You know, it’s like that line from that pretty well-known movie: The Flyers are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
And on Saturday night against the Maple Leafs, the Flyers were a box of chocolates but all the chocolates were actually pieces of crap.
Four more first period goals allowed —including a hat trick— help doom the Flyers in this one, though they couldn’t manage a goal of their own in a 6-0 loss at Toronto that smelled as rotten as it looked.
Here are five observations from whatever it was the Flyers did at ScotiaBank Arena on Saturday night, because it certainly wasn’t that hockey.
Raise your hand if you feel personally victimized by Calvin Pickard/Flyers goaltenders
You’ve done it this time, Calvin, and you’ve officially lost rights to being called “Cal.” You just allowed four goals on six shots for a .333 save percentage in 12 minutes of action against your former organization. Andreas Johansson purchased several properties between your legs last night and yet you still couldn’t close them up.
At time this season the Flyers have been done in by their lack of NHL-level goaltending and despite being real solid in a shutout against the Rangers on Friday, Pickard was downright awful a day later. Maybe his former mates had the book on him so-to-speak, or perhaps it was the high-danger chances allowed by putrid defense, but Pickard kept watching the puck go behind him at a high rate on Saturday night.
Perhaps worse than the number of goals was the affect those four seemed to have on the team in front of him. Each was more deflating than the next as the Flyers had immediate flashbacks to earlier this week when the Sabres blitzed them with four in the first period of that one, when Alex Lyon was also forced from his net.
So even with how bad Pickard was, this isn’t just on him. Injuries to both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, who I’m told is still alive, have crippled the Flyers’ goaltending depth and forced guys who have no business playing NHL games (Pickard, Lyon, STOLARZ???) to play meaningful minutes behind a suspect at best defense. It’s not totally fair to place all the blame on them, but there’s enough blame to go around when a team in consistently giving up four-plus goals a game.
A wild Anthony Stolarz appeared!
Speaking of Stolarz, he was wonderful in relief of the steaming pile of crap that Pickard left in the Flyers’ crease. The Phantoms’ afterthought (Yes, you read that right) has played in just a handful of games all season, and once in the last six weeks in the AHL (!) and yet here we are seeing him against a Stanley Cup contender.
Stolie was quick to point out after the game how little he’s played recently, but seemed to shake off any rust quite well. He made 33 saves on 35 shots as the Maple Leafs felt no mercy for the Flyers. Stolarz had no chance on Josh Leivo’s second period tally, the product of a surgical give-and-go from the Leafs on an odd-man rush. John Tavares then beat the 24-year-old after yet another Leafs odd-man rush that failed, but left a loose puck for Tavares to pot home.
It was undoubtedly an impressive performance given the circumstances and and a feel-good moment for the goalie who has been put on the back burner by the organization this year. He’s played behind both Alex Lyon and Carter Hart in Lehigh Valley despite being healthy once again after missing nearly all of 2017-18 due to injury.
Too many quality chances allowed
The Flyers’ defense had issues with Toronto’s speed and pace all night, leading to countless odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns that started almost right from puck drop.
Johnsson beat Robert Hagg to the outside on the first goal after Hagg got too far towards the center of the ice and didn’t have the speed to recover as he was blown by. Then Christian Folin had a point shot blocked and then saw Johnsson speed by him to the loose puck and beat Pickard five-hole again to make it 2-0.
Patrick Marleau’s goal came off a bit of a broken play as the Flyers had the numbers right in transition, but Jake Gardiner got Hagg to the ice and then all hell broke loose. Hagg ended up playing goalie as Gardiner took Pickard out of the crease and Marleau was left alone in front to corral the loose biscuit and put the Leafs up 3-0.
All three of these goals came from the circles on in, prime scoring areas that often were met with little resistance from the Flyers. A peak at the shot chart shows that all six Leafs goals came from the circles in, where the Flyers’ defense really struggled directly in front of their own net all night.
Where was the fight? Literally or figuratively
The main positive takeaways from this one were the first four minutes, where the Leafs didn’t score and maybe Anthony Stolarz. Even after creating a 4-0 deficit against the Sabres, the Flyers pulled within a pair and showed a bunch of fight to get back in the hockey game. Ditto that comeback against the Lightning last week. But in this one, there wasn’t any.
Inserted into the lineup for energy perhaps, Tyrell Goulbourne had four hits but was far from a spark plug and didn’t try to stir things up with things out of hand. The switch for him and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who played well in limited time, seems like a dud move we all saw coming.
Claude Giroux seemed frustrated on the ice and in the media scrum after another shutout loss, but the captain had a lone shot on goal and was on the ice for half of Toronto’s goals while being showcased on Hockey Night in Canada. But Giroux wasn’t alone as it wasn’t a banner night for any Flyer.
Time for a change
There wasn’t much fight from the Flyers in this one and you can’t help but wonder if the players too feel there might be time for a change. Dave Hakstol’s seat is undoubtedly getting hotter by the day, and even if Ron Hextall wasn’t to go that direction, perhaps the canning of long-time assistant Ian Laperriere would wake up the team. The irony is that the Flyers’ penalty kill, led by Laperriere for years, has been awful again this season but weren’t even shorthanded once against the Leafs.
Maybe the change is a trade of a core veteran player, though a player like Wayne Simmonds already figured to be on the trade block given his pending free agency. There’s Jake Voracek, who is still productive, but carries a large salary and hasn’t been consistent night-in and night-out with his play or effort.
Perhaps the easiest thing for Hextall is to rid himself of a coach who hasn’t moved the needle much in four years despite several moving parts. The former college coach is one of the longest tenured NHL coaches, but hasn’t made huge strides since Hextall tapped him as head coach in 2015.
The Flyers have always had expectations higher than just making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Claude Giroux more of less said the goal was still to make the playoff after a 6-0 loss on Saturday night, and that’s simply not enough for this club and this fan base.