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Flyers kick off “critical” road trip with a loss

Off to a banner start.

NHL: NOV 15 Flyers at Blue Jackets Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Flyers are, in short, in a tough spot. It’s been an up and down season to date, and while it did show some positive flashes, Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Stars marked their third consecutive loss, tying them for their longest of the season, and the tension was starting to get palpable. And if last night’s game—kicking off a road trip which Ivan Provorov acknowledged before heading off could be called critical—was the team aiming to take advantage of a matchup against a struggling Blue Jackets team and get themselves back on track, well, they didn’t exactly get off on the right foot.

The Flyers started this game poorly. John Tortorella said as much in his check-in with the broadcast crew during the first period. The jump wasn’t really there and they found themselves looking a step behind for much of that first frame. And while we should give the team credit for responding to that criticism, for coming out for the second period working harder, getting more chances, and getting rewarded for them to come back and stick around, this game is a game where they really should have been able to do more. This one very nearly got away from them earlier and much worse, and against a team that lost their starting goalie mid-game and for a period of time (again) was down to playing just four defensemen.

They had some positive flashes, to be sure, but it wasn’t enough, in the end. And Tortorella again summed it up nicely after the game, what changed for them as the game went on was that “we started forechecking more. Had more energy. Found a way to lose.”

And that, it seems, is just the reality of their situation at the moment. The team does have a bit of scoring punch, and can hang around in games and even string together some wins if things are clicking and breaking their way, and there remains a good bit of potential for things to go well for them on any given night. When they’re firing on all cylinders, they can be productive, but they just don’t have the skill up and down the lineup at the moment to be able to afford to let off the gas. A team even more beat up than them was quite close to getting the better of them in regulation, and that’s a tough look.

There are improvements that can be made, this doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, reaching the end of the road and throwing one’s hands up already. But this remains their own hole to climb out of, and we’ll have to see a bit more if they want to do it.

Bits and bobs

John Tortorella got kicked in the face by a horse

We’ll get to this one right off the hop. The most interesting part of this game was that the broadcast pretty casually dropped a bit of news on us during the first period—John Tortorella got kicked in the face by a horse. This is not a metaphor. He got kicked in the face by a literal horse. And we don’t have any more details beyond that.

We almost want to just leave it there, that’s funny enough on its own. We don’t need to break it down for you, how tremendous of a metaphor that is for coaching the Flyers over the last little while here, but it really is. And it seems not even the coach is safe from whatever organizational curse that’s dropping freak injuries on everyone. Stay vigilant, folks.

Speaking of the curse...

I think I need to issue a formal apology to the Columbus Blue Jackets, because I put a note in this outline early in the game which read “did the Flyers take out any more defensemen this time?” after, as you may remember, in their last meeting, they took out three of the six defensemen who dressed for that came (two of whom, long term). And then they did not just that—Jake Bean left the game in the second period with an upper body injury after a hit from Owen Tippett, and Andrew Peeke left the bench for a bit after blocking a shot—but rose us a starting goalie, to boot. (In fairness, the Flyers didn’t injure Elvis Merzlikens intentionally, if anything it looked like he caught a rut in the ice with his skate and picked up some ailment that way, but he did also leave the game, all the same).

And we don’t really have any major analysis to offer on this one, are just here to ask: what in the world is going on here?

Heavy usage for the top pair

It is also a useful segue into this note—across all situations, Tony DeAngelo played 31 minutes on the dot, and Ivan Provorov played 25:13. And while we’re resisting the urge to get too into the weeds with overanalyzing the time on ice sheet, it is worth noting that this is a very heavy workload for these two, and pretty remarkable to see for the team that, unlike their opponent, had their full defense group to work with, was not down to just four for a good stretch of the game.

But all in all, this doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t know. The Flyers’ defense has been struggling this season, and they’re still looking for the right mix to work with. They’re leaning heavily on the top pair (and Travis Sanheim, who still got 20:40 to work with last night), and while that can help mask some of the weakness, clearly it isn’t enough to bail them out completely, and it doesn’t present as the most sustainable of models. But, until we see any more personnel shuffling, it seems this is what we’ve got.