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What we learned from the Flyers’ 5-3 loss to the Sabres

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Some observations for your morning...

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Well, folks, that sure was something. The Flyers were riding high from their win over the Bruins on Saturday, as they cruised into this meeting with the last in the division Sabres. We know this team has given them some trouble in the past, but the Flyers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, and looked like they were going to be able to control this game well and close out the back-to-back well. This wasn’t in the cards, of course, as three goals (including the empty netter) in the last 3:03 gave the Sabres the lead and then the win, and once again things went bad for the Flyers very quickly. What else is new?

All stats via Natural Stat Trick.

By the numbers

Looking at some of the underlying numbers for this one, it may feel strange or discordant to say, given the outcome, but they weren’t bad at all. The Flyers have struggled recently to gain an edge in the share of more dangerous chances, even while dominating by overall shot attempts, but that wasn’t the case yesterday. The Flyers came out of this one with an adjusted 54.77 CF% and 52.49 xGF% at 5-on-5, getting the better of both the shot quantity and quality shares. Their offense was clicking well (59 shot attempts, 28 scoring chances, and 2.29 Expected Goals), even if they couldn’t cash in on as many chances as we might have liked, and in a vacuum, it’s hard to be too fussed about that.

They pretty well dominated in possession in this one, and on the surface that feels like a positive, and it is, but it likely also makes the end result of this loss even harder to swallow. To play well overall and then still not be able to close it out certainly hurts, and it’s hard to separate that out, to be sure.

The power play stays hot(ish)

And turning for a moment to the power play, we can take a bit of positive away here, as well. They took a bit of a step forward from Saturday’s performance, which saw them score a goal but generate, well, nothing else beyond it. Yesterday, though, was a bit more solid—they were able to maintain more zone time, and the results really spoke to that, as they were able to generate six shot attempts, four scoring chances, and three high danger chances in 4:13 of total power play time, which isn’t too shabby at all.

And then, of course, there was the goal scored.

Things certainly aren’t perfect for them right now, but the power play is getting both a little more creative and a little more luck, so things are clicking a bit more for them. Is this going to carry over into this week? Into the rest of the season? That we’ll have to wait and see.

Tanner Laczynski can hang

We’re picking out perhaps a smaller detail here, but it’s important, we promise, but more on that later. One piece that stood out from yesterday’s game that’s perhaps gotten lost in the mix, given the outcome, was that Laczynski had himself another quietly very solid game. He just barely missed out on his first NHL point when Oskar Lindblom deflected Shayne Gostisbehere’s shot (though it’s hard to complain too much about that one), brought some nice jump (including a nice shorthanded rush play), and brought solid underlying numbers, to boot, with an adjusted 50.36 CF% and 62.11 xGF%.

And there are a couple of big picture positives to be found here, as well. The Flyers have long been waiting for more of their prospects to come along and make an impact, as well as a bit of stability in the bottom-six, and Laczynski has been providing both of those things. He’s fitting in well at the NHL level, and figures to be a key depth piece of this team for next season. The stakes for this season have been lowered in some ways, and with how well he’s already playing, there seems little reason not to let him stay in, get even more acclimated to this level, and put him in a better position to succeed come next season.

The Flyers are still in one

Yesterday’s game was a real downer for a lot of reasons, but pretty chiefly among them was the way that the game really broke down for them and the rug was pulled out from under them. The Flyers were playing a solid enough game through the middle of the third period, cruising along well enough, even if they weren’t playing absolutely perfectly. A win, and a chance to pull themselves pithing two points of fourth place in the division, was well within reach.

And then they were hit by a bit of bad luck—Jeff Skinner kicked a puck into the net but it didn’t actually count as a kick because he was tied up with Claude Giroux, and that’s what created the motion, so that tied things up for the Sabres. And then they went right back down and, even with two defenders in front of the net, neither picked up Rasmus Asplund, who netted what would ultimately be the game winner. And there was no bad luck there, just a good old fashioned defensive lapse.

If nothing else, this was a reminder that, despite the bit of optimism that the win over the Bruins left us with, that this is still the same extremely cursed season. Nothing’s really changed here, and that was the season in a nutshell.

Is this it?

It goes without saying, but the Flyers really needed to be able to take care of business against the Sabres yesterday, and the fact that they weren’t able to really hurt them. Their playoff chances are theoretically still alive, but even with the Bruins imploding right now, the Flyers’ chances of getting seriously back into the mix are dwindling in a big way.

Today, as we know, is the trade deadline, and with yesterday’s pretty spectacular breakdown, it may well have killed any pretense that the Flyers might be buyers here. There are still improvements that the Flyers can make down the stretch, and it’s not as though we’re just taking our ball and going home, but now the goals are just a little different. If we see some moves made today, some pieces sold off for futures or some changes made to the mix, so be it. The focus now is turning to what can the Flyers do to fix their process and get themselves in better position to improve next season.