For those of you who haven't noticed, Philadelphia Flyers rookie Matt Read has hit the proverbial 'rookie wall'. This isn't an uncommon thing, as many players that have come through the college ranks have suffered through similar slumps.
Look no further than James van Riemsdyk as an example of someone who has gone through the same pattern of the fast start, only to fizzle as the season progressed. JvR posted 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in his first 16 games as a rookie during 2009-10 campaign, and garnered Rookie-of-the-Month honors for November of 2009. But the 'rookie wall' smacked van Riemsdyk hard, as he finished the year by scoring just nine goals and 17 points over the course of his final 62 contests.
Read, the player TSN's hockey insider Bob McKenzie predicted would win the Calder Trophy this season as the NHL's Rookie-of-the-Year, has fallen on hard times, indeed.
After scoring 15 goals and picking up 31 points in his first 43 games this season, Read's production has fallen off the charts.
- He has no points in his last three contests.
- Read has not scored a goal in his last 10 games, and has just two assists during that stretch.
- In the last 14 games, he has managed just one goal and three points.
There could be many reasons for the drop off in productivity.
First and foremost, something you have to remember is what happened with van Riemsdyk, and that is the grind of an 82-game NHL schedule as opposed to less than 40 in a college season. Read played in 37 games in each of the last three years, and 36 in his freshman season.
It's not only the amount of games, but also the physicality of the NHL. The 25-year-old has seen action in 57 games so far, and has logged a lot of minutes in skating on the second and third lines, as well as the special teams units. Read has logged 997:10 of total ice time, the second-most amount among rookie forwards to Gabriel Landeskog (1,122:49) of the Colorado Avalanche, and his 17:29 ranks third in rookie forwards TOI per game, behind just Landeskog (18:24) and New Jersey's Adam Henrique (18:22).
One thing that head coach Peter Laviolette has done is play his rookies heavily in penalty killing situations. As a matter of fact, there are only five rookie forwards that are averaging better than two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game, and the Flyers have two of them. Anaheim's Maxime Macenauer leads all in the category with 2:55 per contest (in just 29 games played), while Sean Couturier (2:51) and Read (2:42) come in at numbers two and three, respectively.
That is a lot of tough minutes racked up over the course of a long year, especially one that is more than twice as long as what you've been used to for the past several seasons.
Read also plays a lot when playing with the man advantage, and his 2:36 of ice time per game on the power play unit ranks second in rookie forwards only to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.
There is also something to be said for continuity and familiarity, and that is a luxury in which Read (as well as most of the other Philly forwards, for that matter) has not had. Much of that is likely due to his versatility and ability to play in any situation, but Read has been juggled across lines and skated with new linemates as Peter Laviolette looks for what works best for his squad.
So what does Laviolette do to get Read going as the team heads into the stretch run? Recent moves of Wayne Simmonds to the right side of the top line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr to the right of Read with Danny Briere on the left, the head coach is still searching for a new bits of chemistry from his front lines.
For those who have noticed Read's recent decline in productivity, it's nothing out of the ordinary for a player in his situation. He has hit the wall, so to speak, and it has come at a bad time. Philadelphia's recent struggles do not lend themselves to giving such key cogs a rest down the stretch, as the Flyers place in the Eastern Conference standings is a fragile thing at the moment.
Their 73 points are the exact same as what Pittsburgh has amassed and just one more than Ottawa, and currently has Philly sitting in fifth place. But by the time they play again on Saturday night, the Flyers could very well be in the seventh slot.
And the competition doesn't get any easier in the club's final 22 games of the regular season, as the schedule is comprised of many divisional battles, and the majority with teams struggling for every point in their respective postseason posturing.
As the Flyers embark on the remainder of the campaign it will be interesting to see how Read is used by Laviolette, and how he responds as he closes out his first NHL season.