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Jets 3, Flyers 2: Same as it ever was, just with some more goals this time

Can you call it a gut-punch loss if you were already expecting it?

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Have we reached the point of the season where “scoring a goal” is considered a victory? Hopefully not, because if so this season is going down the tubes real quickly. Of course, the only victories anyone will be taking away from an actual loss on the scoreboard — like the 3-2 defeat the Flyers took last night in Winnipeg — are moral ones, and when you blow a lead in the final minute of regulation en route to a loss you tend to forget about those ones, too.

In all seriousness, other than the two goals scored by the top line in the first six minutes of the contest, this was a pretty similar game to most of the Flyers games that we’ve watched in the month of November. A fairly solid team defensive effort (one which deserves commendation, given the lack of Radko Gudas for about 80 percent of the game) and some good goaltending work was undone by a complete lack of punch from the team’s support scorers. The end result is a team that’s not hard to outscore, even if took Winnipeg 65 minutes and four shootout attempts to ultimately do so.

The Ginger Beard Men’s (yep, that’s a thing now, thanks) return to the scoresheet was nice to see, but even when the team wasn’t scoring goals in two straight outings against Minnesota, few doubted that that group would get things together before too long. But a Flyers team that’s getting nothing out of anyone other than its top line is pretty much the Flyers team we watched trudge its way to the 7th overall pick in 2014-15, and that’s about where things are trending at this moment in time (as of this writing, the Flyers have the eighth-fewest points in the NHL).

I made this comparison in conversation with a friend yesterday afternoon, prior to Thursday night’s game, but this team desperately needs a Ghost Moment, not unlike the one the 2015-16 team had with, y’know, Ghost. Think back to where the Flyers were in mid-November 2015, just before they called up Shayne Gostisbehere. That team was down near the bottom of the standings, hope was hard to come across, and the season was circling the drain before we’d even had any Thanksgiving turkey. One rookie defenseman later, things were good again and the Flyers started a long hike back up the hill that ended in a playoff berth.

Now, it’s true: expecting any player to come in and do what Shayne Gostisbehere did that year is probably unfair, since Shayne Gostisbehere basically rewrote the rookie defenseman record books that season. Probably, no one guy is going to be the silver bullet that sends this team back into contention.

But it’s hard to believe there’s not something that can be done to make this team a bit more formidable, y’know? Maybe it just needs a young guy currently on the team to go on a hot streak. Maybe it needs a call-up. Maybe it needs an NHL-level trade. Maybe it needs some good luck. Maybe it needs all of these.

I don’t know. All I do know is that, even though the Flyers got back on the board last night, there’s been an unmistakable trend in basically every game the Flyers have played this month. Things aren’t going to be this bad forever, but the guys in the locker room, coaching staff, and front office all need to have a higher bar set in their minds than that.

Two key numbers:

15,803 — the number of seconds of ice time that the Flyers have played since the 6:37 mark of the third period of Saturday, November 4th’s shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. At that moment of that game, Dale Weise scored the last goal that a Flyers player not named Giroux, Couturier, or Voracek has scored. Since that moment, the Flyers have played most of a third period, an overtime, four more three-period games, and another overtime, and in that time they’ve scored five goals, all by players who currently play on the same line.

There’s not a whole lot to add at this point. At the start of the year, while there were questions about some of the guys at the top of the lineup, this team looked like it had forward depth that could be expected to hang with that of most teams in the league. Instead, the top line has been one of the best in hockey, and everyone else has gone AWOL. Guys that were expected to take steps forward have not. Guys that were expected to be largely useless have been. And guys who are playing well can’t buy a goal to save their f*cking lives.

Yes, eventually someone here will catch a break and a puck will go in and this streak will be over. But this team has some hard questions it’s going to have to answer pretty soon about the guys it’s got skating in front of its defensemen.

10 — the number of scoring chances the Flyers tallied at 5-on-5 last night, via Natural Stat Trick. That’s a season-low, and by a not-small margin; the next-lowest mark they’d posted in a single game was 14 (that took place last Saturday against Minnesota), and on average this season the Flyers had tallied 19.67 scoring chances per game at 5-a-side heading into last night.

This one doesn’t come without its positives — the Flyers also held the home team to just 10 chances at 5-on-5, and that’s a season-best mark for them defensively. This was a very tight-checking game, and while there was some talk about the challenges that a smaller Flyers team would have in reaching the dirty areas against a bigger Jets team, they managed to present that same challenge upon the home team, with similar results.

If you’re not going to score, you may as well turn things into a defensive slugfest. Both teams had some chances in front but, as we may be used to by now, did a lot of shooting from out at the point. For the Flyers, this is obviously nothing new, but I guess there’s something to be said about dragging a better opponent down to your level. Particularly without one of your only no-doubt top-4 defensemen for most of the game.

via Natural Stat Trick

Three Flyers of note:

1. Brian Elliott

When the same guy has been your best player in each of his last five appearances, you kinda have to talk about it, y’know? The Flyers’ newest goalie can pretty safely be declared to be back, as he’s been fantastic ever since the calendar flipped to November and was again last night.

Even the already-strong single-game numbers — Elliott stopped 31 of 33 shots prior to the skills competition that decided who got this game’s third point — don’t quite do justice to Elliott’s excellent performance on Thursday. He was the Flyers’ best penalty killer, as the Jets’ only goal across over 10 minutes of power-play time came on a 2-on-1 rush. He made a number of great saves on the night, getting over quickly to make stops on dangerous chances. And he managed to seem a little less jumpy and a bit more controlled in making those saves than he usually has, which is a good sign, I think.

If the Flyers manage to miss the playoffs by just a couple of points, it’s hard not to think they’ll look back on this stretch of dominance by Elliott as a prime wasted opportunity. In five games in November, Elliott has posted an other-worldly .954 save percentage. The Flyers have managed to pick up only three standings points in those five games. That’s almost hard to do. Elliott will fall off from this high, to at least an extent, at some point in the near future; if the team’s skaters aren’t around to pick him up the way he’s been around for them, it’s going to get real ugly real fast.

2. Travis Konecny

In basically every game over the past couple of weeks, ever since everyone on the team that doesn’t have red hair decided that scoring goals was optional, there’s been blame to be passed around among the various other forwards on any given night. Last night, based on the social media reactions we saw, it seemed like the guy being given the goat horns by much of the fanbase was one Travis Konecny.

Some of that anger may have been circumstantial — Konecny, after all, was the fourth and final player to take the ice in the shootout for the Flyers, meaning that his unsuccessful attempt was the last thing that Flyers fans saw before the Jets came out to celebrate a win. But even so, something just seems ... off ... about the 20-year old dynamo. A lot of the complaints boiled down to “he’s not shooting the puck enough!”, and while that’s a charge that doesn’t pass muster based on a cursory look at the numbers — Konecny’s seven total shot attempts last night were third-most on the team — it’s hard to argue that he didn’t leave a couple of quality chances on the ice last night by passing the puck away instead.

It could well be a matter of confidence, as some suggested on Twitter during the game. Konecny, even in his second season, is still somewhat new to the NHL, and cold streaks like this can hit guys like him hard. But it’s particularly tough to see Konecny falling victim to the same cold streak that everyone else in this lineup is, because he’s arguably as talented offensively as any non-top-line forward on this roster, and while some players’ struggles are more or less unexpected, his are much more discouraging given his importance long-term on this team.

3. Radko Gudas

It’s rare that we have to say that a guy who played just 2:33 in a hockey game is a player “of note”, but with what happened to Radko Gudas on Thursday (and how it may affect the Flyers moving forward), there’s not much of a choice. Gudas was ejected from the game in the first period, having been issued a major penalty and a game misconduct for the below slash on Mathieu Perreault that looked absolutely brutal upon review.

Setting aside the ridiculous way in which this penalty was called — Gudas was initially only called for a slashing minor, and then the refs changed their call to a major and game misconduct only after seeing the slash on the MTS Centre video board; this, by rule, is not allowed, but the league more or less admitted it’s what happened by way of an unconvincing non-denial — the major penalty call was certainly a justified one. Yes, Gudas stumbles his way out of that scrum without his balance or his helmet, and it’s entirely possible that this was unintentional. In fact, upon replay, I don’t think Gudas meant to hit Perreault in the back of his head like he did. (It’s at least somewhat possible that Gudas, who’d just had his helmet ripped off by Perreault in the scrum that took place, was trying to get a retaliation whack in on him in some form or fashion, but I don’t believe he was trying to guillotine him.)

Still, you’re responsible for your stick at all times on the ice, meaning the absolute nicest thing you can say about the slash is that it was extremely reckless. The optics of it are not good, and Gudas — being Radko Gudas, and all — is never going to get the benefit of the doubt from officials when it comes to actions like this. Gudas is the closest thing to a reliable veteran that the Flyers have on their defense right now, and his absence definitely put a strain on the five guys that were left on the ice. Just ask Travis Sanheim, who was forced into spot duty on the penalty kill and mishandled a puck that led to the odd-man rush that created Winnipeg’s first goal.

From here, the question is whether Gudas’ actions will result in additional discipline from the league, as the Department of Player Safety is probably already reviewing this one. It’s possible that the league watches the full clip, sees Gudas’ slamming down of his stick as an attempt to keep his balance, decides that its hitting of Perreault was reckless but inadvertent, and declares no ill intent on the play, in which case he’d maybe manage to dodge punishment altogether. It’s also possible that the league sees Gudas’ actions as a blatant swing at another player’s head/neck-area; if that’s their read on the situation, then given Gudas’ history and the determined-to-be-malicious nature of his action here, they’d be hard-pressed to do anything short of throw the book at him and give him a lengthy suspension. The Flyers have a game on Saturday afternoon, so whatever the choice, we’re likely going to find out about it today. If Gudas misses time, we’ll have some more thoughts on how the team can try to replace him then. (UPDATE: The league has confirmed that Gudas has been offered an in-person hearing for his slash on Perreault. So he’s probably going to be out for a while.)

Four leftover thoughts:

1. Coming into Thursday night, the big story for the Flyers was the return of Nolan Patrick, playing for the first time since getting boarded on October 24 against Anaheim. But unsurprisingly, Patrick was eased back into play, getting less ice time than anyone on the team that wasn’t kicked out of the game in the first period. He had a very quiet game (7:58 TOI, no shots/shot attempts, slightly positive on-ice shot differentials), and at least for one night, the Flyers gave his spot on the second power play unit to Michael Raffl. Not exactly a flashy first game back for the new guy alongside Wayne Simmonds and Dale Weise, but hopefully the team’s prepared to give him more of a role on Saturday. Not like they’ve got anything to lose with the way the middle-6 has performed without him.

2. More fantastic work from Ivan Provorov, who played 29:34 when all was said and done thanks to the Gudas injury. His on-ice metrics were sterling (+10 in 5-on-5 shot differential), and there were multiple great defensive plays from him as well. An aggressive poke-check on Patrik Laine in the third period that shut down an odd-man chance springs to mind, and there were other big moments against a formidable Jets top-6.

3. There’s a lot to justifiably complain about with this team right now, but I just can’t ever really bring myself to get particularly concerned when PP1 has a two- or three-game cold streak, the way they had coming into Thursday. The puck movement on the team’s second goal, which came on the power play, was vintage, as all five guys touched the puck within a few seconds of it hitting the back of the net. That unit will go through slumps — all power plays do — but I’m not willing to get too worried about it when it’s been proven time and time and time again that those slumps are never going to last too long.

4. And, finally, a few quick hits: I’m not going to belabor the point here, but it’s a little weird that Steve Mason (who had some nice things to say about the Flyers to The Inquirer the other day) didn’t start this one, no? First chance to stick it to your old team? Coach usually gives you that one ... Brandon Manning played noticeably more than Travis Sanheim did, both overall and at 5-on-5. I don’t think the team is going to sit Sanheim when MacDonald returns next week, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising. A shame, because Sanheim played well in limited minutes last night outside of that goof-up on Winnipeg’s first goal ... speaking of odd ice time decisions, why is Valtteri Filppula second among forwards in 5-on-5 TOI? A lot of power play time for PP1 factors into that, I guess, but Filpp clearly has the trust of this coaching staff ... Jordan Weal’s been something of a disappointment so far this season after a very nice finish to last year, but boy, that shot on his shootout attempt was purty. Maybe try that with defensemen on the ice? ... Last, but not least: The Ginger Beard Men. It’s a thing! Jim Jackson even said so on air!