I mentioned in the preview for this game earlier today that when you have a game that's the first after a long break, you're almost guaranteed to see one of two narratives come out from it. The first is that Team X looked well-rested and that the break did them well, which basically means "they played well to start the game and won". The other, of course, is that Team X looked rusty and didn't get out to a good start and it cost them, which is more or less "they started the game poorly and lost".
We didn't really get either of those tonight. For twenty minutes, the Flyers played stride-for-stride with the Sharks, the same way they did when these two teams played a few weeks ago. And they even were able to make that count on the scoreboard, with a pair of goals less than 30 seconds apart giving them a 2-1 lead going into the locker room after the first intermission. It looked like, at the very least, we would manage to avoid the talks of "rust" for the time being.
Maybe rust just takes a while to show up. Maybe the Flyers just got tired really quickly. And maybe they just got it totally handed to them in every way by a team that's way better than they are, because that's probably the easiest explanation for what the hell happened in the final 40 minutes of this hockey game.
By and large, if you were to have taken almost any Flyers loss from the first month or so of the season and compared it to this one, you'd have found a lot of similarities. The Flyers start the game out well, even getting out to a lead. They're skating well, going back and forth with their opponents no matter who they are. And then a bad break goes against them, the tide turns a little bit, and things just snowball way, way too quickly, and next thing you know the scoreboard gets real ugly real fast.
You see it in the offensive end, where they're moving the puck around alright but just aren't able to connect with one another on a pass. You see it in the defensive end, where guys are completely unmarked right in front of the net where they've got plenty of room to scoop up a rebound or see the puck well enough to deflect it towards the net. And you see it from the goalies, who, while often hung out to dry, don't do a whole lot to inspire confidence at any point of the process. We saw pretty much all of that tonight immediately following the Sharks' second goal of the night, and by the time the Flyers were able to get on the scoreboard again with a Matt Read goal in the third period -- the final score in the night's 7-3 loss -- the game was so far beyond over that the Sharks had almost had two guys who scored hat tricks.
The Flyers, through 60 games, have showed us that they're a pretty pedestrian team, that is on occasion capable of being much better than that and is on occasion capable of being much worse than that. We've pointed out here before that more often than not, they've struggled against the league's above-average teams. They did a good job trying to kill that perception before the break, with wins over three playoff-quality teams in the West. But when you see a complete wipeout like you did in the second period of tonight's game, it does very, very little to inspire confidence. Especially given that the road doesn't get much easier from here.
* Before things really went into the crapper in the second period, the top line of Hartnell, Giroux, and Voracek seemed like it was all over the place, getting up on the rush, getting open in the offensive zone, sending passes that almost reached their target ... and yet it just looked like every single time that one of those guys was sending a pass to another one of them, the guy receiving it just couldn't handle the puck. Maybe you can blame that on rust if you'd like. I don't know, and I'm not worried about it long-term because we know those guys will get their chances and goals. But you wonder if maybe they could've stemmed the tide a bit if they're able to connect on one or two of those passes.
* On the other side of things ... I can't think of any Flyer who looked good in his defensive zone tonight. None of them. I remember Luke Schenn making a couple of nice plays here and there to break up chances, but all in all it was as brutal for most guys as you'd expect on a seven-goal night. Braydon Coburn got plain beat in front of the net a couple of times and left guys open in the process, Nicklas Grossmann did the same and had an awful attempt at a clear in the second period that led right to a Sharks goal, Andrej Meszaros (despite a good game offensively) was his typical adventurous self in the defensive zone, Erik Gustafsson was way out of position a couple of times including on at least one of the goals he was on the ice for ... you get the picture. (Side note: I shudder at the thought of the Flyers' front office watching this game and thinking "you know what this defense really needs? Another stay-at-home guy who can clear the space out in front of his net." You know it's coming.)
* On a related note, the Flyers' leader in ice time tonight was ... Erik Gustafsson, and it wasn't really very close. He played 21:26, on a night where no other Flyer approached 20 minutes. Remember this when he ends up back in the press box on Saturday against the Rangers.
* Steve Mason wasn't good. Kinda goes without saying on a night where he let in four goals on 13 shots. That's not to say all of those goals were just products of him crapping the bed or anything -- they obviously weren't, and he was pretty hung out to dry on at least two of the four. Still, he never really seemed settled in, I thought he looked uneasy even before the goals started coming, and it's pretty hard to polish an appearance where you get pulled halfway through the game and give up a goal every three shots or so. Weirdly enough, he came back into the game after Ray Emery played for a period and proceeded to give up three more goals. Your guess why is as good as mine. (Update: Berube said in the press conference after the game that Emery had "an issue". Didn't elaborate.) But you figure he'll play on Saturday against the Rangers and Berube just wanted to get him some more ice time to get back in the groove of things. We'll see.
* The Flyers, in my opinion, are in a playoff spot right now because of their special teams. Tonight: 0 for 5 on the powerplay, one power play goal against (on five chances), one shorthanded goal against, one other near-shorthanded goal against (we'll get to that in a second). Not the finest night for the man-up/man-down units.
* In the third period, with the Flyers on a power play and the Sharks up 7-2, Logan Couture tried to wrap around the net and put the puck in on Ray Emery, and it kind of looked like it nudged across the goal line for a second before it came back out of the net. The call on the ice was no goal, but as would be expected, the refs stopped the game to review whether or not the puck fully crossed the line. The call would end up standing -- which I personally thought was correct, though several fans and writers watching seemed to disagree -- but that's not really point. The refs spent at least five solid minutes reviewing this goal, which was ridiculous given that there was basically one good camera angle to look at and that, as mentioned, it was a 7-2 game in the third period. I hate to encourage the refs and the folks in the war room in Toronto to give anything but their best, but come on, guys. Know your setting and know when to get on with the proceedings.
* Joe Pavelski had a hat trick tonight. Hey, ya jerk, you couldn't have given us one or two of those last Friday? Really, man?
* We'll end with two points of optimism, I guess. First: two Flyers who seemed really active tonight were maybe two of the ones with the most questions surrounding them over the next week or so. Steve Downie got his first two points in 2014 -- including a really heads-up play to set up the first goal of the night -- and Andrej Meszaros, for all his defensive troubles, once again did a good job in the offensive end playing up and trying to create chances -- while scoring that aforementioned first goal. Those two are probably the guys whose names will be thrown around in trade talks the most over the next week or so, but whether there's anything to those talks or not, good to see them making things happen in the offensive zone.
* Lastly: Two other Flyers games from this year really came to mind when trying to think of a comparable for this one. The 7-0 loss to Washington in November (minus the fight, but right down to the two goalie changes!) and the 7-2 loss to Chicago in December. After both of those embarrassing losses, the Flyers came back to get some wins in the games that followed. Maybe that's a coincidence. Maybe the Flyers can learn from this. We'll find out soon enough.
Comment of the Night:
We're gonna need a bigger boat.
Big weekend coming up. Rangers on Saturday afternoon. Go Flyers.