Flyers 5: Takeaways from Sunday’s Flyers-Sabres Game
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, just when you think the Flyers have stooped to the lowest level, they deliver a result in a fashion like they did on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Flyers played a first period that followed up Saturday’s win over the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon and took a 2-0 lead. In an instant, that lead was gone early in the second period.
Then, just like they did on Saturday, a third-period goal put the Flyers back in front. And with under four minutes to play, the Flyers looked like they were going to find a way to win again and that would certainly make things interesting. As much as it seems like the Flyers playoff hopes were dashed a while ago, specifically with their regulation loss to Boston on Tuesday, a win against Buffalo on Sunday afternoon would put them two points back of Boston again.
But then came the series of unfortunate events that is certainly not coincidence, but the result of self-inflicted wounds. The Flyers made multiple mistakes that allowed the Sabres to tie the game with 3:03 left in the third. The goal was reviewed and remained on the board. Then 25 seconds later, the Flyers were now trailing for the first time on Sunday.
Less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, the Flyers were left with a stunning defeat to the Buffalo Sabres, the NHL lowest team in the standings, handed a loss by lowly Buffalo for the second time in two weeks. It was the most fitting of endings for a team that has continued to get in their own way all season.
I had planned to do a takeaways of the weekend, but realistically, this is going to strictly be a takeaways from Sunday’s game, because there’s no real reason to revisit the Saturday game at this point. So here are five takeaways from the Flyers 5-3 loss to Buffalo on Sunday.
1. The Right Start
The Flyers didn’t get off to the greatest start in Sunday’s game, but they did pick up the first two goals by getting some pretty fortunate bounces.
Oskar Lindblom had the pass from Shayne Gostisbehere go off his skate and then pinball around Linus Ullmark’s equipment before going in to make it 1-0. Joel Farabee got the second goal by finding his own rebound in the crease after his initial shot hit the post.
They were two greasy goals that teams need to get in order to have success. And in this game, it appeared that the Flyers were showing that willingness to get to those areas and limiting the chances for Buffalo in the process.
Through 20 minutes, the Flyers out-shot the Sabres, 15-6, and that had them poised for a game that could possibly be in their control from the beginning.
2. Sleepy Start to the Second
In the first few minutes of the second period, it was evident that Buffalo was controlling a lot of the play. It didn’t take long for them to get the two goals needed to even things back up.
The first Buffalo goal is a set play off a face-off, and there’s a lot of problems with this one. First, that’s Jeff Skinner, a winger, who wins the draw against Sean Couturier. Skinner skates right around Couturier and gets the puck in front to Sam Reinhart, who makes quick work of the play by getting the puck to the back of the net. The whole play catches the Flyers completely off guard.
The sleepy play continued in the next 46 seconds, as Scott Laughton failed to come up with a puck along the boards with no one around him. Instead, Laughton’s lack of urgency lets Dylan Cozens get to the puck and make a play to Arttu Ruotsalainen, who fired a shot home for his first NHL goal.
You can argue that Carter Hart should have made a save here, but the lazy play by Laughton really is what allows this to happen.
That 46-second span was enough to take this game out of the Flyers control early in the second. They could have regained it shortly after, but there were three opportunities in the second period where the Flyers missed an open net. Nicolas Aube-Kubel put one right through the blue paint. Another opportunity never made it to the net despite Ullmark being down and out. Then Couturier had a chance at the side of the net that deflected off the stick of Ullmark on a desperation save attempt.
Any one of those goals would have made a huge difference.
3. Ghost Gets Flyers in Front
If there’s been a bright spot in the last couple of weeks, it’s how Shayne Gostisbehere has looked since being placed on waivers. That happened on March 30. In six games since, Gostisbehere has three goals and one assist for four points.
The three goals have each come in the last four games. He scored on Saturday on a nice tip play going to the net. On Sunday, Gostisbehere was on the receiving end of a pass from Farabee, after the young forward did some great work to win a battle and gain possession.
It’s no secret what Gostisbehere’s game is. He’s going to be a defensive liability, but when his confidence is high and the offensive production is there, he’s a valuable piece.
Gostisbehere’s 2019-20 season was an especially troubling one. He struggled to stay in the lineup due to injury and coach’s decisions and managed only 42 games. Worse than that, his production was at an all-time low, with just five goals and seven assists for 12 points.
When Gostisbehere is at his best, it’s safe to say he’s the type of defenseman who can produce about 40 points in a normal season. Look at his 2018-19 numbers, when he had nine goals and 37 points in 78 games played. This season, he’s played in 31 games and has eight goals and 15 points.
Perhaps more important than the numbers is the confidence he is showing. When he’s got the puck, he certainly feels like he can do anything, which is what gives him the most success from a production standpoint. It doesn’t take away the defensive struggles he has, but it makes him a more serviceable player when he’s able to produce as he has in the last few games.
4. The Collapse
Alain Vigneault didn’t sugarcoat this after the game. The Flyers blew it as bad as you can, against a team with just nine wins all season – now 10, and three of them against the Flyers no less.
Down to under four minutes to play in the third, the Flyers were probably about two minutes away from Buffalo pulling the goalie and making one last effort to get the game tied. An empty-net goal by the Flyers could have easily sealed the result. But before it got to that point, the Flyers made a critical mistake, one that you could just sense was going to be haunting.
Claude Giroux iced the puck with 3:11 left.
There are different kinds of icings. Sometimes, in moments of desperation, you need a clear so badly just to relieve pressure in your own zone for a few minutes. There are icings that come as the result of a mitigated risk, trying to connect on a home-run pass for example, that miss the target. Then there are the type of icings that Giroux committed in this spot.
This was not a moment when Giroux was under extreme duress. He had time to make a play to get the puck out of the zone and his control is usually pretty good in these areas. He knows how hard or soft to play the puck to get the exact distance needed so you can complete a change.
Sometimes, players use the boards and glass to aid in this. Giroux instead opted to loft the puck out of the zone and put too much behind it. It resulted in an unnecessary icing that left play to continue in the Flyers end without the benefit of a line change.
Off the next face-off, another win for Skinner this time over Giroux, the Sabres went right to work, winning the draw. A shot by Victor Olofsson leaked through Carter Hart. Skinner drove the net. Giroux did his best to prevent him from getting there. Their skates tangled and the puck went in. The goal was reviewed for a kicking motion, but Giroux took the skates of Skinner out as they both made contact with the puck. There was no kick. The goal counted.
As unfortunate as that goal was, it was still a tie game with 3:03 to play and the Flyers could win by any means necessary to get the desired result. Against Buffalo, even a win in overtime or a shootout accomplishes the goal. Only the Flyers never even got to that point. Just 25 seconds after giving up the tying goal, here came Buffalo with the winning goal amid a mess of mistakes for the Flyers.
It’s a missed clear along the boards as Couturier loses a battle and then weakly puts a backhand toward the blue line, an easy keep for Jacob Bryson. Bryson walks the line as the defensive coverage breaks down. Ivan Provorov strays from the front of the net. Justin Braun loses his man, Rasmus Asplund, as Bryson lets a shot go on goal. The rebound pops right out to the uncovered Asplund and he backhands it home.
The Flyers never recovered, and with 24 seconds left, Casey Mittelstadt iced the game with an empty-net goal to seal the result.
5. Sell, Sell, Sell
This was the Flyers last real audition before the trade deadline to try to direct the hand of GM Chuck Fletcher. Could there have been a buying move or would it be time to sell? That question was definitively answered.
The Flyers need to sell on Monday.
What they will do remains to be seen, but the Flyers cannot continue to act as if they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. They have let so many missed opportunities slip away. Sunday was the latest, because in a matter of seconds, the Flyers went from possibly being within two points of Boston to remaining four back, something that was compounded by Boston’s embarrassing loss to the Capitals later on Sunday night.
Overnight on Sunday, Buffalo handed the Flyers another blow in that department. The Flyers have no head-to-head games remaining with Boston. They have no remaining head-to-head games with Buffalo. And those two teams made a deal that sent Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to Boston for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick. Boston loaded up for the playoff push. Buffalo did what they had to do and conceded. And the Flyers were left as bystanders for now.
Boston was in a position to do something like that. Buffalo also knew what position they were in. The Flyers are really stuck in the middle. There’s a good chance nothing big will come on Monday specifically from the Flyers. The most significant changes typically wait until the offseason. There are perhaps a few small deals that could be made on deadline day.
But the Flyers would be smart to make those deals. They would be smart to start preparing for the offseason immediately, for constructing this team into what it will be next season. There’s a good chance it will feature several new parts. It has to.
After a collapse like that, you can pack it in on the final 15 games of the season. They are a mere formality at this point. Monday is the final day for the Flyers to do anything this season in charting a path to their roster for next season right now. They will play the remaining games perhaps with a few new faces along the way, but nothing of great significance in the early going. If nothing else, there may be a showcase or two for a prospect to make the jump to the NHL level.
But it’s all just part of the path to the offseason and a pretty long wait until the rest of the NHL’s playoff teams complete the run to the Stanley Cup that the real work will begin.