Last night was a wrap on the Flyers’ third back-to-back game, and given how mightily they’ve struggled in the second games of those first two, last night’s game went just about as well as expected.
The Flyers came into Toronto and, while they brought a bit of jump initially, things started to fall apart for them pretty quickly. Their early scoring lead was turned into a 2-1 edge for the Leafs by the first intermission, and once the Leafs were able to get themselves back into this one, the Flyers didn’t stand much of a chance in stealing momentum back.
All told, this one ended in a 5-2 score, and the disparity in chances generated was one again really jarring—the Leafs took the edge in shot attempts 61-29 and 33-12 in scoring chances at 5-on-5 (and that goes to 78-41 and 43-21 respectively in all situations). They rarely looked like pure fatigue was the thing doing them in—credits to them for still having their legs, we suppose, for still battling until the end—but they looked a bit lost in their game plan, scattered in the plays they were trying to make. This one was messy, turnover filled, and lacking in a whole lot of flow at times, and that shot disparity does pretty well match what the eye tells us was unfolding.
In short: in a season when the team has been stringing together wins by the skin of their teeth, this is one of their uglier showings, still. Tortorella said after the time they got embarrassed in the back half of a back-to-back that they need to sort this out, have to learn how to play in back-to-back, and it seems that’s still a work in progress. He said post-game that he liked the team’s effort level, mostly, but effort couldn’t win this one for them. It’s a step, to be sure, but the team’s overall flawed play has been bound to catch up with them, and catch up with them it did last night. Learning to play in back-to-backs is a bit vague and amorphous, but one wonders if that’s the chicken or the egg, how much the back-to-back will improve once they can just figure out how to stop giving up 35 shots against on a nightly basis.
Bits and bobs
Felix Sandstrom still looking for win one
Sandstrom came into last night’s game still looking for his first NHL win and with a difficult task in front of him—what should be a pretty high-powered Leafs team that’s starting to get desperate after a difficult stretch of games versus a Flyers defense that is just hemorrhaging shots against—and he’s going to have to look a little longer. Credit to him, outside of a couple of dodgy moments, Sandstrom largely help up well against the barrage of chances he was facing. It’s hard to look at an .886 save percentage and say “hey that’s pretty good!” but he did just about as well as we might have expected. The Leafs threw 44 shots at him, that’s a tough thing for anyone to deal with, much less a backup goaltender not get terribly regular reps. There are a couple of those goals last night that we could hand wave at and say that Sandstrom probably wants back, but it’s hard to hang this loss on him.
The power play falls flat
Contributing to the messy feel and lack of flow from this game was, of course, all of the penalties taken. And this, in theory, should have worked in the Flyers’ favor, helping them get back into this game, as they had a whopping six power plays to work with in this one. And they did get one power play goal, care of Owen Tippett, who seems to be getting rolling nicely.
That was, unfortunately, the end of the highlight reel for the Flyers’ power play. They went one-for-six on the night, and in the 10:27 on the man-advantage, they managed just 12 shot attempts, seven shots on goal, and two high danger chances, all while still allowing two shots against. The Flyers were able to show some flashes of good puck movement and get the Leafs penalty killers running around a bit, but they weren’t able to turn that into a funneling of shot towards the net, or much in the way of dangerous chances. There aren’t many times when you're going to be handed six power plays in a single game, and the team’s inability to get more out of all of those chances was tough to see.
Inflection point, anyone?
Throughout a season, we can highlight certain moments, even as we’re in them, as being possible pivot points for the team, and this feels like one of them. The Flyers were frustrated last night, that much was clear. We had stick slamming, swearing picked up on hot mics, and a bit of aggitiating and tussling as the clock was winding down. And some of this jam, if you will, was enough to win the team favor with their coach—frustration, at the very least, means you care and are trying—but it didn’t do them much aid in generating offense, which was more sorely needed. So what good, then, does this frustration do?
That’s a larger conversation than we have time for today, but what we’re getting at is a question of what comes next. How can the team take this frustration and channel it into something a bit more productive than a bit of shoving and jawing that just gets you flying tackled by Mark Giordano? Can this be a jumping off point to both build a bit more resilience, as well as learn some lessons about what does and does not work in games, how to help themselves and how to take advantage of chances handed to them by a team that could have been caught tripping over themselves a bit. If we were to overly narrativize this, it would be a prime opportunity for the team to have a moment of insight and get things trending in another, more positive direction. But we’ll see how things shake out.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.