I know you know by now, but the Flyers have now dropped their ninth game in a row. It’s a familiar tune, at this point, with some shifts in key and a bit of movement here and there, but it always seems to get us to the same place. So let’s get into it.
All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com
1. A strong start
So, things looked like they were going well for a hot second. The Flyers came out swinging and Giroux notched one heck of a goal, just 48 seconds into the first period, coming from just the spot he was practicing shooting from during warmups (nice how that works out, huh?). The Flyers grabbed onto momentum after that, holding the edge in possession for the first half of the period. Perhaps expecting some signs of fatigue, in facing the tail end of back to back games, they looked sharp and controlled, early in the period. Though not perfect, they were controlling and defending the puck well enough, and looked like they might be able to bring a bit of edge and energy, despite being on the second half of a back to back.
And, I mean, it was nice while it lasted.
2. Passing was rough early
But what else is new? And while the Flyers were able to overcome their passing troubles briefly to pick up the first goal of the game, it hindered them clearly through the bulk of the period.
The Sharks were, admittedly, strong on the forecheck throughout, not giving the Flyers a lot of space to work with in trying to maneuver, but even so, they just couldn’t seem to connect. Their passes were inaccurate, their plays broken up. And, in many cases, plays were broken before they could even get started, with Flyers whiffing on passes left and right, and then being left to scramble and figure out a new play, as the situation changed and defenders caught up. It slowed them down and hindered their efforts to keep the momentum up, and even extend their early lead. And it’s an issue that, as soon as you think they’ve made moves to rectify it, creeps back up again.
3. Near excellent 5 on 3 PK work all for naught
One of the areas that looked in some ways improved last night was the penalty kill. And it needed to, as they gave up a two man advantage to the Sharks late in the first period, giving them 1:19 to work with on five on three.
Through most of that time, they were able to effectively keep the puck tied up. MacDonald was doing what he does best and throwing the body around and blocking shots. They were limiting the Sharks’ chances and frustrating their efforts. Things looked like they were going well there until, in retrospect, the near inevitable happened.
That’s right, with under ten seconds to go on the first penalty, Thornton lined up for a shot and Neuvirth just sort of froze, giving him a clear lane to score.
So with the penalty kill looking like it’s finally figured something out, finally found a way to be more effective, their goaltending falls flat, can’t come up with the necessary save.
But, with this great PK performance at 3 on 5 considered, that brings me to my next point...
4. Discipline, discipline, discipline
Plain and simple, the Flyers need to stop taking so many penalties. This differential between penalties drawn and given is growing, and keeps hurting them in a big way.
Late in the first period, after looking like they had some energy, the Flyers took three penalties in just under three minutes, effectively killing any momentum that they were trying to hold onto. From there the game swung distinctly in San Jose’s favor, and the Flyers were left floundering.
But it’s not just the fact that the penalties are coming en masse that’s so troubling, it’s how they’re coming at the most inopportune times. Take the Raffl ‘delay of game, puck over the glass’ penalty taken while they attempted to kill off the initial Simmonds penalty. It was a panic move—the second in two games—and dug the Flyers into an even deeper hole, as they had to kill off a 5 on 3.
And then two Flyers power play opportunities were negated after nine seconds and 1:41, respectively, when a penalty was taken as they tried to capitalize on their own man advantage, again breaking down any momentum they were hoping to pick up. And you can call it fatigue, or you can call it lack of discipline, but the fact remains that it just has to change. And soon.
5. Line shuffling
With play sagged during the second period, and the Flyers trying to scramble back from a two goal deficit, Hakstol did some shuffling of the forward groupings, in hopes of sparking something.
It was Patrick on the fourth line.
It was Raffl with Giroux and Couturier.
It was Patrick back up with Voracek and Simmonds.
And yeah, maybe on paper at least one of those groupings looked like it might be able to do something. But nothing really worked, nothing jumped out as being distinctly more effective, and it wasn’t long before Hakstol went back to the original lines from the start of the game.
And as for us, what did we learn? Maybe the chemistry wasn’t there, maybe it just wasn’t any special, but maybe the team, the game were just too far gone at that point, and they were past the point where shuffled lines would be able to save them.
6. Flyers lost the possession battle in a big way
After a first period with some early promise, the Flyers just as quickly let the game get away from them. Why don’t we take a step back and look at the numbers (spoiler alert: they’re not great).
The Flyers held a small edge in possession for just about the first half of the period, until the Tierney goal, and things steadily declined from there. The Flyers put up 23 shots over 60 minutes, and averaged an adjusted CF% of 30.16 percent at five on five. Their expected goals were just 2.29, suggesting they had some chance to work to push for a tie early, but not giving them much hope of stealing a late tie or lead.
It would be easy to say that the third period really killed them, but it was a fairly controlled downward spiral that did that work. They sacrificed a lot, and all in all, they were lucky that San Jose wasn’t 100 percent on last night, or else they really may have risked being blown out of the water.
7. The Wednesday morning number
That’s how many shots the Flyers had through the first seventeen minutes or so of the third period, until they were able to pull Neuvirth to bring out the extra attacker. Just take a moment with that one.
And sure, there’s something to be said about how San Jose, on average, allows the fewest shots per game from their opponents, but one shot in seventeen minutes can’t all be credited to the Sharks’ efforts.
After looking a bit sluggish in the second, they really fell off in the third. We saw aggression of play slipping. We saw them backing off of 50/50 pucks. They had chances to push for some bigger plays, but instead they sat back, did only a bit of work, and hoped that nothing went catastrophically wrong.
8. The team just didn’t show up
Looking at the third period specifically, but also broadening to the scope of the whole game, what this team looked like, above all, was not a team at all. Discontinuity reigned, and energy slipped dramatically as the game went on, so much so that by the time we reached the third period, it didn’t look like the Flyers had much of anything left in the tank.
And you can call this fatigue--certainly the fact that they played back to back games didn’t help matters--but above all what we saw was a team looking deflated by the weight of putting in the work over the previous eight games, with little to show for it.
Because we can talk all we want about how the underlying numbers and play are solid, and how the wins will soon follow, if they just keep at it, but there comes a time when a team wearies from those results continuing to not arrive, despite their best efforts. And that’s what we’re starting to see, here.
9. But leadership is optimistic???
Despite the player’s obvious frustration with their play and the results of these last nine games, unshaken seems the leadership of the team, in Hakstol and Hextall. In talks after the game, the two both seemed remarkably calm, praising the overall efforts of the team over this losing stretch. Yes, they conceded, the results aren’t what they want, the team’s shooting itself in the foot at times, and the energy drop off in last night’s game was not a highlight, but on the whole, they seemed relatively nonplussed.
And you do start to wonder about this. If the players are frustrated but leadership isn’t, where is the disconnect coming from? Are Hakstol and Hextall just giving lip service to this facade of calm? And when are we going to start seeing the changes, the buttons needed to be pressed, in order to get this team going again?
As for me, I wish I had the answers, but the mood in the room right now reads like one of ‘stay the course,’ and hope the team can play its way out of this.
10. The only damn thing I know
So, things are bad right now. Nine straight losses and no end in sight.
But things were good, once. Just over a month ago, there was light in our lives, and I think we need reminding of it.
That’s right. The dogs. We once had better hockey and adorable dogs. I don’t have much else to say about this, honestly. Hockey may be bad, but dogs are still good. And that’s good enough for me.