We regret to inform you that the Flyers are back. After their Christmas break started early and saw them go 11 days without a game, and despite some key absences in their lineup due to COVID still, they were able to get started again and kick off their West coast trip. They got Kevin Hayes, Morgan Frost, and Max Willman back from COVID protocol in time for these games, but they lost Scott Laughton, Carter Hart, and Sean Couturier (who is also on top of that now on IR, listed as week to week with an upper body injury). The curse of the Disney On Ice trips stays undefeated, I guess.
The Flyers got back into action with games back to back against the Kraken and the Sharks, and as they split that pair with an overtime win and an overtime loss, the Flyers were able to extend their points streak after a 10 game losing streak to seven games, which is truly something remarkable.
There were certainly positives to come out of this pair of games. With two goals in Thursday’s game, James van Riemsdyk (streaky as all goal scorers are, we know) looks to be heating up again. Ivan’s Provorov’s overtime winner in that game was a thing of beauty, there's no way around it. Morgan Frost was putting together all of the details, playing with pace, even getting to the dirty areas, and he was rewarded with a goal and an overall strong game last night. Felix Sandstrom made his NHL debut, and while it wasn't perfect, he was steady, and held up well under the strain of facing 46 shots on the night, only giving up two goals. It was a shame the team couldn’t pull together a win for him, he was really on in a challenging game. And the Flyers were able to flex some offensive creativity, and when they were clicking, they looked really good. But those moments were relatively few and far between, and while we absolutely appreciate the positives to come out of these games, we also understand that they were far outweighed by badness and messiness.
And this, it should go without saying, is a real concern. The Flyers had some challenges to work with here, that can’t be ignored. On top of the mere fact that they were trying to get their legs back under them after a long break, they’re missing key pieces to their lineup and already dealing with travel to a different time zone, had the added mess of not making it to their hotel in San Jose after the Seattle game until around 4:30 AM local time (which, horrifyingly, is later than I was waking up here on the East Coast). It was not an easy task that they had in front of them with these two games, and last night in particular we could see mistakes from purely fatigue kicking in, but that doesn’t excuse them.
Sine Mike Yeo took over, we’ve been hearing a lot about the team’s process, and the process in these last two games certainly left something to be desired.
The energy was a bit inconsistent in these games. They were losing a lot of races to pucks and their forechecking game wasn’t really going.
Their defensive zone coverage was not terribly sound, and in truth their performance against Seattle was one of the worst we've seen all season, and certainly the worst we’ve seen since the end of Alain Vigneault’s tenure.
The power play showed some positive flashes, but the swings in the other direction were particularly brutal—like last night, they had nearly a full two minute 5-on-3 power play, and they failed on two entry attempts and just about stood still passing the puck around, hoping for the best.
All told, the Flyers were outshot 26-16 and 31-19 at 5-on-5 in these games, and out-chanced 48-30 and 58-43 in shot attempts. The list could go on, but it was, in short, not good.
And as a bit of an elephant in the room, we hate to just pile on one player like this, but it was a particularly tough pair of showings from Keith Yandle, who's been really struggling over the last little while here. He did some good work to kick start the plays on both of the Flyers’ goals last night, that can't be ignored, but the defensive game, the mobility, the awareness, have really fallen off. You look at the breakdown leading to the Logan Couture shorthanded goal, and you say “that just can’t happen,” but the reality is that those types of plays are happening with greater frequency as we go along with Yandle. The ironman streak is surely an important one to everyone, but with the taxi squad back in place, the team feeling confident enough in his ability and readiness to bring Cam York at least on the trip, you have to wonder if it’s time that the coaching staff sits down and has a tough conversation about pulling him out of the lineup to get a new look.
(Related: the Flyers are in York’s hometown of Anaheim for the first time in a thousand years, and the first time in his career, and it sure would be nice to see him get in for that game at the very least).
Yeo stood by the team’s efforts after last night’s game, liking the team’s energy and compete. And maybe it is a bit unfair to be hyper critical of a team that’s missing their top center and goaltender, we’ll acknowledge that. But these games did remind us that this is still the same old Flyers team, still working through some of the same holes and issues, and a break in the schedule hasn’t changed that. They’re still looking for sustainable success, and there’s work yet to be done to get to it, that much is clear.
Results do matter, especially as they try to claw their way back into the playoff picture, and the Flyers do at least mostly have that going for them right now. The road trip isn’t over, and with opponents ahead of them in the Kings and the Ducks, who could still give them some trouble, the Flyers still have some work to do.
And with a break between games here, their travel situation at least is getting slightly less chaotic, and they have a chance to catch their breath a bit, so the hope is that they can take advantage of that and right the ship a bit to close out this stretch of games before heading back home.
We’ll need to see better in the process department if we want to come away feeling good about this trip. At least the good news is that it certainly can’t get a whole lot worse.