The last five games for the Philadelphia Flyers have been rough. Three losses to the Washington Capitals, a late loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and needing a shootout to beat the horrible Buffalo Sabres. None of that instill a great amount of confidence into a team that is coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory.
Expectations were high a couple months ago, but with more unfortunate and downright terrible performances, the Flyers are running full speed downhill into the depths of the league standings.
And the worst part is, they’re acting like they’re not.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us right now because we’re going through a tough time,” head coach Alain Vigneault said after Saturday’s loss to the Capitals. “We all have to battle together and continue to strive to get our game better. I do like a lot of parts of our game at this moment, I do think we’re trending in the right way. Results-wise, maybe not, but as far as playing the game the way it should permit you to win, I do think we’re trending in the right direction.”
I do not know if Vigneault is spouting off like this to try and rally some players together—demonstrating that he still has confidence in this club—but nothing really speaks desperation quite like talking about how much you’re losing, but playing the game the right way.
“I know I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but the results aren’t there,” Vigneault said Sunday after practice. “It’s probably hard for anyone to believe that I’m making sense and I’m saying the truth, but I do believe we are trending the right way.
“Sometimes you go through some of these stretches that are challenging for your team and for the character of our group, and you have to respond the right way. And that’s one thing that we can control is our response. We got behind the 8-ball yesterday quite a few times but we always controlled our response, we always came back fighting and we’ve been coming back fighting this last little while. This is why I have faith in this group and I believe in this group that we’re going to come out of this, come out of this stronger, better, and we’ve got a chance to prove it tomorrow night.”
Maybe Vigneault is right and Monday against the New York Rangers—a lesser opponent to beat up on—will go swimmingly by every metric you can look up and the confidence in this squad will skyrocket because of one good showing.
Even if fans aren’t as fickle as that, one good game would go a long way.
Unfortunately for the Flyers head coach, he might not be looking at all the right stuff when it comes to his projection that this team is heading in the right direction.
In terms of expected goals, taking a step back and looking how the entire season has progressed, Philadelphia has flirted with being a bang average team so far. No incredible highs, but no depressing lows. This Flyers team is coming out with a net-zero on expected goal differential at 5-on-5—not exactly where you want to be when you have lost a bunch of games.
Even if you can point at their expected goal for percentage and scream about good process, there is a couple of glaring reasons why the Flyers were able to enjoy a ton of success earlier this season and are now paying for it with a streak of disappointment.
Percentages are a perfect drug to get you high on any team, and the Flyers took it to a new level to start their 2020-21 campaign. After going completely off the chart with their shooting percentage through the first 15 or so matches, it has all come crashing down to average and they aren’t a team that gets enough quality chances to really bank on an average shooting percentage.
Mix in that with their save percentage falling off a cliff, and that is a perfect storm for a streak of losses for a team that does not have a clear path to getting back to their previous success.
From most angles, it’s hard to determine that the Flyers are trending in any way but mediocrity. Hovering around the playoff bubble until they go on another percentage-driven streak coming from their shooters or their goaltenders.
They are a completely average team that sometimes gets some streaks going because they have talent that can do exactly that. While other teams are built on a foundation of depth and has consistent shooting percentages because of that, the Flyers have players that can certainly drive their own percentages to be above-average—Kevin Hayes has always been an above-average shooting talent through his career—but when they get in a slight slump and come crashing down to the mean, the team struggles to survive.
I’m not qualified enough to come up with a solution—and if I did it would be just as good as any faceless Twitter egg in Charlie O’Connor’s replies—but there is nothing that feels real with any success this team is awarded. Falling ass backwards into wins and shrugging with a frown when they lose: the 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers.