Well folks. Here we are. The Flyers split their series against the Rangers this week, picking up a 5-4 overtime win on Monday, and then a 9-0 loss last night. And in some ways it feels like there’s not a whole lot that we can say about that last game, but we’re going to really focus on that one because, well, the Flyers gave up nine goals and put up their single worst performance of recent memory. Yeah, we’re gonna talk about it.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Some numbers of note
2 power play goals
To kick this off with a bit of a positive before we get deep into lamenting whatever happened last night, we’ll start this with a note that the Flyers’ power play, on the whole, was pretty productive on Monday. They generated a couple of nice looks, and then picked up goals from Claude Giroux and Joel Farabee to get themselves on the board. It wasn’t the sharpest or most complete showing for the them, but it was certainly productive.
In short, the power play was something that was clicking some in that first game, so it was curious to see Shayne Gostisbehere come out of the lineup in favor of Erik Gustafsson for last night’s game. Gostisbehere didn’t have a stellar game on Monday, that’s for certain, but much of his recent value has come on the power play where the Flyers sorely needed it. It was, then, not much of a surprise that the Flyers really didn’t have much of anything going on the power play last night. And we’ll just leave that there.
50.98 CF% last night
It feels a cruel twist of fate, no? That the Flyers should put up at least one positive underlying number last night. Ordinarily, we might be able to look at that and say, “well, that’s certainly something, they got the better of the overall possession battle, and that’s something we should feel good about, right?” But that’s really not the whole story, here. What’s more telling is the Flyers’ 39.61 xGF%, the fact that they were bleeding a whole lot of high danger chances for the Rangers to work with, and really just not doing themselves any favors. Having a lot of shot attempts tends to be a good thing, but it matters significantly less if so many more of the chances you’re giving up are very dangerous, and making things much harder for your goalie and getting burned for it.
Which brings us to our next point...
18 saves for the goalies last night
Ordinarily, we might look at a score in a game like last night’s and think that the goalie or goalies just played really poorly, but that wasn’t the case for the Flyers. All told, Brian Elliott made eight saves on 13 shots faced and Carter Hart made 10 saves on 14 shots faced, which again, don’t sound like very good totals, but it was a difficult task that they were given last night. Hart’s still working out of his funk, Elliott’s workload has been a bit heavier than would be ideal on paper at his age, and both were tossed into a game when the team seemingly could not be bothered to muster a single unit of defense. Both made a handful of really nice saves last night, but that gets lost in the fact that there were so many more breakdowns in front of them that left them exposed and really not standing a chance. It feels strange really absolving the goaltenders after a game as lopsided as that one, but that’s exactly where we’re at.
9 GOALS AGAINST
We’ve talked about some numbers, but if we’re honest, this is the only one that we really care about. The Flyers let the Rangers hang nine goals on them last night, and as we said in our last section, it probably should have been even more. It wasn’t a matter of their goaltending leaving them out to dry, but rather just about the whole team somehow giving up on defense. Be it blown coverages, lost puck battles, or a slow response getting back on the forecheck leaving the Rangers with space to work with, it was just an ugly, ugly showing. And it really doesn’t feel fair to pin the blame on a single player, line, or defense pair, as the whole mix just really didn’t seem to be working. The Flyers have a chance to recover tonight in their game against the Islanders, and truly, it seems that this game couldn’t be much worse, but there’s a lot that they have to put behind them, and what feels like a pretty full mental reset to get back into a more aggressive and defensively dedicated game.
What do we do now?
That’s really the question here, isn’t it? The Flyers have been struggling recently, that’s no mystery, but this game was on a whole other level, and frankly, it was embarrassing. And there needs to be some kind of response to a game like this, there just has to be. But what do we think that’s going to look like?
By now, we probably understand that Fletcher and this management group aren't terribly reactionary, so if we’re hoping to see someone fired or traded tomorrow, we’ll likely be disappointed. But if they want to right the ship, it seems more obvious than ever that a move has to be made.
But there are a couple of competing pieces here. What we’re coming to see now is that, as much as a player like Mattias Ekholm would be a great addition and work well as something of a Matt Niskanen replacement, he wouldn’t be a cure-all. When the whole team has seemingly decided to turn off their brains and throw all semblance of defense into the wind, that’s an issue larger than one player can fix. So then it becomes about making more than one addition, or changes to the system, or waiting for an act of god that allows the team to settle back into a stronger defensive game. Which is all to say that more than one thing has to give.
And what if this just doesn’t get any better as we draw nearer to the trade deadline? This isn’t a new thought—Bob McKenzie even alluded to it during last night’s intermission show—but if the Flyers continue to underperform as we get closer and closer to the trade deadline, are the Flyers going to spend assets just to maybe, possibly, but perhaps not even make the playoffs? Doubtful.
We all certainly want answers and improvement now, but it’s more likely that these next two weeks or so are going to decide a lot in terms of what happens next. Which leaves us in what feels like quite a familiar position—waiting around for something to happen while the team underperforms and hope that they can turn things around at least some before the eventual mystery thing happens. Welcome back to 2018. Everything is right where you left it.