This is all a story you’ve heard before. The Flyers got blown at home again. On their Halloween game. It was decidedly not spooky, it was mostly just sad. It’s the same old story we’ve been telling, and we keep on telling it, and if you’re still here listening, know that we love you for it. Take some good energy from us, at the very least.
All stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com
1. Hemming and hawing
It normally isn’t right away that we talk about all this nonsense. Sometimes we get to ease into things, don’t have to be grumbly right away, but today we aren’t that fortunate. The Flyers got off to a rough start and it happened pretty much right away. The first four minutes saw them pretty well pinned in their own end, but they got away lucky—they only gave up one proper shot on goal, blocked a couple more, and saw a few more attempts sail wide of the net. It wasn’t a goal conceded in there, but it still wasn’t a great look for a team that’s been saying they need to get off to better starts. So they fell more than a little flat.
After surviving that initial onslaught, they were able to get things rolling, finally getting out of the zone and working to get some pressure of their own going. They put up two shots while establishing themselves in the offensive zone, but just as soon as it looked like they might be getting settled, back the other way play went.
So it seemed like that first sequence was the tone setter, and they fell back into the bad habit. And, with that considered, that also meant we could just about see what would become the Leo Komorov goal coming a mile away. With the Flyers scrambling around their zone, failing to hold onto the puck, failing to get it kicked far enough away to get a clear, and the Islanders able to get to work, we saw it coming. Maybe not from Komorov specifically, necessarily, but we could feel this end result coming.
2. Welcome back, Michal Neuvirth!
It’s happening! For the first time this regular season, we’re seeing our old pal Michal Neuvirth. After sustaining that lower body injury in practice during the preseason, and then making his return to the ice for a very solid showing down with the Phantoms against Hartford on Wednesday, he’s back to the Flyers’ ice, and was ready to make his regular season debut, at long last. And it was… well it was a little rough.
All told, Neuvirth gave up six goals on 22 shots for a .727 save percentage, which, by the numbers, is not an ideal start to his season. Indeed, despite looking sharp on Wednesday (and that was against AHL competition, we know), he looked a little rusty against the Islanders—his rebound control was a little shaky, and then there was that bit in the first period where he went behind the net to collect the puck and immediately passed it to Mat Barzal in the corner. Barzal threw it in front but no one was there to receive the pass, so Neuvirth got lucky, but that was ugly.
But we also can’t pin this whole loss on him—you’ll see the graphic later, but the Flyers gave up 13 high danger chances yesterday, and weren’t doing particularly well at defending the crease. There was a bit of screening going on, and not enough support, so Neuvirth was left out to dry a little bit, there. He needs to be better, but he also needs some help.
3. Killing penalties
A concept: with a penalty kill that has struggled so mightily through the beginning of the season, and with some awareness that they consistently get burned when they allow the opposition to get set in the offensive zone and start cycling the puck, one might think that the Flyers would defend the blue line a little tighter. They aren’t expected to be perfect (a well execute stretch pass by the opposition can make for a clean entry, not much you can do there, for example). But maybe don’t just back right up into your own end.
Anyway, the Flyers’ penalty kill wasn’t great yesterday. They had three goes at it, and their first two were actually successful—they weren’t able to do anything flashy like register a quality short handed chance, but the Islanders were a little slower to loose pucks than some of the other teams we’ve seen so far this season, so their attempts to clear got past the blue line, and they got the job done. But that thing we talked about a few seconds ago, about not letting them get into the zone to burn you, once they get cycling, that didn’t happen. It was Anders Lee with the power play goal to put it away (even though it was already well away). It was nothing if not predictable.
So we had a bit of worrying to do early on in this one. Well, actually we had a lot of worrying to do, there was a lot of messiness happening and a fair bit of poor results, so we’ll be more specific.
One of our bigger qualms from last season was how Hakstol would respond in his matchups after a goal against—how often we would see one of Jori Lehtera or Valterri Filppula sent out there in hopes of sparking some offense (spoiler: it didn’t work). So when the Komorov goal happened, and we looked down and saw Lehtera’s line out there. Just what we needed.
The worry was a little premature, and we had a pretty large sample over the course of the game to see if Hakstol really was back on This Thing, but he didn’t stick with it. Later on, we saw mostly the first and third lines sent out after goals against, which is closer to what we want to be seeing. A better chance at generating offense in response to falling behind. It didn’t work out for them, of course, but the thought process was there. And that’s something, at least.
5. The power play
Let’s flip over to the other side of the special teams equation. Not because we particularly want to (the picture doesn’t really get any rosier on this one), but because something’s up and it needs addressing.
The Flyers had two chances on the power play yesterday, and once again they failed to do anything with them. Indeed, they didn’t even register much in terms of tangible pressure, putting up exactly zero shots in total. And again it seemed to be an issue of being just a step behind—the image that comes to mind as demonstrative of this is a shift from the top unit where they were able to get the puck cycling around, looking like they might be building to something, and then a pass comes flying right through the blue paint and Lehner leaving a ton of open net to work with, and Wayne Simmonds unable to collect the puck to knock it in. So it sailed right past.
And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this—open net to work with, would-be quality chances in close—and someone’s been just a half second behind, not quite in position to take advantage. And this is where we want to do that things are bound to start breaking eventually. But something needs mending, and it needs mending quick.
6. Jori Lehtera?
Okay, so maybe we’re eating our words a little bit here. We had a moment in the second period where we peered down at the ice and started doing that same type of wondering that we were doing a few points back. We looked down and asked “why in the world is Jori Lehtera out there against Mat Barzal? Just… this is a horrible idea. No good can come from this.” And then, suddenly and inexplicably, it did.
There's that goal-scoring high we've been waiting for. pic.twitter.com/QuuVc0L1wb— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) October 27, 2018
With the Flyers set up in the offensive zone, and then a defensive breakdown in front, it was Lehtera in position to pick up a turnover and throw the puck in on net, beating Robin Lehner cleanly before he could really tell what was unfolding. It was a quick move for a nice goal, and from what we can tell, he didn’t even close his eyes to do it. Well done, Jori.
And that’s all the highlighting we have to do of Flyers goals. It was a short section. We’re sorry. But the Flyers are sorrier.
7. Welcome back, Misha Vorobyev!
And we have another welcome back to make! Mikhail Vorobyev’s back. Not from injury, but from a stint learning from above in the press box. But yesterday was finally his chance to get back into the lineup and work to earn back his coach’s trust, and that… well it didn’t quite go as smoothly as we would have hoped.
We could start this by saying that Vorobyev started out looking fine. He didn’t bring a ton of flash early, but he was just getting back into things. He got an early look on the second power play unit, and we figured we would see him starting to look more settled as the game went on. And then he didn’t. He didn’t look much of anything, except for stapled to the bench. Indeed, even with Corban Knight leaving the game in the first period with an upper body injury, Vorobyev only played eight minutes (and one second) during the whole of that hockey game.
And, we can’t even really be bothered to be delicate about that one, it’s just insane. Hakstol spoke about this after the game, how the focus was on giving minutes to the players they thought would give them the best chance of winning the hockey game. And apparently trying to win a hockey game means running ten forwards into the ground. And Vorobyev only getting a couple shifts in the third when the game was over.
It’s an idea that’s coming up again in the locker room, that the players are just going to have to play themselves out of this collective slump, that this is just what they have to do. And apparently a rookie like Vorobyev is the exception to that. The kids can’t be trusted to play themselves out of it.
8. I don’t even have the energy to make a “too hot (hot damn!)” joke here
Because I’m predictable and love to recycle my jokes, you might have an idea where we’re going with this one already (or you peeked ahead and saw the gigantic picture a line down. Either way). To the heat map!
So, that is… not a pleasant picture. If we look at some of the raw shooting numbers, they don’t sound too bad—the Flyers outshot the Islanders 23 to 22, and put up a raw CF% of 55.81 percent at 5-on-5 (score adjusted that drops to 49.19 percent). So, not so bad, right?
Not quite. The Flyers may have won the shot quantity battle, but they lost in shot quality. They got a bit of traffic in front of the net—which is how they picked up their lone goal of the game—but they also continued to lean heavily on shots from the outside, and it just wasn’t working for them. And on the flip side, that blue in front of their own net is entirely too dark. It’s no surprise that you’re giving up six goals when you’re conceding that many chances in close. Like we said earlier—Neuvirth wasn’t excellent yesterday, but the team in front of him needed to help him out a little bit.
9. Something’s got to give
We’re going to get a little more abstract on this one, but we still have to Talk. The title of this whole piece says it, and so does the tone, but all of this messiness and these poor results in the face of all of the talent the Flyers have on the ice is getting old. They need to be better. They know it. We know it. And yet it’s still not happening. And ideas are floating around about whether its players, system, coaching to blame, and really it’s all of that, but they need to all find a way to get this fixed.
They head out West this week for a series of games against some teams that have been struggling in Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Arizona. These should be some winnable games. They should. And maybe this is another one of those road trips where they go out and have some drinks and talk out their issues and shore them up, whatever it was that got them out of that 10 game skid last season. We hope they do. Maybe it shouldn’t have gotten to this point in the first place, but all the same, we’re hoping they can right the ship for this stretch. We need them to.
10. The only damn thing I know
I’m trying to think of good and nice things to say to close this guy out, nice things to say about this game, but honestly I’m still a little grumpy and I’m struggling. What was cool and fun about this one? All the kids dressed as Gritty, I guess. Those were pretty cute. We’ll give them that.