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What we learned from the Flyers’ disappointing series split against the Sabres

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Some observations for your morning....

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Well, here we are again. Another series, another split for the Flyers, and another pretty lopsided split, at that. The Flyers closed out their two game series against the Sabres last night, and after coming back to win Monday’s game 4-3, dropped last night’s 6-1 to end the Sabres’ winless streak at 18 games, and really, that last bit kind of says it all. It was another disappointing response to a win, and the Flyers are right back where they started, looking for answers and struggling to find any. And what are we to take from these two games? Well, let’s talk about it.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

Three numbers of note

52.56 CF% at 5-on-5

Dipping first into some of the shot impacts from these two games, we see that, on the whole, they really aren’t too bad. Between these two games, the Flyers put up an adjusted 52.56 CF% and 50.10 xGF% at 5-on-5, so they came away with a relatively comfortable edge in both of those metrics.

The trouble, of course, was that they also came out of this with 30 GF% at 5-on-5, so that edge in shot attempts and expected goals didn’t translate into a whole lot of tangible offense for the Flyers. Indeed, they struggled to generate truly very dangerous chances in bulk, as they totaled just 14 high danger chances between the two games (while giving up 21), and didn’t really have themselves in the best position to really test the Sabres goaltenders. Especially in last night’s game, perhaps what they were giving up was more telling than what they were generating, but all the same, they weren’t generating much.

.848 save percentage

And since we mentioned what the Flyers were giving up, well, that was a lot of goals. All told, the Flyers’ goalies faced 59 shots against across all situations in the two games, and gave up nine goals against, which leads to a less than stellar overall save percentage. It wasn’t an easy task that either Brian Elliott or Alex Lyon faced, that’s for certain, as they faced a total of 40 scoring chances and 23 high danger chances.

It’s hard to look at either goalie from these two games and say “he played really poorly and that’s the reason the Flyers lost,” that just isn’t the case. Elliott was fine enough on the whole (and with the couple of flukey goals the Sabres scored last night, it’s hard to be too fussed at him for those either), and Lyon came in cold last night and did probably even better than expected for a goalie who’s only played about three games since this time last year. Under circumstances where the team in front was playing better and being sharper in their defensive details, the performances from these two, while not perfect, would have been enough to pull the team to a couple of wins. But the bad’s compounding the bad right now, as we well know, so the result comes out a little differently.

2 shorthanded goals against

It was, in short, a tough pair of games for the Flyers on the man advantage. They struggled to get a whole lot going in terms of chances, as, in their 10:03 of time on the power play, they managed to generate 19 shot attempts, but only turned seven into shots, and four into high danger chances, and this had them looking, once again, a little lackluster.

And perhaps pouring salt in the wound was the fact that the third period of last night’s game saw them allow two shorthanded goals, both for Brandon Montour, both on the same power play, effectively icing the game and putting their already dwindling chances of tying things up pretty well out of reach. The first is what it is, the Flyers had pulled Lyon to get themselves an extra attacker, and Montour scored the empty netter, but then to immediately right after the next faceoff take the puck down ice and get one past Lyon, that one was tough (and that really just is how things are going right now).

Two loose observations

1. A nitpick on benching

One of the bigger narrative pieces to come out of Monday’s game was the fact that all of Joel Farabee, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick were benched for the final six or so minutes of the second period and then the whole of the third period (and then Lindblom and Patrick saw themselves scratched for last night’s game, of course).

And there’s a lot to break down there. In a vacuum, were those benching a bad thing? Not necessarily. They were all having pretty poor games, so to single them out and roll with the guys who were playing together makes sense. Was it a good idea to keep Farabee and Patrick benched and pulled off the power play when they got those chances while still trying to tie the game? Probably less of a fine idea.

Perhaps more than anything else, it raises the alarm antennas, as it were, with regards to the fatigue and workload management conversation. If we’re at a point in the season when the Flyers have to give players a night off to rest (which was presumably the case with Lindblom and Patrick last night), if it’s all about being smart about managing work and energy, is it beneficial to play close to a period and a half with just nine forwards? There isn’t really an easy answer here, but from a distance, it was a choice the seemed a bit curious.

2. This shouldn’t have happened

The Flyers came out of this series with a split, and on the surface, that feels like not an absolutely terrible outcome. The way the loss came certainly sours the feelings we’re coming away with, but perhaps no more than our feelings about how the win happened, as well.

The Flyers really had just about nothing going for them in the first two periods of Monday’s game—they didn’t seem to have their legs under them, their details weren’t precise, and the Sabres ran right through them as a result, and that’s how they got themselves into the position to need to mount a comeback. Them pulling things together for the third was a welcome sight, and with the help of the Sabres just crumbling right before our very eyes, they were able to build something and pul off that comeback to tie the game and force overtime.

But, if we’re being honest, the Flyers shouldn’t have gotten into that position in the first place. This Sabres team has been struggling this season, that’s undeniable, but they’ve also given the Flyers a lot of trouble this season, too. This isn’t a team they can take lightly, and maybe they did, maybe they just didn’t have their legs for whatever season, but not showing up for the first two periods isn’t the way to continue to build momentum after a hard fought win. If the Sabres had played Monday’s third period more like last night’s the Flyers likely wouldn’t have stood a chance. The narrative of this series looks a little different because it ended up being a split, but it’s hard to feel good about the win, because, well, they don’t totally deserve it.

The big picture

We knew this was coming, right? This month was, to be brief, very bad and extremely cursed. Even though the Flyers managed a comeback on Monday, the most fitting end to this awful month was a brutal loss to the Sabres to help snap their historic winless streak. It all just felt a little too predictable.

So where do we go from here? The Flyers have a tough week ahead of them, with two games against the Islanders and three against the Bruins coming up. If there were ever some gimme games to be found this season, these past two were it and we saw how that went. The Flyers haven't moved towards trending in the right direction, and things are just going to get more difficult here, and there’s the potential for things to get, if it’s even possible, even uglier. There’s the hope that a new month can bring a new start, but it isn't as simple as turning the calendar page, snapping one’s fingers, and having all of the team’s problems fixed. There’s a lot of work left to be done here. There’s likely no getting back into the playoff mix, that possibility is rapidly slipping away, but there is still a chance for this team to salvage something, even if it’s just their own pride.