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Oilers 6, Flyers 3: C’mon, not like this

All you had to do was not lose all three games on this trip. That was all.

Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Flyers lost on Wednesday night in Edmonton by a score of 6-3. If you didn’t stay up very late to see the Flyers’ second loss in as many nights, good on you; here’s Kyle’s recap. Let’s talk about it some more here.

This sucks, man

We’re now five games into the season, which is just enough time to really start looking at the big picture. Which is quite a shame, because for whatever good has come out of the first two weeks of the season, the backdrop of Wednesday night’s game — and this entire three-game road trip that it concluded — makes it hard for this team to make the argument that things are much better than they were last year or really any point over the past few years.

Which really sucks! Because there was a lot of good that took place during the first half of Wednesday’s game. With the exception of a first two minutes in which the Flyers could not hold the puck without immediately losing it, and one bad shift late in the first period, the Flyers were the better team up until about the midway point of the game by a lot. Each of the team’s top three lines were mixing in good shifts (the new fourth line was admittedly another story). Two power plays went pretty well — one yielded the team’s first goal, while the other was spent almost entirely in the Edmonton zone. When Edmonton didn’t have the best hockey player in the world on the ice, the overwhelming odds were that they did not have the puck and — unless they were goalie Mikko Koskinen — were not doing anything productive.

Then — at a point of the game when the Flyers were outshooting Edmonton 23-10 — the aforementioned best hockey player in the world did this.

And almost immediately things fell apart. The Flyers — who nearly tied this game probably a dozen times between Edmonton’s second and third goals — were down 5-1 within four minutes of that goal. Two dumb and unnecessary penalties immediately ended up in the back of the net via a scalding Oilers’ power play. Carter Hart, who for the first time since that infamous preseason game in Switzerland clearly just didn’t have it on this night, was pulled in front of his friends and family in Alberta. A game that had a lot of promise and encouraging signs early on was over before the second period was.

Oh, and then Brandon Manning scored a goal. A really long goal. Because it’s hard to capture the essence of this game any other way.

One crappy loss isn’t that big a deal, but of course, this wasn’t one crappy loss; it was the Flyers’ second in as many days, and their third loss in five days out in western Canada. And a quick scan of those three losses shows us:

If you were at some point today trying to convince someone that was maybe on the fence about paying attention to the local ice hockey club that this year’s Flyers team is different, you would admittedly have a tough time keeping their attention once you’d recapped what happened in the past week, and particularly on Wednesday, in a game that was a spitting image of several losses this team took during the first two months of last season.

There are valid excuses — the team has gone from the East Coast to Europe back to the East Coast and from there to the West Coast all in the past three weeks. They were complaining about travel, and how sick and tired they were of it, even before they had lost any games. There are reasons for optimism — again, outside of the two goalies on the ice, the Flyers were far and away the better team in this game up until Connor McDavid snatched Justin Braun’s soul.

But with that said ... the only way for them to really kill the momentum that they built up with those exciting first two wins was to throw up a bagel on the road trip that ensued, and in particular to have a loss like this one that looks like it came right out of last season’s video yearbook. And lo and behold, look what happened.

It’s too early to assume the Flyers will be trying to dig their way out of a hole just to stay in the playoff race again, and the schedule over the next week and change is pretty manageable to the point where they’ve got a good chance to right the ship before things get critical. We just really wish they didn’t have to right the ship this early into the season ... again.

Math and whatnot

Yeah, we gotta talk about it. Numbers via Natural Stat Trick unless noted otherwise.

5-on-5 Corsi For %: 64.71% raw, 61.59% adjusted
5-on-5 Expected Goals %: 77.55% raw, 76.7% adjusted
Overall Expected Goals %: 79.86%

For the fourth time in five games, the Flyers won the on-ice territorial battle, and for the third time they really just ran their opponents over from a puck-possession perspective. Alas, this was the first of those three games that didn’t end up with a just result.

There are almost certainly score effects at play here, even beyond the ones that are theoretically adjusted for in the above numbers. For example, the Flyers put up 25 shots on goal on Koskinen (out of their 52 in total) in the third period alone, a period in which the outcome of the game was never in doubt. But the Flyers had their chances in the early going, and were it not for a couple of bad bounces, incomplete finishing, and some strong play from Koskinen, maybe we’re writing about a completely different outcome.

I mean, look at this.

This is exactly what you want a heatmap to look like for your team — steady chances in front for you, sparsely spread-around chances for the other guys. And this is the result we get.

The Flyers, through five games, lead the NHL in 5-on-5 Expected Goals For percentage, by a comically wide (and, yes, most likely unsustainable) margin. Put as much as little stock into that small sample (and metric) as you would like. In the meantime, they have scored on 5.34 percent of their shots at 5-on-5. That number will increase; there is ample evidence established over years suggesting that no team scores at that inefficient of a clip forever. For this team, the question is a matter of by how much and just how quickly things will get better — namely, if it’ll be quickly enough to stop things from really going off the rails before October ends, and if it will coincide with the team’s strong season-opening run of play-driving for any meaningful period of time.

A bad night at a bad time for a good boy

This is unfortunate. Carter Hart, who grew up just outside of Edmonton and was called up to the Flyers last year three days after the team played there, had dozens of friends and family on site to watch him have the worst hockey game he’s had in months.

None of the four goals Hart let in were inexcusable. All four were good shots by Oilers players — a great shot by Leon Draisaitl in the game’s opening minutes, one by Ethan Bear on the rush late in the first, the aforementioned McDavid sorcery, and a snapper by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the power play. But with the exception of a bit of a screen from his own defenseman on Bear’s goal, most of these goals were straight-up shooter vs. goalie, and in a game where — as we’ve mentioned — your guys are doing a lot of things right on the other end and not getting rewarded for it, you need your goalie to keep up his end of the deal to keep the skaters’ heads in it, and Hart just got beat clean one or two too many times for that to happen.

Hart left the game having allowed four goals on just 14 shots. (It is fair to note that Brian Elliott did not do much better in relief, letting in two goals on eight shots.) It was his first clunker of the season, one in which we do not expect many of those. He is a really good goalie and a kid with an incredibly good head on his shoulders and it stands to reason he’ll work through this. It’s just a bummer that this happened to him on this night.

And one more thing

Vigneault said after the game that he thinks that the team is “on the right track” and seemed to harp more on the positives than the negatives, which is a reasonable path to take after a game like that (admittedly one that is not going to please everyone, but after a game like that, nothing will). That being said, if he want to shake things up just enough to not rock the boat while still showing that he doesn’t think a loss to Edmonton in which his team trailed by five goals at one point in the third period is acceptable, here’s a lineup suggestion that I never thought I’d be making: Chris Stewart should be in the lineup on Saturday against Dallas.

To be clear, I do not say that as an endorsement of Stewart’s particular abilities — I was not in favor of the team’s decision to sign him and I would much rather Joel Farabee be up with the team and have the third and fourth lines reshuffled as such. But that’s clearly not going to happen in the short-term, and the fourth line of Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman, and Tyler Pitlick that was out on the ice on Wednesday was thoroughly unnoticeable outside of a couple of nice shifts from Pitlick.

In particular, Bunnaman (who was scratched in Stewart’s Flyers debut on Tuesday and came back in in his place on Wednesday) really seems to be having trouble keeping up; he had a great camp and was a surprise victor in the battle to make the roster, but you have to wonder how much more rope the team is going to give him to go and do ... something. If the roster doesn’t change (and, again — it should!), Stewart should draw into his place.