Flyers 5: Takeaways from Sunday’s Flyers-Devils Game
It’s been a little while since I’ve done a takeaways article. Following last Wednesday’s game against the Florida Panthers, it seemed logical to take the next day off for Thanksgiving and spare people the same routine of trying to explain what plagued the Flyers in a losing effort. Better to take a step back, relax, and enjoy the more important things in life.
When Friday’s game rolled around, I was back at Wells Fargo Center, but after another disappointing and frustrating display, spent time with family and had a wedding to attend on Saturday morning.
I’d like to be writing this takeaways article some three games following my last to tell you that something is different, that something has changed, that there is a sign that the Flyers are turning the corner and everything will be fine. That’s what I would like to do. After all, that’s the purpose of sports, to be competitive and find ways to win. In the Flyers case, everything is the opposite, and it has them at a crucial crossroads.
On one hand, the Flyers are far from the same team as a season ago. They made player changes. They rearranged the way the lineup should look. But when you take away players like Kevin Hayes, Ryan Ellis, and even someone like Wade Allison – who figured to be a possibility for the opening night roster – you really can’t get a read on a team’s full potential without their full health.
The problem with that is that this is hockey and this is the NHL. There isn’t a single team out there that doesn’t encounter some form of adversity through injuries or absences or just downright dismal play at some point. It’s how they overcome it that shows a team’s true colors.
I was on GameNight on 97.3 ESPN on Nov. 2, prior to the Flyers meeting with the Arizona Coyotes to open the month. I said then that by Thanksgiving, we should have a grasp on what this team is and what their potential could be. A 4-6-3 month of November, capped off by a six-game losing streak, says a lot. The Flyers have spiraled out of control.
There’s really no end in sight for their losing trend, not without some serious adjustments. That was fully evident in the most recent defeat, a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game.
1. “I can’t live through another year like last year.”
I’m starting these takeaways not with something from Sunday’s game, but with a quote from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher from Aug. 26, the day the team signed Sean Couturier to an eight-year extension. Fletcher had expressed his goal from such an active offseason.
“The goal was pretty straight-forward, just to get better. I can’t live through another year like last year. It took years off my life and everybody else’s. It’s not worth it,” Fletcher said. “We’re in this business to be competitive and try to win and that’s our goal, but certainly you want to make a statement about your organization, that you’re going to do what it takes to win and that you want good players to want to play here.”
That was exactly three months prior to the Flyers’ 6-3 loss on Black Friday to the Carolina Hurricanes, a game that didn’t showcase any sign of being competitive, even when the Flyers did have the lead for a few brief moments throughout the first period. Now, three months later, it’s fair to wonder just how far the Flyers will go to make that statement of doing what it takes to win.
A six-game losing streak and 4-6-3 month is moving in the wrong direction. In an 82-game season, yes, you have a lot more time than in the 56-game slate the Flyers played last season, but you can’t afford to literally light an entire 10-game stretch on fire and hope to make it out of that. The Flyers are heading in that direction.
It’s not even that the Flyers are just losing games. They aren’t even competitive. Games are now starting to get out of hand at the rate they did last season. So three months after Chuck Fletcher said he couldn’t live through another year like last year, the Flyers are delivering such performances again.
Those words at the close of the offseason were refreshing to Flyers fans. It showed a responsibility on the part of the entire organization to commit to improving the team by any means necessary. It was essentially a completely remodeled roster. But if it doesn’t produce results or competitive games, were all those changes really any change at all? It’s starting to look that way more and more.
2. “We spend too much time in our own zone.”
Scott Laughton said this following the game, and the numbers back it up. Take a look at how lopsided these categories were against the Flyers.
At 5-on-5, the results were:
- Shot attempts: Devils 60, Flyers 46
- Scoring chances: Devils 29, Flyers 20
- High-danger scoring chances: Devils 18, Flyers 4
The Flyers don’t just spend a lot of time in their own zone, they give up a ton of chances. It’s not even close, the quality of shots and opportunities the opposition gets on a nightly basis.
A big reason for this is just how much time the Flyers spend in their zone. You start chasing the play, and as a result, you tire out. We can spend days talking about missed assignments or blown defensive coverage, but at the end of the day, the reasoning behind such things is that after spending so much time in your own zone, it becomes impossible to avoid breakdowns from pure fatigue.
That’s the Flyers biggest problem right now. If you want to know why they have to rely on goaltending for any result, it’s because when you give up this much in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances, you will need a few high-quality saves from your goaltender.
3. Old Habits Resurfacing
Another troubling sign from the last several games is the number of times the Flyers have resorted back to the bad habits and issues they had from a season ago.
The puck management has been brutal. Just watch the turnovers by Rasmus Ristolainen and Ivan Provorov that led directly to goals to see that. The defensive coverage is disjointed. Just look at the utter chaos on New Jersey’s fourth goal to see that. The goaltending has been the biggest difference, but eventually, the dam breaks and the flood gates open. That’s starting to happen with more regularity, now that the Flyers have allowed four goals or more in four of the last five games.
There’s really no sign of anything getting better. The power play is as dreadful as ever, now mired in a 4-for-50 drought. The penalty kill is nearly outscoring them, with a pair of shorthanded goals in the last two games. Their five-on-five play is virtually non-existent, and so much of it has to do with how much they can’t get out of their own way.
4. Clock is Ticking?
It feels like something is going to have to give sooner or later. It usually does when a team goes through struggles like this. Most frequently, it is the coach that takes it on the chin and pays for the team’s shortcomings.
In some cases, that’s not always the fair way to address a team’s woes. In this case, it may not do much to change the product on the ice, but it also doesn’t mean that Alain Vigneault and company are free from fault. Far from it, in fact.
In the offseason, the changes made by the Flyers were a joint effort. The players they acquired were seemingly calculated, noted by the number of previous Vigneault connections. If this was an effort to build a roster that molded well to the style the coaching staff wanted, it is failing miserably.
You can certainly look at the number of injuries the Flyers have dealt with and try to absorb some of the blame. It is unfortunate that the Flyers are down a top-pairing defenseman and second-line center and that those players cannot be easily replaced midseason. That said, there has really been no sign of adjustments.
You can try to change the lineup. You can try to call up a different player. It’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. There needs to be a stylistic change, not that same old dump-and-chase method that has been very easy to defend and leads to more defending in the Flyers zone.
This losing streak is the kind of stretch that eventually leads to a significant change. But the Flyers may also sit back and try to avoid hitting the panic button, citing the injuries and challenging schedule against a number of elite teams.
But it sure feels like the clock is ticking right now. How much longer can things remain status quo before a domino falls?
5. A Reminiscent Period
It is almost ironic that the Flyers are in this position right now, one where many are wondering if the coaching staff is on the hot seat or if a significant change is coming soon. It was three years ago on Friday, the same day that the Flyers lost on home ice to Carolina, 6-3, that they fired Ron Hextall as GM and started a wave of changes in the midst of another season that ultimately got away.
When you go back to November of 2018 and see the results the Flyers had leading up to that point, it was increasingly obvious that they were going in that direction. They lost four straight games going into Thanksgiving, the last being an embarrassing 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres where they trailed 4-0 after the first period. They came back on Black Friday to pick up a 4-0 win over the New York Rangers, then got embarrassed again in a 6-0 loss in Toronto the next night. The following Monday, Ron Hextall was out.
In the month that followed, the Flyers hired Fletcher as GM on Dec. 3. They posted another four-game losing streak and lost five of six immediately following Fletcher’s hiring, leading to the firing of head coach Dave Hakstol on Dec. 17. By the end of December, the Flyers were in the middle of an eight-game losing streak, their longest losing streak prior to the current six-game slide.
I bring this up not to harp on old memories that no one really wants to revisit, but to show just how similar the stretches of play and results were then to what they are now, just three years later. It sounds like a stretch that leads to similar changes. It did then, and this week sure feels a lot like that time. Whether those come or not remains to be seen, but the Flyers are well on their way to another forgotten season, just like so many over the last decade.