Well, folks. This was not a good time. The Flyers split their last series against the Sabres despite showing, overall, a pretty poor process, and were looking to get themselves back on track against a Bruins team that had been struggling heading into the series. We were hopeful that they might be able to do it, but instead what we got was the Flyers looking like they took a step in the wrong direction. Lacking in their details, often looking listless, and far too often breaking down in the defensive zone, the Flyers dropped both of those games (the first 5-4 in a shootout and then 6-1 last night). Things are looking pretty bleak right now, there’s really no way around it. They’ll be looking to quickly pivot and rebound against the Devils this week, but before that, let’s break down just what happened in those two games against the Bruins.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
39.27: CF% at 5-on-5
It’s no secret that 5-on-5 play has been something of a work in progress for the Flyers, and that hasn’t really changed yet. Throughout the whole of the early season, the Flyers have been pretty thoroughly out-chanced at evens, and we got a bit more of that in these last two games. All told, the Flyers generated 65 shot attempts over the course of the last two games, while giving up 92 (good for a score adjusted 39.27 CF%). Which, to state the obvious, is a real problem.
Now, in part this seems like even less of a surprise, given their opponent—the Bruins, despite their struggles to score so far this season, had still been generating a good number of chances for themselves and seemed close to those finally breaking through—but the fact remains that at the same time that the Flyers weren’t doing quite enough to suppress shots from the Bruins, the even more critical piece was that they just weren’t doing enough to generate chances of their own. Just like against Buffalo, they looked sloppy at times, their puck management struggling, and they just weren’t connecting on enough plays to really make themselves dangerous.
15: high danger chances against at 5-on-5
Contributing to those struggles at even strength was the fact that not only were they bleeding more than a fair few shot attempts, but also giving the Bruins a lot of dangerous chances to work with. It would be one thing if they were doing well to keep the Bruins to the outside and then block whatever shots they were getting off, keeping them from getting too many good looks through, but that wasn’t the case over these last two games. The Flyers struggled to get too many shots of their own through, and the Bruins kept them frustrated, unable to generate too many chances in close. They came out of these two games with just nine high danger chances created, while they allowed 15 against. It’s making their own jobs harder, the skaters that is, but it’s really making things more difficult on their goalies. We know that Carter Hart and Brian Elliott both are dependable goalies, but their capabilities only go so far. They need a bit of help out front, and they aren’t really getting it right now.
And, before we move on, here are some bonus stats, with a bit of context:
Through six games at 5v5 for @NHLFlyers.— Alexander Appleyard (@avappleyard) January 24, 2021
39.78% Shots for
42.48% ExGF@BuffaloSabres 2014-15 is only season since 2007-08 with worse underyling stats.
Now, ofc, #Flyers will for SURE pick it up.
But just to show how poorly team has done at even strength so far.
As Alex points out, it’s almost certain that the Flyers bounce back from this start in some capacity—what that looks like precisely is an open question, but they should recover to at least some degree—there’s simply too much talent for them not to. But they really have dug themselves quite a hole to start the season, and something has to give soon, and it’s going to be an uphill battle to get themselves back on track.
4: goals against on the penalty kill
If the Flyers were digging themselves a hole at 5-on-5, it was only made worse, in the end, by their play on the penalty kill. All told, we didn’t see a whole lot of the penalty kill over these last two games, but the results were pretty disastrous. They totaled seven minor penalties taken and played 8:53 on the penalty kill. In that time, they gave up 18 shot attempts, 13 shots, and nine high danger chances. And, of course, four goals. And we know that the Bruins, even without David Patrnak, can be dangerous on the power play, and we did see how much their quick passing and cycling can make them dangerous in these matchups, but the Flyers just still didn’t really seem to have an answer for them.
And these penalty kill struggles feel, in truth, pretty jarring. This was a distinct strength for this team last season, and now it seems that they’ve done a complete heel turn. Now, some of this is certainly personnel based, and they’re really feeling the losses of Matt Niskanen, and for the time being Sean Couturier and Philippe Myers. But the breakdowns in coverage seem to be just some of the biggest and worst imaginable in each given situation, and that’s not something that getting Couturier and Myers back can fix, not completely. There’s something that has to give here.
7: scoring chances on the power play
If we pivot to the other side of the special teams equation and the power play, we can feel a little bit less doom and gloom. It was something of a mixed bag that we got from the power play these last two games. On the one hand, they did pick up two goals, both on Thursday from Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk, and did show some flashes when they were passing well and looking downright threatening.
But, on the other hand, while they did do some nice things, they’re still looking for consistency, and the overall chances generated still aren’t where we would like them to be. The Flyers, all told, had 13:36 of power play time over the two games, and in that time were only able to create seven scoring chances, six shots, and two high danger chances. Which is all to say that, while they have shown some promise, and the’ve given us a reason to be optimistic that they can turn things around and be effective, we’ve seen glimpses of it, there’s still work that needs to be done.
.855: save percentage for Carter Hart
Hart got both of the starts in Boston this week, and overall, it was something of a mixed bag. It feels a step too far to say that they were poor showings, but it certainly wasn’t the sharpest we’ve seen Hart before, even this season. He was, we can say, relatively steady, but still made a few off reads, had a few adventures in playing the puck, and overall just didn’t seem 100 percent comfortable. In short, it was enough for us to look at and say “huh, maybe he’s a little off tonight,” but not too much more.
He certainly did have his work cut out for him, though, as he faced 43 shots against on Thursday and 26 on Saturday, including 16 and seven high danger shots in those games, respectively. It was a big ask for him to be able to completely bail the skaters out both nights, and while we’ve seen him do it before, this just wasn’t quite what we got this time around.
And, to be sure, in some corners this is being spun as just a continuation of Hart’s road woes from last season. And while, perhaps by definition they are, he struggled some in these two road games, that just really doesn’t seem to be the complete picture. Could Hart have been a bit sharper in these games? Absolutely. But he also isn’t getting much help from his defense right now, and that seems to be a much larger issue.
4: points for Jake Voracek
If we’re looking to come away from this one with some positives, perhaps for the sake of our sanity, we can point to the play of Jake Voracek for that. It certainly wasn’t a perfect showing, but overall, Voracek did have himself a pretty solid last two games. As we’ve already said, offensive chances have seemed to be at a premium recently, but Voracek has been doing well to create them, contributing to four of the Flyers’ five total goals in the series while also putting up seven individual shot attempts and two scoring chances. And though it fell victim to the shuffling in last night’s game, his line from Thursday with Kevin Hayes and Joel Farabee was one of the Flyers’ most effective from a possession standpoint, as they posted an adjusted 9.95 relative CF%.
Overall, it was a strong effort—not an “I’m going to put the team fully on my back and drag them to victory” type of effort (that would be a virtually Herculean task), but still solid enough, all the same.
It’s a phrase I’ve already used in this breakdown, but it remains the biggest takeaway—something has to give. What we’ve seen so far isn’t an indictment on the team’s depth, or an instance of it being exposed that our expectations were wrong and the depth wasn’t as strong as we initially thought. Simply, depleted as they may be, there is too much talent on this team for them to be underperforming as they are. Our instinct tells us that talent will eventually win out, will be able to buck whatever’s ailing them and right the ship, but it’s a matter of when. With fewer games in the season and a division seemingly getting tighter by the day, there really isn’t a whole lot of runway for the Flyers to work with here. And whether it comes down to the players getting it together or the coaching staff making changes to the system and game plans (or both), a pivot needs to come, and soon.
And my final thought, well, our pal Charlie actually made it as well on Twitter, but as much as some folks seem to be crying for it (which is understandable) I’m not interested in seeing a shake up change to the roster for this next series against the Devils. Part of that is just the fact that there really isn’t anyone waiting in the wings who's going to be able to make the marked difference in terms of connecting and making plays that they need in order to play a more effective game. But the big thing is that it feels important to stick with this group (of forwards, specifically) and giving them a chance to work themselves through these issues. It seems, in some ways, a question of accountability, as if to say “you helped make this mess, now you have to get us out of it.”