Welp, it’s Friday again and we’re talking about another Flyers loss. But, hey, at least it’s Friday? Will you all get mad if I say that, while things are ugly and that game was rough, it’s not all horrible? There were some things to like, and some learning opportunities, as well. As usual, I’ve prepared some points. Buckle in, folks.
All stats via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com
1. Deja vu
I briefly considered just dropping the first point from the Vegas game into this article to see if anyone would notice, and also because it remains pretty applicable. We talked a few days ago about the Flyers spending a fair amount of time in the offensive zone but not being able to get proper shots on goal, and they were back to this last night. It took them more than eight minutes to register their first shot on goal, despite the pressure they were working to establish.
But, at the risk of sounding like this is all bad news, we should say that it isn’t. Rather than allowing themselves to be caught in that model for the duration of the period, they made an offensive surge, putting up nine shots in total over the rest of the period. And while they had help in the form of 1:40 of power play time before they hit the first intermission, they had looked like they were shaping up before that. And while the pressure didn’t lead to a goal until the second period (more on that later), the jump was evident.
Was that a little too positive for you? Are you still too sleepy, or too upset, for any kind of upbeat tone? Well, this section will be more your speed. We’ve got some grumbling to do.
We talked in that first point about the slow start that last night’s game saw, and Dave Hakstol summed it up after the game, that the Blue Jackets simply came more prepared to play, and that the Flyers just couldn’t match their speed until well into the period. He took responsibility for this, but it would be hard to believe that blame can be rested exclusively on him. The Flyers came out slow against a good team, and they were burned for it.
And oh man, were they burned. To the tune of two goals in 11 seconds. And the issues that cropped up around these goals were not new ones: it was being collapsed in the pocket, it was the failure to make the initial clear, it was the initial clear coming back to the Jackets and their chance renewed, it was Columbus forwards being allowed to get behind the defense and score. These were issues that were cleaned up at least in part as the game went on, but by that time, the damage had really been done. They had come out flat and dug themselves into a hole that they just weren’t able to climb out of. So it’s the same old song and dance.
3. Redemption time baby!
And for the folks who are looking for a bit more positivity, we didn’t forget you, we’ve got you covered too.
It was a pretty solid night for the Flyers’ top line, and it—effectively—got started with a bit of flash, just as we’ve grown to expect. It started with Claude Giroux on a breakaway that saw him take a shot that was so close to beating Sergei Bobrovsky, but instead sailed straight through the crease. But it got the puck into the zone, the top line got to work again, and Giroux’s recovery was nearly immediate. It was a pass from Travis Konecny on the outside to Giroux in his office, and do we even have to tell you what happened next? A Good Hockey Goal is what. And the Flyers were on the board.
But it wasn’t all good news for the top line—as Giroux took a puck or stick to the face (it’s hard to tell from the replay) while blocking, and had to spend most of the rest of the second period in the locker room getting the cut stitched up—and they found themselves split up and reconfigured for a good chunk of the game. They remained looking solid, but were without just a bit of the spark that they had caught earlier. Giroux’s return saw a close scoring chance, as the second period wound down, but they just couldn’t convert. He ended the night with a 52.46 xGF% at 5-on-5, a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating game.
4. The power play
Ah, yes. It’s that time again. Time to talk about the power play. It’s certainly been an up and down ride of late, and last night was both of those things all through the course of just the one game.
The good: a goal! The ultimate good thing! On their first attempt, even though they saw it split into two halves by the first intermission, the first unit was sent out and looking closer to old form. They weren’t getting too caught up in making the perfect play, they just bore down and focused on putting pucks on net and creating some havoc. And the chances were there. The figured out what was working and capitalized just 13 seconds into the second period, with the prototypical Shayne Gostisbehere shot from the point—old form in the best way.
The bad: when they didn’t score any more goals. They had two more chances through the rest of the game, and struggled to get the same level of pressure going. So they went one-for-three.
Tangential bad: taking a Too Much Man penalty while on the power play to negate their chance. Maybe their third power play could have been more dangerous if it had lasted for more than 36 seconds, after which time a communication breakdown led to the penalty. They really could have used that chance, so that one hurt, to be sure.
5. Killing a penalty
But, while we’re on the topic, we should shift over to talking about the penalty kill. It’s a quick shift, just like how the Flyers had to shift quickly to doing the actual penalty killing. Is this joke working? No? I’ll just move on.
I liked our listing from above, so let’s stick with that.
The bad: we already said it, but the fact that they took the too many men on the ice penalty in the first place (Hakstol took responsibility for this as well) negating a prime power play chance and necessitating sending out a penalty kill that looked like it had taken a step backwards in its last showing.
The good: they only had to kill 1:24, rather than a whole minor, and they did it. Columbus sent their biggest weapons out, and on a killer shift, the Flyers stopped them.
The ugly: how they actually went about killing the penalty. It was stressful to watch, as tired Flyers were left hardly standing on the ice as Artemi Panarin was given nothing but time to work with. The Flyers moved back to their emphasis on blocking shots and lanes, and Alex Lyon had to come up with a few big saves for them.
The relatable: by the time the penalty was killed and the Flyers were able to get a change, I know I felt very much like Matt Read—bent over his stick, coasting to the bench not very quickly, looking like he could barf. So, same, buddy.
6. Petr… buddy…
Should we spare you the exposition about Petr Mrzaek being decent, just fine on Monday against the dangerous Golden Knights, and how, with such an important divisional game win on the line, he would almost certainly need to find a way to build on that performance?
All that… well it didn’t happen. In short, it was a rough (and brief) showing for Mrazek. By the eyes, he looked shaky, as his awareness of the puck’s location was off. By the numbers, well, what more do you need to know other than that he allowed four goals on 10 shots. And, because that was every bit as ugly as it sounds, you know what this means…
Lyon time, baby!
After Mrazek gave up the fourth goal early in the second period, he was promptly pulled and Lyon sent in. And he had his work cut out for him. Lyon faced 18 shots, in total (12 of which came in his abbreviated second period alone), and he stopped all of them. He wasn’t perfect--he left Columbus a bit of space to work with, and benefitted from some lucky bounces when his rebound control was a little shaky—but he did the job. And this was something Hakstol praised him for after the game, for making the “timely saves” that they hadn’t gotten earlier. His efforts kept the Flyers in the game, but in the end, the offensive support just wasn’t there to make it worth it.
7. A little shift
Do you remember, about a week ago, when we started wondering what Scott Laughton had done to lose the coach’s trust in his defensive aptitude? It wasn’t so long ago that he was leaned on to be the team’s second shutdown center, but somewhere along the line he lost that. However, after last night’s game, it’s starting to look like he’s earned some of that trust back.
The third period saw—as the title of this section suggests—a shift in the lines. We had seen shuffling earlier, when Giroux went off to the locker room to have the gash on his face tended to, and by the start of the third period, things had more or less equalized. The exception, of course, was that Laughton and Valtteri Filppula had been flipped, with Laughton promoted to center the third line with Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds. And while they weren’t able to convert on the chances they were creating, they were still creating, with the line given an extra bit of jump that it had been missing earlier in the game. Should we expect to see it kept together heading into this weekend? It’s tough to say. But, at the very least, it served as a tip of the hand for the Flyers, that Hakstol’s regaining confidence in Laughton despite his scoring drought, and that he may be moving ever so little away from complete confidence in Filppula.
8. Closing out
After a rough first act to the game, it really looked like things were coming together for the Flyers there, huh? They had closed the gap in the score to one and, seeming to smell blood in the water, were bearing down in a big way. They put up 12 shots in the third period, and only allowed seven from the Blue Jackets. But, somehow they just couldn’t get it done.
And maybe part of that comes down to the lopsided nature of those final 20 minutes, which saw the Flyers coming out hot, but fizzling out towards the end, having trouble holding onto the puck and getting momentum going.
And maybe part of that is the fact that we also saw them regressing, falling into the same trap that they have before, that we saw them fall into as recently as Monday. In the later part of the third period, as we were really coming down to the wire, we saw them doing a lot of moving of the puck, but more in the player-to-player way, rather than the in-the-direction-of-the-net variety, if you catch my drift. And while there’s something to be said for the ways Columbus was not giving them a lot of space to work with, and for wanting to find the lanes that will lead to quality chances, but when the too many passes eventually lead to the puck on a Blue Jacket’s stick and cleared out of the zone, no favors have been done. This was the story of the tail end of the third period, and it didn’t work for them, as it hasn’t been. And, as we’ve said time and again, it’s a habit they’re going to need to break soon.
9. Deja vu (volume two)
It would be easy, I suspect, to have left yesterday’s game feeling like we’re living Groundhog’s Day, like we’ve been shipped right on back to November and now we’re condemned to live it over and over again. It seems like with every new loss, the Flyers are finding new ways to do it. They have their lingering issues—some of which we’ve dipped into above—but we’re also seeing them breaking down in new ways. Which doesn’t feel so new, at all.
But maybe this is an oversimplification. Konecny said it himself after the game, mirroring the sentiments of both other players and coach, that this, for them, feels completely different. And maybe it’s contextual—they’ve banked points and are still sitting in third place in their division and don’t risk dropping to the bottom of the league rankings again. Maybe that helps them, the feelings in the room.
Where are we going with this? To the sentiments being voiced that are both old and new: that this is something they can play their way out of, that they have the answers in the room, and a group capable to doing bigger things, but somehow, this time, they sound more assured. And they’d be right. Do we have a top-of-the-division team here? Probably not. But they are a good team who’s underachieving, right now, and one who seems primed to break out, once again.
10. The only damn thing I know
I’m gonna be honest with you guys: I’m super glad this is the last time the Flyers are playing the Blue Jackets this season, and that this is (hopefully) the last time I have to watch the Blue Jackets play for the rest of the year. Not because these games have been frustrating to watch (which they have been) but because it means it’s the last time I’m going to be forced to remember that time Zach Werenski broke his Whole Face* in the playoffs last year, and how it was the gnarliest thing I’ve ever seen. The image is seared into my memory, but I don’t need any more reasons to be forced to recall it. No thanks.
*it was not his whole face