Well, folks. That sure was something. The Flyers closed out their back to back last night, and while they were looking to respond well to a tough overtime loss to the Islanders on Monday, the response we got was, well, a little lackluster. The Flyers dropped the first goal of the game but were quickly able to tie things up, and for a moment it looked like they might not get out of hand... but then the Flyers saw their defense falter and suddenly they were in a 4-1 hole. A push in the third period got them back within one goal, but they couldn’t finish that push to tie things up again and force overtime. And so that Flyers picked up their second loss in a row, and their seventh in their last ten games.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
By the numbers (5-on-5 edition)
The Flyers brought, on Monday, in a lot of ways a pretty solid performance, and that extended to, while not a perfect set of underlying numbers, at least some positives we could come away with. This, of course, wasn’t the case in last night’s game. The Flyers, by all counts, got pretty well dominated in terms of possession, putting up an adjusted 46.15 CF% and 44.96 xGF%. They didn’t really have an answer for the Devils—they were passive on their entry defense and let them walk pretty easily in the offensive zone, and struggled to break up a cycle consistently when the Devils got to work with that—and it burned them in the end. And because of the time spent trying to defend, of course, it lessened the amount of time they were able to spend generating offense of their own (which, in addition, wasn’t clicking very well for them either).
And this, in a lot of ways, seemed like a real problem. It became pretty clear early on that Mackenzie Blackwood was a little off last night—he was making some saves but also looking a bit scrambly doing it at times;—but the Flyers really failed to test him heavily and work to exploit that. We should give the Devils a bit of credit for their defensive work, to be sure, but the Flyers overpassed or shot wide on too many would-be great chances, did enough to beat themselves all on their own.
The power play delivers
It wasn’t a perfect showing for the Flyers’ power play, but they did find some results last night, which was a pretty distinct positive. The Flyers’ first goal of the game was from Joel Farabee on the power play, and it was kind of a weird one—he had a chance in tight and a wide open net if he could elevate the puck, instead he whiffed on the shot a bit, but somehow it still slowly squeaked through Blackwood. But hey, a goal’s a goal.
All told, the Flyers had 4:50 of time spent on the power play, and in that time put up nine scoring chances and five high danger chances. They had a few good looks, and had some flashes of really dangerous looking passing, but they weren’t able to convert on any more of them, whether that was due to a nice save on Blackwood’s part, or just another instance of the Flyers overpassing or missing the net.
We want to be optimistic that if they keep working well to set up chances like that, they’ll eventually start going on. But we’ll see what happens.
Notes on goaltending
The “not perfect, but still good” sentiment that we brought regarding the power play can also be carried over as our assessment of Carter Hart’s play last night. We know he’s been struggling for much of the season, but we’ve seen some flashes that suggest he might be (to use a tired phrase at this point) trending in the right direction, and we got some more of that last night.
All told, he stopped 28 of the 32 shots he faced, including eight of the 10 high danger shots, which is a respectable enough total. There were a couple of saves that he still made but didn’t leave us feeling great about, but on the whole it was a pretty solid showing for Hart. The goals against total might have us question that, but this really was more of an instance of his defense hanging him out to dry again, rather than Hart struggling in his timing or positioning. And if there’s momentum to be found here for Hart, that would be a distinct positive, it’s a good spot to build off of, at the very least.
Some consistency, please?
We’ve talked a lot about this in regards to the players so far this season, this need for consistency, and sure enough, it popped up as an issue again last night, as the Flyers again came out and just spent most of the game looking flat. Now, fatigue may well be a concern—they did just play five games in seven days—but it’s not as though this difficult schedule is exclusive to the Flyers. The energy wavered again, and it burned the Flyers again.
But we can’t put this all on the players, and a note from Alain Vigneault in his post-game presser really stuck out. He said that he and his staff have “talked to our players about consistency,” was sure to emphasize that those conversations were had, but it opens up the question of how much he’s doing to help them find that consistency. This was the first time since Game 2 that the Flyers dressed the same lineup in back to back games, and even in the third period, we saw the lines go into a blender in an attempt to spark something. This is, certainly, a standard coach move, but all of this flux in the lineup is a real issue for players trying to establish some chemistry with their linemates. We can’t always expect things to click immediately, and shuffling them again after a game isn’t giving them the best chance to develop that chemistry and to be productive. Consistency has been a bit of a buzz word so far this season, but it’s only fair that the ask extended beyond the players and into the coaching staff as well.
The Flyers, in short, are still struggling. It’s pretty clear that they need help, but what isn’t clear is how much, or even if they deserve it. With the defense continuing to break down so regularly, this isn’t an issue that one mid-season acquisition can come in and magically fix, and neither does it fix the issues the whole team has faced with energy and consistency. This month was going to be a real test of just what the Flyers are, and if they even deserve for Chuck Fletcher to go out and spend assets to improve the team in the now and try to push them to the playoffs, and it’s one that, quite frankly, they’ve failed. With the losses piling up and the light at the end of the tunnel nowhere in sight, it’s coming time that we acknowledge the possibility that this is a season that the team, as is, has to ride out, and then some of the larger issues will be addressed in the offseason.
Fletcher is talking to the media this afternoon, and we’ll likely get a better idea of where he’s at and what he’s planning, generally, then. But it’s time we acknowledge that we might just be in it with this group for the long haul, folks.