Did, uh, did anyone watch this one? Was everyone watching the Eagles? If you were, well, you didn’t really miss a whole lot. The Flyers are still ravaged by COVID and injuries, are icing like half an AHL lineup, and in their rematch against the Sharks, once again dropped it by a 3-2 margin in overtime. On to the next!
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Okay, so right off the bat, we’ll say it: this was not a very fun game. And not just because the team that all of us are (sort of, mostly, we hope) rooting for lost, but just because.... for most of it, it felt like there was just not a whole lot happening. And some of that feeling is a little unfair, because this was categorically something of a high event game, even though it took until the third period for a goal to be scored. Across all situations, the Flyers put up 62 shot attempts and 31 shots on goal, while the Sharks put up 69 shot attempts and 47 shots on goal. So there was a whole lot of that happening, but some of the sleepy feelings likely came from the fact that both team were forced to lean a bit heavily on perimeter play—the Sharks totaled 13 high danger chances, and the Flyers just 10—so despite the raw volume of chances created on both sides, relatively speaking there weren’t a whole ton of very dangerous chances.
The point we’re getting to? This was a weird one.
An interesting night for Martin Jones
And that relatively low total of dangerous shots was probably a good thing for the Flyers, because Jones was not at his absolute best in this one. Early on, he didn’t seem to be tracking the puck as well as usual, and his lateral movement in reactions was a little slow, and while he didn’t get burned for it right off the bat, it certainly set a bit of a concerning tone for the game. He did settle in a bit as the game went on, but it still wasn’t his sharpest of showings. All told, he stopped 44 of the 47 shots he faced, and it’s hard to pin the goals against squarely on him. The first two were sort of scrambly plays where he did get beat, but he could have used a bit more help, and then the overtime goal was a shot off a two-on-one. Tough.
As we said, he wasn’t at his best in this one, but when the team in front spends the whole of the third period defending and bleeds 20 shots, well, it’s hard to be too fussed about the goaltender singularly. Jones can only do so much.
Something of an interesting wrinkle emerged on the power play last night as well, as Cam York took Keith Yandle’s spot on the top unit. And it paid off well—on top of getting the initial shot through traffic to set up James van Riemsdyk’s goal (his first NHL point!), and overall was distributing the puck well, and using his quickness to hold the puck in at the blue line to keep plays alive.
And this was an intriguing move! We know that Ivan Provorov will be back before long, and that we’ll have to pry him off the power play out of the Flyers’ cold, dead hands, but Yandle’s position here is starting to look a bit more tenuous. York’s playing more than 20 minutes a night, and that’s largely out of necessity, because regardless of how good he’s looking in those minutes (which is quite good, to be clear), the reality is that someone is going to have to play those minutes. But bumping him up to the top power play? That’s an active choice, and we can't help but feel like it might well be a warm-up for a larger role going forward. Because York’s been pretty well thrown right into the fire here, and he’s doing very well, and it’s going to be next to impossible to justify sending him back down once the team gets healthier.
After Thursday’s game, Mike Yeo was pretty direct in his criticism of the team’s compete level and resiliency in that game, but he left the door open for them to respond in the right way in this one and get themselves back on track. And, well, we sort of saw that in this one.
The Flyers did have some decent jump in the early part of this game, they were playing had and getting to a lot of loose pucks, and while it wasn't immediately translating into goals (that may speak more to the finishing talent on the team at present), it was a distinct step forward from what we saw in their last game. But then the third period rolled around, and despite the fact that they picked up the two goals, they were back on their heels a lot, gave up 20 shots and 32 attempts in the final frame, and that came back to bite them in a big way.
And, well, we’ll hand the mic back over to Yeo.
I think a lot of that stuff there was some attempt at it but I think a lot of that stuff is habits too. So, like you see in the third period when the game’s on the line and things are tense that’s when your habits come out and I thought that’s where a lot of our bad habits came out. We have to continue to build the right habits here and continue to show the benefit of doing the right things and what happens in the consequences of doing the wrong things. The self-inflicted harm that we’re doing to ourselves is something that we have to get out of our system and something we have to prevent here because you’re not gonna win hockey games. Like giving rush opportunities like we did in the third period when the game’s on the line at home and you give up 20 shots, we can’t be doing that. So much of that is you’re playing without the puck but if you’re defending all the time it’s not a good thing and so doing the right thing is executing when you have the puck. Executing the right way when you have the puck allows you to spend time in the offensive zone and we just didn’t do enough of that and it hurt us all night in our building and that’s disappointing.
So we appreciate a small step forward, but to the surprise of no one, the issues with this team run deep, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s a work in progress.
It is what it is
But all of that said, with as much as we want to see the team still competing hard and working on good habits, this really just is what it is right now. The Flyers got two players back from COVID protocol for last night in Jackson Cates and Nick Seeler, and no disrespect to them, but we can't really say that this made the team dramatically better. The Flyers didn’t play a perfect game, it wasn't as bad as Thursday, but it was still just very apparent that this is a depleted team right now. As much as they’re competing and as hard as they’re playing, they just don’t have the skill to execute on all of the plays they're trying to make, or to avoid ugly defensive breakdowns. Things are going to be ugly until they get at least a couple more players back, and while we can't bank on that being an immediate and complete fix, it does move the needle. Context is important here, and that bit’s worth remembering.