Following the Flyers’ inconsequential but nonetheless mildly embarrassing loss to Lausanne HC in their preseason finale, which capped off a preseason that saw the Orange and Black take just one win in seven games, winger Jakub Voracek had the following to say to the assembled media in Switzerland:
Jake Voracek on Flyers' 1-3-3 preseason: "You start the season 3-0 nobody's going to remember. Lot of time it's happened where we had a good preseason and a bad start. So hopefully we turn it around and we're going to play better and have better results in the regular season."— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) September 30, 2019
So, to be clear: Voracek is correct. What happens in the preseason really, truly does not matter. (Thank you for reading all of our coverage of it, though!) Win today, win in the home opener, and no one is going to care about a loss to a European team while it was still in the 90s outside.
Of course, Voracek’s quote brought up a fairly valid counter-argument, one which was discussed on this week’s BSH Radio: do the Flyers really deserve the benefit of the doubt that they’re going to get off to a good start?
The last time the Flyers started 3-0, as Voracek suggests they may this time around, was in his first season with the team, 2011-12. That year, they won four of their first five games, and, after an uneven back end of October that featured their goalie getting lost in the woods, they managed to pull themselves back together and more or less coasted into a playoff spot.
Just about every one of the seven seasons since then has seen the Flyers have to fight tooth and nail just to, at best, make their way into the postseason. And in that time, slow starts to seasons have become something the Flyers have picked up a bit of a reputation for.
Is that warranted? For the most part, as you’ll see, yes. But for good measure, let’s go through the start to the season for each of the team’s last seven campaigns, complete with the low point of said slow start and how they eventually pulled themselves out of it, if they did, and we’ll briefly discuss how important that slow start ended up being. And for good measure, we’ll also single out the latest point in the season at which the Flyers were .500, as that can give us a good barometer for just how late into the year the Flyers found themselves digging out of a hole they’d created for themselves.
What happened: Coming out of the lockout, the Flyers lost their first three games, including a back-to-back on the first weekend with hockey, and six of their first eight. With the season already cut down to 48 games, the Flyers’ chances at doing something meaningful pretty much died within their first month back on the ice.
The nadir: While this one was just beyond that eight-game season-opening swoon, the most memorable and demoralizing loss from that season’s first month almost has to be a 5-2 drubbing in Toronto, complete with James van Riemsdyk posterizing Luke Schenn (who he was, of course, traded for the previous summer) en route to a goal to put a cherry on top of things in the third period.
How the slump ended: It ... sort of didn’t? After that 2-6 start, the Flyers pretty much just played average hockey the rest of the way, rarely having winning or losing streaks longer than two games. But there was no real “aha!” moment where you knew they were out of their funk.
The latest point in the season that they were below .500: Game 46 (out of 48, of course). The Flyers were 19-22-3 with four games left in the season before winning each of those final four games, pulling themselves to some semblance of respectability (and also out of a top-five pick, but that’s a conversation for another day). In fact, that final win of the season marked the first and only time in that abbreviated campaign that the team was above .500 at all. So yes, this one was a struggle from start to finish.
How much it mattered: You could argue it kept them out of a playoff spot. They ended up six points behind the eighth-place Islanders; with a couple more wins early in the year, maybe they’re in position in the last couple of weeks to make a push for a spot. Still, it doesn’t seem like we missed out on much because of it. This was not an impressive team. Guess that’s what happens when you lose two top-6 wingers, a top-4 defenseman, and a future Vezina winner all in one offseason, and accomplish absolutely nothing to replace them other than blowing up the Nashville Predators’ salary cap. (It is worth asking, though: do the Flyers trade for Steve Mason if they’re more in the race than they were at the time? That was clearly a long-term project for them; maybe they don’t rock the boat like that if they’re closer to the playoffs than they were.)
What happened: The Flyers lost their first three games, seven of their first eight, and eleven of their first 15. A month into the season, they were 29th in the league in standings points, leading only an actively-tanking Buffalo Sabres team. Claude Giroux didn’t score a goal in the first month of the season. Oh, and...
The nadir: With due apologies to The Night Ray Emery Tried To Punch Away A 7-0 Loss, it’s hard not to zero in on their third loss of the season, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, particularly because of what happened the next day: the dismissal of Peter Laviolette as head coach. Nothing says “we have this under control” quite like firing your coach less than a week into the season.
How the slump ended: Unlike some of the other seasons on the list here, this one had an obvious turning point: a 4-2 win over Edmonton on November 9, a day that featured the first goal of the year for two of the team’s most important players, Giroux and Jay Rosehill. The Flyers went on a bit of a run from there, clawing their way back into the playoff picture.
The latest point in the season that they were below .500: Game 33. The Flyers were 14-15-4 entering December 17, at which point they defeated the Capitals 5-4.
How much it mattered: Just in the context of how the season went, surprisingly little — under new head coach Craig Berube, the team rallied its way into playoff position by Christmas and never looked back, ultimately falling to the Rangers (led by one Alain Vigneault) in a seven-game first-round series. But any stretch that leads to the dismissal of a head coach is noteworthy, and the general calamity of that season seems like it may have put the gears in motion for Paul Holmgren to cede control of the general manager’s chair to Ron Hextall at year’s end (though we don’t know that for sure).
What happened: The Flyers got out to an 0-2-2 and then 1-3-2 start, but sort of pulled it back together until mid-November, when (sitting at 7-5-2) a loss to recently-traded forward Scott Hartnell and his Columbus Blue Jackets began a 1-8-2 nosedive that basically ended their season by the time the average Philadelphian had finished off all of their Thanksgiving leftovers.
The nadir: There weren’t many particularly memorable losses in this set, so I’m going to go with a 4-0 loss in Chicago on October 21 that saw them give up three goals in 2:06 in the first period. Also I was at that game and did not have fun and also I couldn’t find a cab back to my hotel afterwards. That’s all.
How the slump ended: I guess the 5-2-1 stretch that preceded that aforementioned 1-8-2 run counts as “ending the slow start” — there were some really good wins in that set including ones over the Pens and defending champion Kings. But that felt a bit undone by the swoon that followed.
The latest point in the season that they were below .500: Game 50. The Flyers pulled their way up to .500 right after that, getting to 22-22-7 with a 1-0 win over Toronto in Steve Mason’s 100th game as a Flyer. But they’d pretty much hover around that mark the rest of the way, aided by a whole bunch of OT loss points in the process (18 on the season, to be exact).
How much it mattered: It certainly made their playoff chances more remote, as the Flyers were basically out of the race with a month left in the season. But a somewhat better start may have just been holding off the inevitable — on paper, this was pretty clearly the worst team the Flyers have iced since 2007. It had one good forward line, and its two best defensemen were probably Braydon Coburn and Michael Del Zotto. Had Mason not had a career year (and boy, is it a cruel twist of fate that the best season the Flyers received from a goalie this decade came in front of this team), they’d probably have been in legitimate Connor McDavid contention. Put one way, Craig Berube didn’t get fired because of what this team did in October.
If you want a silver lining, though: this team being this bad probably allowed Kimmo Timonen to win a Cup by way of a trade to the Blackhawks, and that trade plus the ensuing trade of Coburn to Tampa helped the Flyers get Travis Konecny. So that’s nice, I guess.
What happened: The Flyers’ first year under Dave Hakstol started with a ghastly 6-9-5 showing, chock with multiple losing streaks including one of six straight defeats. There’s a caveat here, in that the first couple of weeks were actually decent — the team actually began the season at 4-2-1 — but the tailspin that took place after that made this qualify this as a slow start nonetheless.
The nadir: The most memorable loss here was undoubtedly a 7-1 thwomping courtesy of the Florida Panthers, during which the Flyers trailed 4-0 before the game reached its first commercial break, but that took place in the second game of the season and the team won four of its next five after that, so it seems hard to say that was as bad as things got. Instead, let’s refer to the moment that the Flyers announced — days after their eighth loss in nine games — that Mark Streit would be sidelined for six weeks with a detached pubic plate. Yep, we’re going there, folks. Of course, there was another side to that ...
How the slump ended: That same day, the Flyers called up Shayne Gostisbehere, and that night he assisted on a late game-tying goal to lead the Flyers to a dramatic comeback win over Carolina in overtime. Though they actually lost their next three games after that, Gostisbehere’s presence unquestionably was the thing that turned that season around and was the catalyst towards their making a playoff push.
The latest point in the season that they were below .500: Game 24. A win over Ottawa the Tuesday after Thanksgiving brought the team to 10-10-5, and they’d never fall below the break-even mark again.
How much it mattered: A lot, in a few different ways. If they don’t have that slow start, do they have a bit easier of a time making the playoffs (which, of course, they ultimately rallied to do)? Or, on the other side of the coin, does Gostisbehere not get called up and they fall off anyways given what was a remarkably unimpressive defense outside of him? Who knows.
What happened: The Flyers actually won their first game! A 4-2 victory in L.A.! But then they lost their next three, and three of their next five after that. They then meandered through the next month or so until Thanksgiving.
The nadir: We’ll highlight two consecutive games here — October 27 and 29, a pair of 5-4 home losses to Arizona and Pittsburgh. The first featured, among other things, an absolutely dreadful game by Andrew MacDonald, so much so that Dave Hakstol actually scratched him the next time out. (It’s also worth noting that following this game, the Arizona Coyotes sat at 2-5 on the season, with both wins coming against your Philadelphia Flyers.) The second saw the Flyers actually, truly dominate the run of play against the Penguins, only to be undone by a genuinely brutal game from Steve Mason. Tensions were running high at this point.
How the slump ended: If there wasn’t an ending to the swoon before this, the fairly obvious endpoint to this “slow start” was the infamous 10-game winning streak, which pulled the Flyers comfortably into playoff position at 19-10-3, at which point they [REDACTED].
The latest point in the season that they were below .500: Game 22, following a 3-2 home loss to the Rangers on Black Friday. That loss left them at 9-10-3, but that was the final game before said 10-game winning streak, which was great news for them because there’s no way a team could miss the playoffs after doing something like th
How much it mattered: Fairly little. For one, this start wasn’t that bad — not that 9-10-3 is particularly good, but we’ve seen much worse in here so far. Also, they had a 10-game winning streak and were in playoff position by December. This season was pretty clearly defined by how things ended, not how they started.
What happened: The actual start wasn’t that bad — the team won four out of its first six, including an 8-2 demolition of the eventual champion Capitals in the home opener, and after that the Flyers sort of just played average hockey for a month to find themselves at 8-6-2 in early November. But we’ll stretch the definition of a “slow start” a bit here, because ...
The nadir: While I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few particularly gut-wrenching October losses, such as the one that happened because of an unsuccessful offsides challenge on a 3-on-5 or the one where Nolan Patrick got injured or the one where they got hosed on an intent-to-blow ruling in the game’s final minute, it’s ... the 10-game losing streak. Pick your favorite part of it. Any one of the four times they blew a two-goal lead. Any of the three shutout losses. The time after the San Jose loss (number nine of 10) where the fans chanted “Fire Hakstol!” and the GM basically had to come out and say “no”. You’ve got some choices.
How the slump ended: That 10-game skid was immediately followed by six straight wins, because this team is nothing if not average in the most absurd ways possible.
The latest point in the season that they were below .500: Game 28, following a 4-2 win over the Oilers that was the second of those six straight aforementioned wins. The team won again in Vancouver the following night to move to 11-11-7 and tore through the next couple of weeks to keep its head above water.
How much it mattered: Well, again, the “start” itself wasn’t that bad, unless/until you consider the losing streak. And the team did make the playoffs, and even though it got a little hairy down the stretch due to a fairly unimpressive month of March, they were in a pretty good position for basically the entire post-All Star Break portion of the season. Still, the 10-game losing streak undoubtedly hung a cloud over much of the rest of the season, and it was probably the biggest reason why Dave Hakstol entered the next season on the hot seat. Hey, about that ...
What happened: The Flyers started 4-7-0, opening up the possibility that their coach wasn’t going to make it out of the first month of the season. They were, in this time, bad at literally everything.
The nadir: While obviously there were more meaningful negative moments that would take place in the weeks and months that followed, it’s hard to come up with a single moment that is more on-the-nose for this article than an 8-2 destruction by the Sharks in the Flyers’ home opener.
How the slump ended: Did it? Are we really sure that it did? Yes, they followed up that opening salvo with a 5-0-1 run ... which was then followed up by a 3-8-3 dive that would end up costing both the general manager and (a few weeks later) the head coach their jobs. (Even though they started letting the players eat hot wings after games.) Outside of a brief glimmer of joy when Carter Hart was called up and an eight-game winning streak sandwiched around the All-Star Break, there was really not a ton of rallying to be found here.
The latest point in the season that they were below .500: Game 51, an overtime win in Boston on the final day of January in what was win number six of eight straight victories. Of course, this team actually ended at .500 on the dot following an embarrassing final two weeks in which they clearly just gave up.
How much it mattered: The GM and coach got fired before Christmas. I think it mattered just a bit.
So some of these seasons are, indeed, slow starts — 0-2, 0-4, 0-3, 1-3, etc. — while others were decent starts (by the definition Voracek has given us) that were followed by extended periods of malaise not that long after. In any case, every one of these seasons saw the Flyers in varying degrees trouble at roughly the one-quarter mark of the year pretty early in the year — in fact, in not a single one of their last seven seasons were the Flyers in a playoff position on American Thanksgiving (or, as a loose equivalent, a third of the way through the lockout-shortened season).
Voracek is right that a 3-0 start will wash away the stench of this preseason, insofar as one exists — and it sure would help to keep the fans engaged and excited. But if you want a keep the interest of a fanbase beyond a couple of weeks into the season? Into November, when the Eagles are coming down the stretch and the Sixers start to grab everyone’s attention? On Thanksgiving, when folks would absolutely love a chance to talk with their families about the local hockey team if they had a good reason to? You have a good first two months, not two games or two weeks.
That’s not to say they need to go 18-2 or anything like that. This team, to be blunt, is probably not good enough that we should expect them to wreck everything in its path to start the year, not to mention they’re working with a new coach in a new system with some new faces. But it really does feel like there’s a lot riding on the first 20 or so games for this team. This really is their chance to show that they aren’t the Same Old Flyers that we’ve been watching for seven seasons now.
A 3-0 start would give them some breathing room. A good first quarter of the season? That would give them some benefit of the doubt from a fanbase that is pretty thin on that at the moment. That’s what the Flyers need — and that can start today in Prague.
Every piece of information in this article courtesy of the BSH archives and the incredible hockey-reference.com unless otherwise noted/referenced.