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Healthier Flyers still struggling to take care of business

So it goes.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Flyers’ steady press towards healthier status marches on, but things are still not going as smoothly for them as they would likely hope. The Flyers came into last night’s matchup against the Capitals coasting pretty well—they had just managed to beat the reigning Stanley Cup champs on Monday (and even if the Avalanche are also ravaged by injury, that was also a solid win), and they were getting James van Riemsdyk back in the lineup, which gave them the potential for a further boost in their offense. There was some potential coming into this one, and it didn’t really go to plan.

This game was, in a word, messy. And maybe that should have been the expectation coming into it, given how their last meeting with the Capitals went, but all the same, it was not pretty. They spent a lot of time looking like they were just sort of running around out there, particularly defensively. They struggling to string together too many promising looking scoring plays. The Capitals weren’t exactly playing like a well oiled machine either, but the Flyers looked outmatched for much of this game, and the underlying numbers bore out—to the tune of an adjusted 48.72 CF% and 35.61 xGF% at 5-on-5. In short: they looked much the same as they did through a lot of this difficult stretch.

Now, this is not to assume that one player coming back into the lineup would initiate some light switch flip type of reaction from the team and everything would start breaking perfectly for them again, and it’s not to get mad at van Riemsdyk for not magically making that happen. But it is a pretty immediate (at least start) to an answer to a question that came up on this week’s BSH Radio—if the team gets healthier, and particularly gets a few scoring forwards back, how much does this really improve them? How much does this move the needle?

And, on paper at least, this should give them at least a bit of a boost, even if it didn’t last night. But what this should also make abundantly clear, as if it was not already, that the issues with this team run deeper than them being short a couple of good forwards. The forward group getting a bit healthier, a bit more dynamic, does not massively help their struggling defense, nor does it automatically make them more sound in their overall system. Those things are longer term fixes, for the players chipping away (and for, hopefully, managerial intervention). Maybe there’s a step forward to be made here, but it wasn’t immediately seen last night.

Bits and bobs

The power play is rolling

Now, this wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but there are still a few positives we can highlight. First, the Flyers’ power play, which was coming into this game with a bit of momentum, was still able to find a bit of productivity. They were able to generate a good volume of chances—10 shot attempts and five scoring chances in 5:30 of power play time—and were able to convert on one of the three chances they had on the night, care of (who else?) Kevin Hayes.

And on that note, that’s now nine goals and 28 points in 27 games for Hayes, and he’s continue to keep the momentum that he’s built up rolling as well.

A note on discipline

On the flip side of that special teams coin, we also saw a good bit of the penalty kill last night, and that was not something we wanted. As beat up as they might be at the moment, that Capitals power play is still not one that you want to give a lot of looks, and the Flyers gave them four chances. And what’s worse about that is that is was four stick infractions for the Flyers, which felt in some ways an extension of that messiness that we talked about already, of them spending stretches of this game chasing.

They gave up one goal, and that felt like a bit of a miracle—in 7:30 of power play time, the Capitals were allowed to rack up 17 shot attempts and nine scoring chances, and had the Flyers running around in their own end trying to defend. The Flyers shot themselves in the foot on that one, and it didn’t swing around to bit them too badly this time, but the door was certainly open.

Hart still steady

Two empty net goals by Alex Ovechkin to close this one out have the score looking a bit more lopsided, but this shouldn’t undermine the efforts Carter Hart made in this one to keep things close. Though the skaters let this one get away from them a bit, Hart did well to keep things from getting too out of hand. It was a weird game, and coming back from a 2-1 deficit with the goalie pulled and more than two minutes left felt at least somewhat manageable. The skaters ultimately could not manage it, things looked a bit abysmal for them in those last two minutes, in truth, but Hart did his part to put them in the best position.

All told, he stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced. It wasn’t the busiest night for him, and it’s a shame he wasn’t able to fully steal the team a win in what could have been a pretty winnable game (not that we blame him, of course), but it was still a solid enough effort from him. And this, considering the couple of exciting in a bad way showings he’s had relatively recently, a solid enough showing is a small comfort.