The tailspin continues, it seems. After dropping last weekend’s game to the Capitals, then just barely grinding out a shootout win over the Sabres on Tuesday, the Flyers came into their two game series against the Capitals (again) trying to pick up some steam, and instead came out of it with a pair of losses. It was not always pretty, but despite the end results and how bleak things at large are feeling right now, there were still some positives to take away from this, as well. There’s a lot to parse through, so let’s dig right into it.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Numbers of note
54.23 CF% at 5-on-5
Folks! They finally did it. The Flyers put up some improved 5-on-5 underlying numbers against a team other than the Sabres.
Now, it wasn’t perfect, the numbers were a bit of a mixed bag through these last two games. The Flyers did win the quantitative battle, putting up an adjusted 54.23 CF% and 55.35 SF%, but lost the qualitative one, as they also came out of this series with a 46.13 xGF%. So it’s certainly not a stellar stat line—and indeed, perhaps where we’d most like to see them succeeding more is in that quality shot share—but it is still an improvement over what they’ve generated in other recent games. It may just be a small improvement, but it’s an improvement all the same.
And maybe this isn’t what we want to be hearing, given the result of this pair of games. But, it remains true that, given what we know about the eventuality of regression, that it stands to reason that if the underlying process continues to even stabilize, the reflective positive results shouldn’t be too far behind.
2 goals on the power play
The power play scored in back to back games this week, and I suspect this may mean we’ve slipped into the Twilight Zone.
Jokes aside, the power play has struggled pretty mightily all season, so we saw that them breaking through in both of these two games gave the Flyers a much needed boost. They were nice goals too, with a shot right in the crease for Travis Konecny on Thursday and then another bomb from Shayne Gostisbehere last night.
But, as we made note that the Flyers’ 5-on-5 process has improved a bit, the same can’t really be said of the power play, despite the results. The Flyers got 9:51 of power play time to work with over the last two games, and in that time, they only registered nine shot attempts, three scoring chances, and two high danger chances. The Flyers have obviously gotten few good looks, but they’re still looking for greater consistency, as they haven't found a way to look dangerous for more than flashes while on the man-advantage.
69.80 xGF% for the Couturier line
In perhaps the least shocking development of the week, the Flyers’ top line of James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, and Joel Farabee has just kept on rolling. Indeed, they were the Flyers’ best and most consistent, putting up an adjusted 67.45 CF% and 69.80 xGF% over their two games, positively dominating their matchups, and again putting up the best underlying numbers of any of the Flyers’ lines during that time.
They also put up another goal, as van Riemsdyk got the Flyers’ first goal of the game last night, and while it technically shows up on the box score as being unassisted, it was another example of good work from that whole line getting van Riemsdyk in the position to score. They’re finding their chances, still, and finding a way to give the Flyers a boost and look threatening on just about each of their shifts together.
Secondary scoring comes up big
That said, one of the more encouraging signs to come out of these two games was the fact that the Flyers also had scoring coming from players not named Farabee, Couturier, or van Riemsdyk. For a while there, it really felt like they were the only Flyers line that was able to do much of anything, which was fun for them, but not a great sign for the rest of the Flyers. But over these last two games, we saw Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton, Claude Giroux, and Nolan Patrick pick up even strength goals (and then the power play finally chipping in, with goals from Konecny and Gostisbehere). That top line, as we noted above, was still kind of running the show, but the scoring distribution came from all over the lineup, and that was a big key to them being able to keep these games at least relatively close.
We’re still looking to see some more consistency in that secondary scoring department, but if nothing else, this was a good first step towards finding that.
Last night was a lose-lose situation
The goaltending situation of late has been, in a word, tenuous. The Flyers have been in a tough spot, with Carter Hart struggling, and all of that really came to a head this week. Brian Elliott was slated to get both starts against the Capitals, and on some levels, we understand the thought process there. Alain Vigneault wanted to give Hart a little extra time to practice and recenter himself, to pull himself out of the funk he’d fallen into. Sure, that’s fine. But he was also playing a dangerous game with Elliott, giving him too much work at his age. And last night, it backfired. We saw him, as we have in the past, losing his sharpness due to fatigue, which meant that Vigneault really had no choice but to pull Elliott and bring in Hart if he wanted even a shot at still getting back into this game.
And it was probably still too soon to put Hart back in too. He made some good stops, but we still saw him looking small in his net, a telltale sign that there’s something still off with him. And this is all just to say that, as our section title suggest, last night was really a lose-lose situation for the Flyers, whether they decided to start Hart or Elliott—you’re rolling with a tired goalie or a goalie still not out of his funk. It’s not as though this game was destined to be a loss because of the goaltending, but it was bound to be an uphill battle, to be sure.
There really doesn't seem to be a better way to sum up the Flyers’ recent woes than what James van Riemsdyk offered in his post-game presser comments last night:
Ultimately, we’re playing a really good team and I think every time we made a mistake, they would capitalize on it.
It’s not a phenomenon new to this series, for much of the season it’s felt as though the Flyers would fall into just the absolute worst case scenario of breakdowns, imploding and then promptly finding the puck in the back of their own net. And that is, to oversimplify, a real shame, because, as we saw in stretches this week, this team still has the potential to look positively dominant and dangerous when they really get going. But too often it’s coming too late, as they’re making that tremendous effort in an attempt to claw their way out of the hole they dug themselves with their own lapses.
Something needs to be done here. This is not a new idea either. The team needs to step up and start playing tighter defense within their own system, but the Flyers are also hitting a point where there’s no more shuffling that can be done with their personnel that hasn’t been done before. They need to be better, but they sure could also use a little help.