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Wild 4, Flyers 1: When it’s not your night, it is extremely not your night

58 Minutes Of Pain: A Philadelphia Flyers Story.

Philadelphia Flyers v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

The Flyers lost on Saturday night in Minnesota by a final score of 4-1. If you didn’t see it, you did not miss much. Here’s Kyle’s recap; let’s talk some more about it here. Numbers cited are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick unless noted otherwise.

The terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad game

I could probably just end this section after that heading, but I suppose we’ll talk a bit more.

Pretty much from the moment onward after the Flyers took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a nice shot from James van Riemsdyk, this was a contest to forget. Unfortunately, it’s not one the Flyers are going to be able to, for a few particular reasons:

The injuries

The Flyers’ injury situation at forward is becoming so absurd that it’s hard to fathom. Already down Nolan Patrick, Michael Raffl, Travis Konecny, and Oskar Lindblom for various reasons, the Flyers lost Tyler Pitlick at the end of the first period and Scott Laughton at the beginning of the second period. It wasn’t entirely clear what happened to either one of them; Pitlick went to the penalty box with 1:42 left in the first for a high-sticking penalty but did not come out to start the second, while Laughton appeared to pull up with something on a shift early on in the period and went straight down the tunnel.

Neither of them returned, and the Flyers — already playing an entire fourth line of injury replacements in Chris Stewart, Mikhail Vorobyev, and David Kase — had to try and get creative. It went about as well as you would expect (we’ll get to that in a moment). But the absurdity of this situation does seem to drift beyond the territory of “injuries are just an excuse” and into something a bit tougher than that. As BSH Radio/The Athletic’s own Charlie O’Connor so succintly put it, the Flyers were without fully half of the lineup they would most likely ice if everyone was healthy and available.

That’s really hard to work around, and the Flyers weren’t able to work around it on Saturday.

The offense was gone

Because whoooooo boy was there absolutely nothing going on offensively for the Flyers. Again, context is important here. Minnesota is one of the better defensive teams in the NHL — they currently lead the NHL in Expected Goals Against per 60 at 5-on-5 — and the Flyers once again were, for most of the game, without half of their optimal forward lineup.

But there’s a degree of competency that is to be expected from an NHL team despite this, and the Flyers did not reach or come anywhere close to it. Passes were off all night. A heavy dump-and-chase game was turned around by the Wild without fail. The Flyers finished with just 18 shots on goal, and 10 of them came in the final period — meaning, for you math majors out there, they tallied eight shots through the first 40 minutes. Each of the first two periods had at least a 10-minute drought without a shot on goal.

Only van Riemsdyk’s goal — a nice shot that still probably should have been stopped, as Alex Stalock got his glove on it but couldn’t get all of it — kept this from being quite possibly the single most insufficient offensive performance any of us have ever seen from this team. The Flyers generated 0.49 Expected Goals* on Saturday in total. That is not just their worst showing of the season, it’s by far the worst of any NHL team in a single game this season — it’s nearly half of the next-lowest total (0.89 by the Vancouver Canucks, ironically against the Flyers back in November). It was bad.

* For those who care about such things, it should be noted that this xG number is not totally accurate — the NHL’s play-by-play for this game incorrectly recorded JVR’s goal as a 79-foot shot from the neutral zone, rather than a wrister in the circle 20ish feet away from the goalie. Regardless, this would certainly have been the Flyers’ worst offensive showing of the year by xG even if that was counted correctly; on top of that, I don’t think any of us really need any particularly advanced numbers to know how poorly this team did offensively in this game, even if they do add some color to the picture at hand.

The power play is very much a problem

There is something to be said about how one year after the Flyers iced a penalty kill so bad that it probably got the general manager and head coach fired and also put out a power play that did a lot of things well but was extremely unlucky for much of the year, the penalty kill is now the steadiest part of the team and the power play is now terrible.

But that is about where things currently stand. In three power plays on Saturday, the Flyers generated two shots on goal and zero goals (plus a shortie allowed in the empty net as the game wound down). At a time where the Flyers just could not get anything moving offensively at 5-on-5, their power play not only couldn’t keep them in the game but dragged them further out of it.

And while the Flyers losing guys during the game tangentially affects the power play, in the sense that guys who are already being asked to do more have even more responsibility, neither of the players who left Saturday’s game are parts of the power play. Obviously, the lack of Konecny and Lindblom hurt the group, but they’ve been without both of those two for at least two games now, and nothing seems to be working.

Maybe it’s an issue of personnel, maybe one of players not executing, maybe one of coaching. Probably some of all of that. But the Flyers haven’t scored on the power play since their demolition of the Red Wings on Black Friday. Something needs to give here soon.

Oh, right, the other side of the puck was bad too

Things calmed down a bit for the Flyers as the game progressed, but the damage had already been done, as the first period (shocker!) was just bad defensively for the Flyers. Carter Hart didn’t look great on either of those goals he gave up, but you’d think that one of the (/counts on fingers) one, two, three guys within arms’ length of Kevin Fiala would attempt to stop him before he successfully knocked in a wraparound off of his teammate, or that maybe one of the ...

(/continues counting)

(/furiously gives up)

... EVERYONE on this play here may want to guard the guy standing one foot away from your goalie before he gets multiple uncontested chances. And this isn’t just a case of cherry-picking the goals against, either — there were three or four other moments in the first period where at least one Wild player was left all alone in front, only to flub another golden opportunity. This game could have been significantly worse than it was. (Hart also did not quite seem to have his best stuff in this one, though he was still way down on the list of reasons the Flyers lost.)

The Flyers haven’t been a beacon of consistency or anything like that this season, but outside of probably that last week of October that featured blowouts on Long Island and in Pittsburgh, it’s been rare to see both sides of the game working as ineffectively as they were on Saturday. Again, it’s partly understandable why, and ideally this is a burn the tape game rather than a harbinger of what’s to come.

Things that didn’t suck

There weren’t many, but some basic things I liked:

  • The penalty kill. I mean, seriously, what kind of sick joke is being played on us here that this is now the best functional unit on the team? And it was again outstanding tonight even though it had some replacements in there for Laughton and PitlickJoel Farabee, Mikhail Vorobyev, and David Kase all were getting time by the third period.
  • I actually thought Vorobyev had a pretty strong game. Going to need to see it for more than three games, but I’ve liked what he’s done since his most recent recall. No clue what exactly the lineup is going to look like on Sunday given the injuries, but he seems more likely to move up into the top-9 than his fellow fourth-liners Stewart and Kase are.
  • JVR. I did not like his play that much, to be honest — Phil Myers got the goat horns on Minnesota’s first goal because of a terrible turnover in his own zone, but a weak play by JVR in the neutral zone started that chance for the Wild, and he didn’t get back in time to stop Fiala on the wraparound attempt when it looked like he could have. That being said, he’s had way too many games this year where the underlying performance was there and the goals were not, so I can forgive a reversal of that for a night. The Flyers — particularly with what they’re trotting out at wing right now — need him on the scoreboard in the worst way, and him getting there in the first couple minutes of the game will hopefully get him moving a bit.
  • Not that I would generally endorse waiving the white flag in a two-goal game, but it seems like Alain Vigneault pulled back on the ice time of some of his stars late in the game, or at least didn’t ramp it up the way you would probably expect a coach to while trailing in the third. Given that the Flyers were flailing at the time, and that they are going to need every drop of energy they can possibly get out of their six or seven best players tomorrow, that seems like it was the right call.

Not a ton else.

A tough time

For all of the above criticism (none of which, at an on-ice level, is unfair to levy at this team for what it did in this game), it seems fair to point out that the Flyers are going through what is obviously an intensely emotional time right now, one that can surely be difficult to play through. It’s not entirely clear what their timeline has been over the past few days; Robert Hagg said that he was with Lindblom when he found out about the diagnosis, which would suggest that he knew before the team left on Tuesday. But regardless of whether this was their first or second game since learning about what happened to their teammate and friend, it’s reasonable to ask if they get something of a pass if their minds are elsewhere in the here and now.

Eventually, if this team wants to achieve what it’s set out to achieve this season, it will have to get past the absence of Lindblom, both from an on-ice perspective (in that he’s a really good player whose talents and production will be difficult to replace) and a mental one (in that a good friend of theirs is going through cancer treatment and that, on a human level, is extremely hard to deal with emotionally, as it would be for any of us). But if it’s weighing heavy on their mind now, given how recently they found out ... games like Saturday’s become understandable.

Now, I don’t know for sure that that’s the case, and I don’t want to assume that devastation over Lindblom’s diagnosis is why the Flyers just played possibly their worst game of the season — frankly, this is an extremely uncomfortable thing to speculate about, which is why I won’t say much more beyond this. But the Flyers have talked a lot about how close their locker room has been this year. It would be understandable if something like this hits them hard — and it’ll be understandable when they rally for their friend, sooner or later.