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Flyers stymied by Hellebuyck, Jets in Winnipeg

This one started out OK and then went south real, real quick.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Winnipeg Jets Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday was not a banner sports day for the city of Philadelphia as the Flyers failed to backup their impressive onslaught of goals in Buffalo by laying an egg in Winnipeg and the Eagles fell victim to one of the most ridiculous loses in recent memory.

These are words and observations from the Flyers’ loss, with a quick note that there is absolutely no way in hell that was offensive pass interference on Dallas Goedert and the Eagles recovered the opening kickoff.

Michal Neuvirth’s forgettable return

Playing in his first game action since late October, the 30-year-old lasted just 27:31 before being yanked after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Neuvirth didn’t look sharp on either of Winnipeg’s first goals, failing to locate the puck through traffic, but the third was an inexcusably juicy rebound he served on a platter for Brandon Tanev. That would be it for Neuvirth as Dave Hakstol had seen enough and tried to catch lightning in a bottle with Anthony Stolarz, who wasn’t very good either.

This is just Neuvirth’s second start in what has become a forgettable season for the veteran, and while his issues staying healthy in the past have been ignored due to mostly above average goaltending, he’s been quite bad in two starts this season and his roster spot should no longer be a guarantee.

Hellebuyck the difference

While Neuvirth struggled mightily, Connor Hellebuyck was downright stellar at the other for the Jets. Winnipeg’s breakout star in net from a year ago has had an uneven start to the season, but came up with several fantastic saves early as the Flyers actually had the jump on play from opening puck drop.

He snuffed out the Flyers’ early power play by robbing Wayne Simmonds on the doorstep. Then it was Claude Giroux’s turn to feel Hellebuyck’s wrath as he stoned the captain and then both Simmonds and James van Riemsdyk with rebound chances. Our friends over at NaturalStatTrick had the Flyers with three more traditional scoring chances and three more high-danger chances that the Jets.

The Flyers had plenty of jump early playing the second of a back-to-back, but Hellebuyck was very strong and kept the Jets afloat until they could get going. When the Jets were down, they could count on their goaltender to keep them in the game, the Flyers couldn’t.

Penalty kill struggles return

After not allowing a power play goal in seven games —and killing off 15-straight penalties at one point— the Flyers came back down to earth with three power play goals allowed on six Jets opportunities on Sunday. Sure, the Jets have some dangerous weapons, but the Flyers were done in by some bad puck luck and spotty goaltending on those penalty kills.

Neuvirth was screened a bit by Ivan Provorov on Josh Morrissey’s goal, but there wasn’t a Jet close by and the veteran is well aware of the Flyers’ penalty kill strategy of blocking shots as a priority. He’s got to do a better job to find a lane of vision to the puck and not throw the guy trying to help him under the bus there. Dustin Byfuglien sent a seeing-eye puck through a mess of sticks and off the ice and over Stolarz’ glove for a rotten bounce. Bryan Little added the last of the bunch, but that was poor marking and desire from the group late in a game they knew they were going to lose.

The bottom line is that the penalty kill probably isn’t as good as they appeared to be during that nice stretch, and some of the issues they’ve had all season re-appeared against the Jets in the form of poor coverage and bad goaltending. Giving a fully stocked offensive club like Winnipeg six chances on the power play probably isn’t the best idea, either.

Power play struggles continue

With two more failed power plays and a shorthanded goal allowed, the Flyers’ baffling struggles on the man-advantage continued at Bell MTS Place on Sunday afternoon. The Flyers have whiffed on 13 power play chances in their last eight games and now own the NHL’s 30th-ranked power play, though it wasn’t for a lack of effort against the Jets.

Part of the reason the Flyers didn’t end their power play dry spell in this one was the man in the large pads for the Jets, as Hellebuyck made some dandy saves among the eight he made shorthanded in the game. Wayne Simmonds will be seeing Hellebuyck in his nightmares the next few nights on the road trip, that much is certain.

While the Jets’ netminder was fantastic, and the Flyers shouldn’t be penalized for creating plenty of chances, the fact remains that the Flyers’ power play just hasn’t had much production and at some point you have to see some results to point at and confirm that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

Waiting on the winds of change

The Flyers have now allowed five or more goals eight times this season, with three of them coming in their last eight games overall. They are four points clear of the NHL’s worst teams, the Kings and Blackhawks, and have the NHL’s 30th-ranked power play to go along with their now dead last penalty kill.

Coming into the season as a clear playoff contender, the Flyers have had a revolving door of terrible goalies and some of the worst special teams play in the league. They’ve already axed their patient and methodical general manager and replaced him with a man tasked with making the Flyers a better team in the moment at the behest of their team president and owner.

The uneven and sometimes pathetic performances of late seem to lend belief that both the fans and players alike are expecting some changes. With new GM Chuck Fletcher settling in, there’s not much he’s probably liked so far and perhaps he’ll soon be ready to put his first stamp on this hockey club.

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