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Avalanche 4, Flyers 0: 10 things we learned from a painful shutout loss

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The Flyers brought their troubles back home with them, and were thoroughly dominated by the Colorado Avalanche last night. What caused such a convincing defeat?

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Morning Observations is a new feature, where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.

  • The Flyers may have been losing 1-0 at the end of the first period, but this game was lost in the opening ten minutes of the second. They were down after twenty minutes primarily due to a bad goal allowed by Michal Neuvirth, not because they had been outright dominated. Philadelphia may have been losing the shot attempts battle, but were even in scoring chances, and it was still plausible that they could turn it around. Instead, they gave up a quick goal to start the second, and then generated a whopping four shot attempts through the first ten minutes of the period. During that time period, the Avalanche took fifteen attempts at the Flyers' net, and two of them went in. It would have taken a herculean effort to come back after that poor of a stretch.
  • We're now fifteen games into the season, and according to my two favorite team advanced metrics (Micah Blake McCurdy's Score Adjusted metrics and DTM About Heart/Asmean's xG), the Flyers are among the league's worst squads. So it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that they lost to a bad possession team like the Avalanche - Philadelphia is a bad possession team too. Are they this bad? I lean towards no. Injuries to Sean Couturier, Evgeny Medvedev and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare have hurt an already-thin roster slammed up against the salary cap, and it seems obvious to me that their low shooting percentages are resulting in a more frustrated, sloppy squad. Things should get better, but how much better is the real question. The current metrics don't paint a rosy picture.
  • If there was one reason for the Flyers' loss last night, it was poor play in the defensive zone, specifically when the puck was on a Philadelphia player's stick. Zone exits were a mess all game long, and many of the mistakes were unforced errors. A strong Colorado forecheck wasn't even necessary, as the Flyers overshot open passes and failed to collect those that were on target. And the problem extended past the usual suspects. Players like Mark Streit and even Jakub Voracek were turning the puck over in the defensive zone, and they generally rank among the team's best players in zone exits. This was a team-wide problem.
  • Patrick Roy has received a great deal of criticism for his coaching over the past year and change, but he was undeniably a great NHL goalie. That's why I found it interesting that Colorado seemed to be attacking the low left side against Michal Neuvirth from the start of last night's contest. They got one cheap goal using the strategy early on, and continued throughout the first period and into the second. Neuvirth clearly was uncomfortable with the pressure, and I have to wonder if former goalie Roy noticed something on tape and directed his forwards to specifically attack that location. It will be interesting to see if other teams attempt the same against the Flyers' backup goaltender.
  • The Flyers were able to generate offense in the first period despite their struggles with defensive zone exits, primarily because they were doing a fantastic job of puck retrieval via the dump-and-chase. But it's difficult to continue winning puck battle after puck battle as the only way of creating anything, since the team's play in the defensive and neutral zones was horrific. And that's exactly what happened in the second period - puck retrieval success took a nose dive, and it exposed the issues in the other two zones. The result was tonight's shellacking.
  • Sean Couturier's line may have finished the night with positive possession metrics, but they were absolutely taken to the cleaners at the start of the second period. The line was on the ice for both second period goals, and struggled immensely in all three zones during that key stretch. They eventually pulled it together, but for a team that only has two functional lines right now, the brief regression was a killer.
  • Speaking of line combinations, the bottom-six continues to be totally ineffective. The VandeVelde-Laughton-White line struggled yet again in the defensive zone, and while Vincent Lecavalier did generate a few chances, his line was unable to generate consistent offensive zone pressure, which is seemingly their main role. I'm not sure there's an easy solution here - the first line is still creating chances, and the second line with Couturier back has been mostly solid over the past three games. But the combinations in the bottom-six are just not working, and Dave Hakstol can't staple half of his forwards to the bench in a game. Getting Pierre-Edouard Bellemare back in the lineup should help, but it's not a cure-all. Talented guys like Sam Gagner and Brayden Schenn need to step up and start driving play, and unless they do, the bottom-six will continue to be a liability.
  • In maybe the only positive of the game, I was fairly satisfied with the penalty kill, even though it allowed a third period goal. Their PK in the first period was a thing of beauty, as the Flyers spent about as much time in the offensive zone as they did in the defensive zone. And the second penalty kill looked solid until a brutal Mark Streit turnover sent them flailing. Despite the 50% success rate, I saw nothing tonight to change my opinion that Sean Couturier's return fixes most of the problems with that unit.
  • I've been beating this drum for a few games, but this performance cemented my opinion - the Michael Del Zotto - Mark Streit pairing needs to be separated. They were the team's worst duo at even strength last night, as somehow pairing two strong zone exit players together seems to be making both of them worse at decision making with the puck. Maybe both prefer to lead the breakout on a pairing, and now they're being forced to move the puck without a designated support blueliner. Regardless of the reason, the duo is not working well together, and a split should come soon. In the third period, Hakstol was juggling the pairings, so I suspect he'll be making some shifts at practice.
  • I gave Mark Streit a pass in the early season on his poor statistics and unimpressive play, because I felt that many of his issues were due to playing with Nick Schultz, who was struggling to adapt to a more aggressive neutral zone system. But now, Streit is playing with a better defenseman in Del Zotto, and he's still playing below his usual standards. Despite the poor possession statistics, MDZ made a number of very nice plays in the neutral zone and at the blue line, disrupting Colorado before they had a chance to gain speed. Streit, on the other hand, looked miserable in all three zones. To me, he was the one dragging down his pairing last night, not Del Zotto. It's a serious concern, as Streit came into this season as the team's best defenseman, and also a legitimate trade chip at the deadline. It's still early, and I'm more than willing to give him more time before writing off a smart, skilled blueliner like Streit. But if this is the start of an age-related regression, the Flyers are in real trouble.