Last Saturday's win in Dallas -- the first of the season, in five tries -- inspired some real, actual confidence in this team, for what was probably the first time all season. The Flyers managed to actually control things at evens, winning even though the usually-strong special teams -- particularly, the penalty kill -- had a little bit of an off-night. The level of play they showed there was one that kept them in it throughout, and one that, if seen on a night-to-night basis, would make this a pretty competitive team.
Tonight in Chicago, against undoubtedly one of the two or three or so best teams in hockey, the Flyers had a chance to show if that progress was at all legitimate. It didn't happen.
Sure -- most of the actual damage came quickly, in one swift, brutal stretch of 2:06 in the first period, in which Brandon Saad scored a goal on a third try from literally underneath Steve Mason, Michael Raffl committed a bad kneeing penalty, Patrick Kane instantly cleaned up a shot attempt that bounced off of the boards, and then Bryan Bickell launched a shot over Mason's shoulder off the rush. If you pretend that brief stretch of time never happened, maybe you could come away from this thinking that things didn't go so poorly, as there was only one other goal scored in the rest of this 4-0 loss to the Blackhawks.
But even if you look around the goals, there's really not much to be taken from this game in terms of positives. There was essentially no point in time in which the Flyers seemed even remotely in control of this contest. Some chances here and there by a select number of players (namely, the team's two best players) were typically found in between stretches of time where the Blackhawks would get a chance, regroup, get the puck back, and get another chance.
There was no threat. There was no dead cat bounce (known a bit more scientifically as "score effects") after the team went down early. There was no real time after the first five or so minutes of the game where the Flyers looked like a remote threat to make this contest interesting.
And maybe that's how it is. Despite just one win in five tries, the Flyers, up through today, had managed to keep every game interesting so far, even one or two that they probably had no real business being in. This game stopped being interesting after fourteen minutes.
Blame whatever you want -- bad defense, bad coaching, bad effort, inferior talent, whatever. There's a lot of possibilities, all of which may have some degree of truth to them. And again: this is quite possibly the best team in hockey, with one of the deepest rosters in the league, so tonight's result probably isn't that surprising.
But here's the point: whatever the bad input is, the output isn't acceptable. Before this game, the Flyers' goalie called this a "good measuring stick". Let's hope that measuring stick wasn't very high.
A FEW OTHER THOUGHTS:
* If you're looking for a positive, the only one that really comes to mind was the play of the top line. Of the team's high-quality chances at even strength on the evening, I can't remember more than a handful that didn't come from one of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, or Raffl. A few opportunities off the rush were shut off by Antti Raanta, who played a pretty solid game in his 32-save shutout. Raffl gets a bit of a mark against for two separate really dumb penalties, but otherwise, these guys should keep doing what they're doing.
* We're truly in a bizarro-world when it comes to the Flyers and the penalty kill. The Flyers had taken the fewest minor penalties in the league coming into tonight, and added four more to the ledger this evening. Unfortunately, go figure that now that the Flyers are taking fewer penalties, their penalty kill isn't doing what it's long been really good at doing. Two power play goals allowed for the second straight game, both coming on plays where Patrick Kane beat everybody (particularly, Nicklas Grossmann's efforts here were underwhelming tonight) to the loose puck right in front of the net. Maybe it's a matter of personnel (get well soon, Braydon Coburn), but the team knows that this needs to improve. Mason mentioned after the game that penalty killing is supposed to be a strength of this team, and right now it isn't one. If you're going to live and die on special teams, your special teams have to actually be good.
* Speaking of Mason, he made some nice saves and was definitely was hung out to dry a couple of times (and part of me thought that first goal should've been blown dead), but even so, he seemed a bit off for the second straight game. A lot of rebounds were left out there, and depending on how you'd classify that first goal, one or two of them ended up in the back of the net. Not an awful game, and when you let 43 shots go on goal, chances are that a few of them are going to end up in the net, so it's hard to assign much of the blame to him. Still, he seems like he can be better.
* Apropos of little: R.J. Umberger made one really nice pass to set up a chance for Read in the second period, but otherwise, that Couturier line that's been a defensive rock for so long now did not have a good game at all. I don't know where the best fit is for Umberger in this lineup, but I really don't think it's on that line.
* I would have bet pretty much any sum of money on Dan Carcillo scoring a goal in this game, so the fact that he didn't is maybe the biggest moral victory you can take here.
* That Chicago team really is something. Not a single weakness on that squad.
* Which brings me to my next point, one that several other people seemed to notice on Twitter tonight: when you've got obvious talent deficiencies the way that this Flyers team does, and especially when you're facing a team with no obvious talent deficiencies the way that this Blackhawks team does, you can't really let your game slip anywhere. In those first 10 minutes or so, Chicago was clearly getting the better of the flow of play, but you could see forwards going back and getting in the way, clearing out rebounds, snuffing out passes. It's the kind of stuff you need to see, especially with a defensive unit that is generously one of the five worst in the league. And then it just ... stopped. Chicago got their second chances and made the most of them and the tenacity from the guys up front just wasn't there any more.
I hate harping on effort. I really do. Because more often than not it's really hard for us to tell how hard these guys are actually trying. And I know that not every single game is going to be a team's best effort, and that's especially so on the first half of a back-to-back with your biggest rival coming up tomorrow. But you want to see a little more than the Flyers brought tonight. Berube said that any deficiency in talent is "an excuse" for that kind of effort, and while there's an extent to which that's just coachspeak, there's a point to be made that you'd like to see more than they gave tonight.
* Housekeeping note: A lineup with seven defensemen did not happen, as Berube posited that it may before the game, and Coburn missed his fifth straight contest. There were pre-game reports that he was going to be in the game, but Chief said post-game that Coburn went out for warmups and "didn't feel right". No word on whether or not he'll play tomorrow, though with the back-to-back I'd be surprised if he didn't.
Comment of the Night:
No it’s not and shut up forever now.
Pittsburgh tomorrow. Oh joy. Go Flyers.