That’s a sweep, folks! After dropping their first meeting with the Sabres, they closed out the season series with a home-and-home over the weekend, and the Flyers completed the sweep, losing both of those 4-3 and 5-3 on Saturday and Sunday. Predictably, they were not very pretty games, and we’re here to put a bow on them and move right along, as the Flyers aim to avoid letting this losing streak stretch beyond the current five games.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
Two big things
Gotta keep showing up
The Flyers brought a few flashes this weekend, but overall, these were not very good games. They really did not have it on Saturday, and while they were able to hold on through the first period (and capitalize on a pair of Sabres breakdowns to jump up to a two goal lead), but a disastrous second period sank them. They were outchanced 28-5 in shot attempts and 18-4 in shots on goal, and, of course, gave up four goals in that middle frame. It was, truly, one of the worst single periods they’ve played this year. And while they did bring an improved showing yesterday—40.31 CF% and 46.16 xGF% at 5-on-5—it was still not a strong overall showing. The Flyers looked flat through longer stretches still, and didn’t look particularly threatening offensively, while giving the Sabres too much respect and space to work with. It’s the final stretch of the season and we’re all feeling it, but fizzling out like this is tough to watch, and even a team as diminished as this one should (on paper at least) be able to give a bit more trouble to an opponent like the Sabres who, while playing better of late, are still hanging out towards the bottom of the league standings.
And again, it would be understandable, given the point in the season and how this one’s played out, that motivation might be harder to come by, but Kevin Hayes was direct after last night’s game in saying that this shouldn’t be the case, “It’s the NHL. We get paid millions to show up and do our job. If you can’t find motivation, you shouldn’t be on the ice.”
At least one player says he knows how they should be going about business down the stretch here, but it’s a matter of everyone still executing on that. Six more games to go, gang.
Opportunism only gets you so far
The Flyers definitely got a bit of scoring help from some lucky bounces and gift wrapped great opportunities, and while we’re certainly not looking a gift horse in the mouth, there is something to be said about the offense coming overwhelmingly from that in the face of these overall results. The Flyers got a little lucky but that all comes in bursts and that will only carry you so far. The team disappeared for stretches in these games and let the Sabres fully take over, and that’s not a recipe for long term success, that should go without saying. Taking the opportunities you’re given and making something of them is an important bar to clear, but that can’t be all you’re doing, particularly a team like the Flyers that has a void of gamebreaking talent. They got rewarded for a couple of hardworking plays on the Cates and MacEwen goals last night, and that’s what the team needs to be doing more of, not just going away and waiting until their opponent serves them another chance on a platter. They can’t afford to be doing this.
Bits and bobs
Let’s get granular
It might feel a little unfair to hone in on just one breakdown while looking at the scope of two whole games, but this one does feel worthwhile.
This is a play, in short, that never should have happened. Even at the end of a long shift with everyone gassed, it shouldn't have happened. With a soft chip out into the neutral zone, four Flyers leave to change, leaving only Owen Tippett on the ice to try to clean up after the turnover while fresh guys are scrambling onto the ice.
It’s a bad move for all involved, but to degrees of severity—again, everyone should have been more responsible there, but you can do a bit more reasoning with Laughton, van Riemsdyk and even Attard, given that they were on that side of the ice and thought they could change quickly, it just wasn’t quick enough given where the puck got to.
The worst to see what Keith Yandle, the left side defender, crossing the ice to change and leaving a massive hole open for the Sabres to jump on. We’ll call it what it is: a lazy, checked out play. And it was particularly brutal to see from a player who's been lauded for his veteran leadership and impact on the team. Mike Yeo was hesitant to call him out after the game when asked about it (noting evenly that it was the wrong call but it’s not the only time something like that’s happened and he wouldn’t pin the whole loss on Yandle anyway), but the criticism is still deserved, even if the coach isn’t willing to blow up on him publicly. He should know better, that’s the whole reason he’s supposedly here.
Sandstrom settling in
Carter Hart’s still out, so Felix Sandstrom’s sticking around a little longer, and he’s continuing to do the best that he can with a difficult situation. The start to the game wasn’t stellar—and he agreed himself after the game, saying outright that it wasn’t up to his best standards—and he was beaten a couple of times and was caught looking a bit more like he was reacting to play more than anticipating, and things were moving a bit fast for him. But as things picked up for the Sabres offense and he started to see more shots, he actually settled in a bit more. If not for his steadier play in the third, this one well might have turned out to be a blowout.
All told, he stopped 35 of the 39 shots he faced for an .897 save percentage, which is just fine, good even, given the circumstances. It’s a tough ask to get acclimated to this level while the team in front struggles so, but Sandstrom’s taking his best run at it, and is working well to string together a good audition for management as they watch.
The penalty kill falls flat
If there was one area that really saw the Flyers struggling over the weekend, it was on the penalty kill. Of the nine goals they allowed over those two games, four of them came on the power play for the Sabres. This is one of the better power plays that they faced on the weekend—the Sabres are ranked 11th in the league at present—but it’s not as though they’re the most talented that we’ve seen all season. But the Sabres were cycling very well on their power plays, and the Flyers just didn’t seem to have an answer to that. Sure they’re dealing with some serious personnel issues right now because of injuries, but the amount of stationary play we saw was jarring, all the same. It can be hard to make big adjustments on the second game of a back-to-back, to be sure, but responding by going 0/2 against the same team last night was a tough look.
Cates on swagger
We want to close this one out by focusing on a quote, because it’s a really interesting one. The newly signed college prospects are in an interesting position in that they’ve come from teams where they were all making a good run at the NCAA championship (and winning it, if you’re Bobby Brink), and now turning up to join a Flyers team having one of their worst seasons in franchise history. And Noah Cates should know a lot about the inverse, about a winning culture, coming from a UMD program that’s had a lot of success while he’s been there, and when asked about what he sees here and how they can get closer to what his Bulldogs had, he had this to say:
It’s obviously tough, but just trying to have the energy or the swagger and what not that winning teams have, and expecting to win. When you are up or down you kinda play the same way. It is kinda hard as a younger guy to say some stuff or what not, so I am just trying to play the best I can in the time I have got. It is definitely hard as a younger guy to say something, but I think I just have to keep playing hard and chipping away. There are obviously great leaders in that room that are doing the same thing. So just trying to be on board with them and listen to them. There are so many good guys in that locker room that want to win and it is just frustrating that we are not. A little extra effort here and there will get it done.
All of this isn’t new—it’s clear confidence is lacking on this team and some fatalism has started to creep in, the expecting to win and consistency areas are certainly lacking—but it does feel noteworthy that this is already apparent to the new kids, and that the building blocks for a bit more success are technically within reach, but do still feel so far away.
And to Cates’s point about it being tough to come in and say too much, as one of the new, young guys, we hope he feels more empowered going forward to chip in some words, because he’s playing to right way, and we’re sure he has a lot to offer.