It's been about three hours since whatever it is that was going on at the Wells Fargo Center tonight just concluded, and from the sounds of things (in the comments here, on Twitter, presumably everywhere else) everyone's a bit upset. Which, well, duh. That was pretty much a punch to the gut, spread out across the final 40 minutes of a hockey game. Almost certainly the worst loss of the season, all things considered -- division rival, blown lead at home, bad defense, lazy play through the last 40 minutes, questionable coaching, I could go on. (And will, don't you worry.)
But let's do some talking down from the ledge here. First, for fun: a list of things that happened in tonight's 5-4 loss that would, in 99% of hockey games, be considered at least fairly out of the ordinary:
* A guy (Matt Read) in this game made his return from a six-week injury (suffered against this same team he faced tonight) after about two weeks.
* Zac Rinaldo had 2/3 of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick...and the part he missed was the fight.
* Kimmo Timonen shot a puck on net from over halfway across the ice...and it almost went in.
* At least two goals went in off of the defending team's defenseman.
* The Flyers led 4-1 after one period, as well as 18-4 in shots, against the best first-period team in the NHL...
* ...and yet the game was tied before we reached the second intermission.
* One of the starting goalies (ours) allowed four goals on 16 shots and yet he was almost certainly the better of the two starters in net.
* Speaking of the two starting goalies, they didn't even combine for 60 minutes of ice time. Meanwhile, their backups combined to let in one goal.
* The go-ahead (and game-winning) goal in the third period came after the Flyers' most reliable defenseman (Timonen) wildly whiffed on a puck in the neutral zone, sending Pittsburgh the other way on a 3-on-1.
* The potential game-tying goal later on was waived off on a puck played off a high stick by Hartnell.
* Both of the Flyers' even-strength goals came with their fourth line on the ice.
In 99% of hockey games? That's pretty weird stuff. Tonight? Flyers-Penguins, everybody.
Before we get to the venting, let's also talk about a few other good things that happened tonight.
* Jakub Voracek scored two goals, which is barely even surprising any more because he is legitimately one of the best wingers in the league right now.
* Matt Read did indeed play, so much farther ahead of schedule than any of us could have expected, and came out looking OK. At least at the beginning of the game, he seemed to be moving well.
* As mentioned above, the fourth line did alright for itself. Moving Max Talbot down there, thanks to Read's return, gives them a bump.
* PP is still awesome. Went 2-of-4, and both units did an excellent job generating pressure. Up to fifth in the league in PP%.
* The first period was pretty great.
* We got to laugh a lot at Marc-Andre Fleury. No matter what, we'll always have that.
That's just about all I've got for the positives.
As for the negatives...
* Defense. Holy crap, defense. From the defensemen, like Coburn (who had the third goal bounce off of his skate) or Gervais (who was right in line to stop the pass on the second goal, and didn't) or Timonen (who whiffed in the neutral zone on the game-winner). Or from the forwards, like Briere (on the ice for three goals against, none for) or Simmonds (who had a very poor clear attempt right before that third goal). I almost feel bad singling out those guys, because it was pretty much a team collapse in those final 40 minutes. Like Eric reminded us this morning, usually there's more going on than just the thing you notice most. Those guys are easy targets, but there are problems everywhere here. Whether it's personnel, talent, fatigue, coaching, a combination of those, or something else is up for debate. But man, there are problems.
* Goaltending. I wouldn't pin any of those five goals against on Ilya Bryzgalov or Brian Boucher, or call any of them soft, but eventually you reach the point where you've got to stop saying that and start asking for some big saves. That point may have come at some time this week. They both got some really crappy luck tonight -- pucks bouncing off their own defensemen, screens, odd-man rushes -- but sometimes you've gotta make your own luck. Like we said after a tough outing last Tuesday, this team has bigger problems than in net...but right now it has problems in net.
* Coaching decisions. There's been a lot made in the past year or so about a young center on the Flyers and his ability to play excellent defense on members of the Pittsburgh Penguins, particularly their second-best player. Tonight, that young center -- Sean Couturier, of course -- played less ice time than anyone on the Flyers not named Zac Rinaldo or Ruslan Fedotenko. When everyone in orange is struggling to stop the other team from scoring, you may want to try giving your best defensive forward a bit more ice time. Instead, he played 1:47 in the third period, and 10:41 in total. I don't get it. There were other questionable decisions, but that stuck out to me the most by far.
* Discipline. This is really nitpicky, because it happened in a first period where things were otherwise more or less perfect, and only three penalties (one of which, an interference on Nicklas Grossmann late in the second period, was utter garbage) were called on the evening. But I just don't know what exactly Hartnell was thinking on that tussle with Neal. You just went ahead against a team that has, for the past year, made a habit out of getting an early lead on you. Don't blow it. Instead Pittsburgh went on the PP, scored, and most of us had a clue of was going to go down from there.
* Focus. Last -- and absolutely not least -- focus. The Flyers knew what was going to happen at the beginning of the second period. Hell, they said as much after the game. I know it's hard to simply say "go out there and play 60 solid minutes every game, no matter what" at ANY point, let alone in a game against your biggest rival who wants nothing more than to rip you to shreds. But it can't go down like that. I think that pretty much all of us knew after that first goal was scored that the game would be tied soon after. Don't "get too comfortable" when the game's only 1/3 over. You've played enough games against this team to know you can't get comfortable at all, let alone "too comfortable". I know it's not an issue of not caring -- go watch any of these guys' post-game interviews and tell me if you think they don't care. But something in the mentality of this team is a problem right now.
So now what? There's been a lot of anger around. I've seen suggestions to trade basically anyone not named Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek. I've seen suggestions to tank because this season is already over. I've seen people saying we should fire Laviolette and replace him with Lindy Ruff.
There's a time to talk about legitimate changes that can and should be made to this team. Right after a devastating loss is not one of them, for anything other than the sake of venting. I don't know what they should do. But we know Ed Snider. We know Paul Holmgren. And we know if things keep going this way, there will be some changes soon. But now -- just past the halfway mark of the season, and a month away from the trade deadline -- is still not quite the time for that.
Five games in the next 11 days, and then a five-day break full of time for contemplation, is what follows. Whether we like it or not, these next five games are probably going to go a long way towards shaping the future of this team. If we see more performances like the first period tonight? The team may stay the same as we know it, and we may just be on the way to a turnaround. More like the final two periods, and it's gonna get ugly.
Questions with Answers
Comment of the Night comes from our friends at Pensburgh, written during the first period, because despite the loss I think we can all appreciate this.
The Flyer blueprint for winning is being executed flawlessly. Pens playing right into their hands. If Flower weren’t standing on his head, it would be ugly.
Honorable mention to all of you funny people in the first period thread who were taking the new spoiler boxes for a test run.
Matinee in Boston on Saturday at 1:00. Lots to talk about between now and then. Go Flyers.