The Defense Rests: Flyers area of struggle easy to find

Luke Schenn has just three points and is a minus-3 in the last 16 games. (Photo by Amy Irvin/Flyers Faithful)

When dealing with a scoring drought, the Flyers tried nearly everything to get their players going. That was evident when a slumping Vincent Lecavalier was moved to the second line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, breaking up the hottest line the Flyers had in recent games.

Defensively, the Flyers were trying to find any pair that worked. They shuffled defensive pairings all game. None worked.

The Flyers have used the same six defensemen for the last 16 games. Dec. 21, ironically a 6-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus, was the last the Flyers played with Erik Gustafsson or Hal Gill.

Both should be prepared to play on Saturday, especially Gustafsson.

In the last 16 games, the Flyers defense has been as follows: Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann, Andrej Meszaros, Mark Streit and Luke Schenn.

Timonen has just two goals on the season, his last coming on Dec. 9. He has six assists in the last 16 games. 

Coburn has one goal and three assists. Grossmann has four assists. Meszaros has three goals and nine assists. Streit has three goals and five assists. Schenn has one goal and two assists.

That's a combined total of 37 points, only eight being goals. Of all six defensemen, they are a minus-5.

Gustafsson has two goals and five assists in 20 games. He has a plus-4 rating.

The last 16 games have been the best and worst of the Flyers. The Flyers won seven of the first eight games of that stretch. Since then, they have lost six of eight games.

The sign of struggle goes much further than the numbers. It is in the style of play.

The Flyers had not skated for two days prior to the 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday. It was easy to see, mostly in the defense.

The Flyers might be the worst team at outlet passing and carrying the puck out of their own zone. The sluggish play leads to an onslaught of shots against the goalie, whoever it may be.

The goalie isn't always the victim. There are times that the goalie is at fault. But for the overall result, it starts defensively. There have been times where the defense makes such a big mistake, it leads to a shootout-style goal – Nathan Gerbe is still all over the internet.

Inserting Gustafsson into the lineup would add some much needed speed to the Flyers defensive corps. Putting Gill in the lineup is a little desperate. But anybody different may be better.

In the last five games, Schenn has easily been the worst of the Flyers defensemen. Grossmann, Coburn and Streit have struggled as well but not the same level. 

The defense needs a lift mainly because the toughest stretch of games has arrived. The Blue Jackets are the hottest team in hockey. It showed on Thursday. The Bruins, Red Wings, Ducks, Kings and Sharks make up the Flyers next game. And all five could end up skating circles around this defense.

It's scary to think about where the Flyers could end up if they don't wake up defensively. Thursday's loss allowed the Blue Jackets to jump into third in the Metropolitan Division. A lengthy losing streak here could send the Flyers to the bottom of the division.

The primary source of struggles will always the defense in front of Steve Mason or Ray Emery. And until there is a serious shake-up on the blue line, it will continue to be the Flyers Achilles heel.

Kevin Durso is the lead beat writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.

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