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Road to the Winter Classic: Flyers in Tampa

Feb 23, 2009, 5:46 PM EDT

Yesterday, Enrico and I sat in on a conference call with Chris Pronger as part of the media prelude to the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Pronger was affable and responsive, but also pretty honest about the fact that he doesn’t know what exactly this team needs to do to get out of their funk. If he knew that, he said, he’d have told everyone already. 

When the league’s deepest scoring team from last season suddenly can’t find the back of the net for weeks, it’s much more difficult to pinpoint the problem than it is when they’re just getting shelled, which on most nights, they’re not. Pronger did echo the sentiments aired by Peter Laviolette recently—that the team just needs to find a way to have fun, probably not meaning in a goofing around sense, but rather to not press so much and overthink their shortcomings.  

What better stage for having some fun than playing an outdoor game, and on the field at Fenway Park at that? Pronger did say he thinks that setting and excitement could be just what they need, but he quickly pointed out that they need to start winning during the four games they have leading up to that, a road trip that starts tonight in Tampa. He’s right too—they can’t afford to keep losing or wait ’til the new year to get a fresh start. Take a look at this tidbit, tweeted by Ryan Bright earlier today:

Morbidity and mortality  

At just six points below the mark of the current 8th seed, it may not take 30-16-1 to get in this season—but if Lavvy has a cardboard stripper in the locker room right now, she’d better be wearing 30 tear-off patches, if not more. 

Michael Leighton will get the start in net for the Flyers, which doesn’t exactly fill our hockey pants with confidence. Leighton wasn’t quite good enough to stick with the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently have the highest goals against average in the NHL (the Flyers are 10th, which is pretty lousy as well). Can he steal a win tonight, or at the very least keep it close enough for the Flyers to eek one out? More than Leighton’s own play, it’ll depend on what the skaters in front of him can do. If they get shutout or light the lamp just once or twice, Leighton won’t be the reason they lose, even if he gets torched. Boosh should be able to return after the short Christmas break, and Johan Backlund has been called up (or down, geographically speaking) to make sure the door on the bench stays shut during play. Darroll Powe will come off the injury list tonight, while Riley Cote and Mike Pyorala will watch the game from the suites (which begs the question—if you’re a healthy scratch, can you have a few beers up in the box?).  

Just like the Flyers, the Lightning are staring through the glass at the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but they’re closer to breaking through, which is a huge sign of just how awful the Orange & Black have been lately. The Lightning aren’t a good team, and their building smells like human waste because of it. Or maybe it’s the sewage leak. Or the Flyers. 

Who can be sure?