, deflections, losing guys in front of the net, it was a frustrating game. Those are things we’ll look at and clean up. When it comes down to us, every one of us, in particular me, have to play better.”

Easier said that done.

“(Coburn) plays a lot of minutes,” Giroux said. “He’s usually the one that plays the most minutes.We have to move on and it’s a good chance for others to step up.”

That was a theme in the Flyers dressing room after this one regarding Coburn’s loss, for however long it is. But if the Flyers lose Giroux for a stretch and call up prospect Scott Laughton from the AHL to replace him, there’s a big drop.

There also figures to be a sizable drop off replacing Coburn, where it stays Schultz or not because GM Ron Hextall doesn’t have the cap space to go out and trade for a solid stopgap.

Andrew MacDonald, a third-pair guy with Schenn last season after arriving in March trade from the Islanders, now is on the top pair with Schultz.

No offense to those guys, but they should be a third pair, not a first.

Nicklas Grossmann and Mark Streit are a pretty solid second pair, but they have a lot of wear and tear, and thus can’t be expected to take on more minutes.

Berube has to be worried about his defense, but he sure acted like he wasn’t after this loss.

“It’s two games,” the coach said. “We’ve had some guys who have played decently and we have had some guys that haven’t. It’s inconsistent right now. I think were inconsistent as a team. I think sporadic at times out there.”

That’s true, but face it, the picture the Flyers have painted of themselves two games into 2014-15 is no Michelangelo or Picasso in the making.

And things could get worse in a hurry.

“It’s not easy to replace (Coburn),” goalie Steve Mason said. “I have to step up and make key saves at key times and the rest of the guys on the defensive unit have to step up and play better. As a defensive unit, myself included, we need to be a stabilizing force back there.”

 

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