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Penguins 5, Flyers 1: Yep, still in last place

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Some observations for your morning...

Kate Frese / SB Nation

We were so happy, so excited for a moment there, weren’t we? I guess all good things must come to an end. And here’s what we learned, in the process.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

1. Slow start

Remember in yesterday’s preview, when I said that the Flyers had to not do that slow start thing? That it wasn’t helping them, and they had to shape up? Well, they didn’t listen.

From the start, we had some issues. The first shift set the tone, was rough, as they failed to connect cleanly on passes and get much movement going. And this issue haunted them through much of the first period. Passing continued to be an issue, and the Flyers found a good number of their plays well broken up. They also spent a lot of time tied up in the neutral zone, and struggled to break cleanly into the offensive zone. As such, they had to resort to dump and chase, which hindered their ability to get plays going in the zone. So everything compounds everything, and all the things were bad.

Okay, maybe not all the things. We can be honest. But once again the slow start returned, and failed to do them any favors.

2. Slow start (part two)

And we’re not done talking about slow starts, either. When you look past the struggles in passing and generating controlled entries, there were still more problems. In general, the first period saw both teams failing to generate much in terms of offense. Through the first ten minutes of the period, the shots were 4-1 in favor of the Flyers, and it felt like kind of a slog. The effort was clearly present, but the emphasis seemed to fall more on breaking up their opponents’ plays, rather than cleanly generating their own.

But things turned around for the next twenty minutes. The Flyers were able to generate six more shots before the end of the first period, as well as draw a penalty that would send them on the power play, to start the second period. They seemed to be picking up steam, and were working to create more quality chances that they were so close to capitalizing on. So the slow start gave way to a bit of good hockey. And then, because we cannot have nice things, things went bad again. So it goes.

3. The power play is bad again

And such has been the story of the season--when the power play looks like it’s starting to get things turned around, like they might consistently be able to produce, they don’t. And, right now, we’ve arrived back at the latter.

The Flyers did well to draw penalties last night--four in total--and were able to convert on exactly zero of the power play chances they were given. And, to be fair, this can in part be credited to Pittsburgh’s aggressive penalty killing strategy coming up big, but the Flyers were all but useless to combat it.

And, for the love of god, get Dale Weise off the power play. The second unit has been struggling, and they needed to find something to help turn things around, sure, I can hear that. But the answer to the question of generating more offense is almost certainly not replacing Travis Konecny with Dale Weise. It isn’t working, and you have to think that they’ll have to figure something else out.

4. Well would you look at that, the penalty kill is still bad

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, it wasn’t exactly a banner night for the Flyers’ special teams. But while the power play’s struggles were relatively new--at least in this cycle--the penalty kill’s were not.

The Flyers did well enough in the best penalty killing strategy--that is, not taking penalties at all--but went 0 for 2 in killing the penalties that they did take. And sure, we can concede that maybe the first penalty shouldn’t have happened, if the trip Konecny himself took had been called. No second trip, no Kessel goal. And the second Pittsburgh power play goal was equally flukey, as the breakdown the allowed for it happened in part because Provorov blocked a shot to the leg and was having trouble staying upright, let alone blocking further shots. Sure, that’s all true. But, even so, the results still stand.

All this doesn’t change the fact that Pittsburgh was able to score just 26 seconds into their first opportunity, or that their methods are increasingly passive, and just plain not working. And I don’t know how much longer we can talk about this passivity killing them, before the team actually decides to do something about it.

5. Mixed bag of a night on defense

Matching the tone of the rest of the game, the performances by Flyers defenders were distinctly up and down.

The good: Ghost broke up three rushes, including one 2-1, in the first period. Manning set up Gudas from behind the net, and Gudas sent the puck in on net, for Weal to tip in, for the only Flyers goal of the night.

The bad: Khunhackl’s shot going straight through Provorov’s legs and past Elliott. MacDonald and Hagg getting caught on the same side of the ice, giving space for Sheary to breakout, and MacDonald getting beat, trying to catch him.

The ugly: Provorov blocked a shot in the leg while trying to kill off the Raffl penalty. He struggled off the ice, clearly feeling quite a bit of discomfort.

More good: He took a few more shifts at the end of the game, and was walking around the locker room after the game without any ice or bandages or the like. So at least there’s that.

6. But that thing Gudas does actually worked!

But we have to give credit where credit’s due, and a nod to perhaps the strangest turn of events in last night’s game.

What started as a frustration and now is mostly just a thing to laugh at (but still be frustrated about, in our hearts of hearts) is how, nearly without fail, whenever Gudas gets the puck, he will shoot it at the net, no matter how far away he is. And this, as you can imagine, this has led to a pretty low conversion rate for him. But he keeps up with it, anyway.

So, when Manning fed him from low in the zone, Gudas did exactly what you’d think he would--he shot. And something remarkable happened. Tipped by Weal, it flew right into the net, resulting in a Good Hockey Goal. Imagine that. And while it’s a method that hasn’t produced much in the way of results, and likely won’t be doing so any time soon, the Flyers were hurting for goals last night, and we’ll certainly take whatever we can get.

7. Revolving door of goaltenders

In short, last night was not a good night to be a goaltender playing in the city of Philadelphia. After sustaining an injury in the second period, Tristan Jarry was replaced by Matt Murray for the rest of the game. Then, after giving up four goals in the third period, Elliott was pulled in favor of Neuvirth.

Elliott, despite the four goals, didn’t appear to be in altogether poor form. He didn’t make any major mistakes, and didn’t appear, on the surface, fatigued. But the four goals allowed still stand. On the other hand, let’s be fair, this was his 14th straight start, and he was due for a less than exemplary game. It’s just a shame that it came last night.

And how did Neuvirth do, in his return to Flyers ice? He was alright. He stopped 10 out of 11 shots faced, only allowing for the one power play goal. He wasn’t flashy, but he got the job done. So, on the whole, not a bad reintroduction.

8. Match-ups not working

Remember back to last Friday, when the Flyers took home a triumphant victory over the Lightning. That was nice, right? Even on a less than optimal lineup, they still somehow got it done.

As such, it was no surprise when news broke that the lineup for last night’s game would be the same, and Sanheim and Leier would remain healthy scratches. Agree with the thought process or not, you could kind of see where Hakstol was coming from with this plan. If it worked once before, this lineup should be able to continue to get results, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

And perhaps the clearest example of how this was so was the fact that the Flyers allowed not one but two goals from the Penguins’ fourth line, who haven’t exactly been dominant up until this point. And maybe there’s an argument to be made for wanting to match up against a big, heavy line with a heavy line of your own. Fine. But when your own big, heavy line isn’t getting it done, you have to stop and wonder if you’re actually putting the optimal lineup out there. And last night, to put it plainly, they didn’t.

9. And it all sort of crumbles, in the end

We talked at length about how the very beginning of last night’s game was not so great, and so too was the end. Down by three goals, they slowly started to sag, culminating in a distinctly lackluster third period. And while, in those final 20 minutes, they managed to only give up one goal, they also let Pittsburgh close the gap in shots--an area where the Flyers had held an edge through most of the game.

In the third period, they didn’t completely break down and start self destructing with a huge number of penalties taken, as we’ve seen them do in the past. Rather, all of the energy just sort of left them. What promised, going into it, to be a high-intensity divisional game fell flat. It was a team looking tired after days of rest. The frustration was palpable, and they’ve got to hope that they can do something, channel this, and turn things around.

10. The only damn thing I know

It must have been a pretty quiet night for Crosby. I know that without even looking at his stats for the game. I know that because the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center--who booed loudly literally every time he touched the puck--was also pretty quiet, on the whole. Outside of a few pockets of boos, we didn’t get too much of it. The downside? When it went quiet, it was spooky quiet. The building was as full as I’ve seen it recently, and you could hear a pin drop, at times. I wonder why that could be.