Flyers 5: Takeaways from Thursday’s Flyers-Penguins Game
Just because the Pittsburgh Penguins were playing without the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Bryan Rust, it certainly didn’t mean this game was going to be a walk in the park. That was evident just 16 seconds into the game when the Penguins were quickly on the board.
If not for excellent goaltending again, the Flyers would not have been in position to win this game. They would certainly have not gained a point in the standings, which could certainly prove valuable later.
Despite that, it is hardly a moral victory for the Flyers. Another sloppy game is showing a troubling trend as a difficult month is just getting started.
Here are five takeaways from the Flyers 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins.
1. Caught Napping to Start
It took just 16 seconds for the Penguins to get on the board. That was the result of a complete lapse in coverage by the Flyers.
You really can point out just about anyone on the ice on this one. Claude Giroux follows the puck behind the net and thus takes himself out of the play. Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny read the puck rolling along the boards as if it is a breakout, and turn up ice. Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen both look out of position and completely caught off guard.
All of this allows Brock McGinn to have a clean path to the net and park himself right in front of the crease, which turns a relatively harmless shot by Mike Matheson into an easy deflection for the goal.
This turns out to be the only goal of the first period, and the Flyers eventually overtook the Penguins for a sizable advantage in shots, but it set the tone early that the Flyers were facing an uphill battle and behind the 8-ball from the beginning.
2. Fighting a Losing Battle
One of the endearing qualities about the Flyers in several early games was a work ethic that simply would not be denied. If you wonder how the Flyers managed four goals in the season opener and six each in the next two games, it’s because they challenged the opposition with relentless forechecking, played an aggressive defensive style, and used transitions as opportunities to get quality chances.
Unlike the game in Calgary last Saturday, this was not a lack of effort or a team taking away all of the time and space. There was a greater desperation on the part of the Penguins, and it showed in many battles.
There were too many corner battles where the Flyers were out-numbered. There were too many times where winning a board battle or giving a little more effort would have prolonged a shift in the offensive zone. It led to several shifts that stayed in the Flyers’ zone.
This is perhaps most noticeable in the performance of the FAB line, which has been a fading line of late. It would be one thing if that line cooled off offensively but was still generating chances. They haven’t even been getting offensive-zone time of late.
It also didn’t help that the Flyers really struggled to connect on passes. There were easy opportunities to create transition rushes or move the puck out of the zone cleanly where a pass was just off the mark or led to a turnover. That lack of execution can be the difference in games that are going to be close, especially within the division.
Perhaps it’s a sign that the Flyers have reached the end of the rope with a player like Derick Brassard filling in at second-line center and need Kevin Hayes back in the lineup as soon as possible. Maybe it’s a sign that all of the lines are getting a bit stale of late, though the third line generated the most chances and the fourth line has had more noticeable moments in the last couple of games than the aforementioned second line. Even a subtle change at the top like moving Cam Atkinson up and Konecny down could spark something in the meantime while waiting for Hayes to return.
One game in Calgary where things didn’t go the Flyers’ way was no reason to throw everything out the window right away. The last three games have been a struggle though, and perhaps that could lead to some changes.
3. Hart Steals a Point
It’s fair to wonder how any of the last three games would have gone without the play of Carter Hart. Hart kept the Flyers in the game in Calgary for most of the game until a second power-play goal seemingly put it away. Hart was also the difference early in the game against Arizona on Tuesday, before the Flyers finally broke through and he preserved the shutout win.
In this game, Hart stole a point for the Flyers. As much as the end result is an unfortunate way to end this game from Hart’s standpoint, the rest of the team really didn’t deserve to be in that spot. Hart was sensational, making numerous key saves and keeping the Flyers within striking distance for the tying goal.
It’s still early enough in the season that gaining a single point out of these games can prove crucial. Consider the Flyers and Hart even. The late comeback against Vancouver in the season opener gave the Flyers a point in a game where Hart wasn’t his best. In the last three games, Hart’s been perhaps the best he has been all season.
4. Laughton’s Late Goal
The Flyers don’t get that important point in the standings if not for a heads-up play off a turnover by the Penguins.
Matheson coughs up the puck behind the net, and James van Riemsdyk is ready to grab it behind the net. He centers back into the slot and the pass eludes Oskar Lindblom, who continues to drive the net and bodies a Penguins defender. That allows the puck to reach Scott Laughton, who fired one home to even the score at two with just 2:52.
Laughton’s line had come close to scoring multiple times over the last few games. They did cash in for a goal late in Tuesday’s game, but that was much more of a flukey goal with Arizona trying to pull the goal in the final few minutes of a one-goal game. This was an earned goal for the quality of chances they were creating of late.
5. A Disappointing, but Deserved, Finish
It was certainly a strange ending in overtime. Both teams had chances early, as Hart stopped Jake Guentzel and Tristan Jarry stopped Atkinson. Then came the eventual winner.
It’s actually another broken play, as Kris Letang attempts a pass that hits the skate of Joel Farabee and bounces behind the net. Ristolainen is tied up with Jeff Carter, who started the rush with possession. Letang continues behind the net and picks up the puck, now with a clear path to attempt the wraparound.
In the moment, it looks like Hart is able to sprawl across and make the save hugging the post. But the replay shows that Hart’s pad is not sealing the post completely, and the puck rolls along Hart’s pad and drifts toward the goal line, eventually disappearing beyond the left post. It may have crossed the line by a centimeter, but it crossed the line nonetheless, giving the Penguins the win.
As much as the end was disappointing for the Flyers, it was deserved in the end. There were too many high-danger chances allowed, too many times the Flyers leaned on Hart for big saves to keep them in the game. Against a depleted team like the Penguins, without two star players and several other role players, it wasn’t close to good enough.
After the game in Calgary that closed the Western Canada trip, it was simply the first clunker in seven games on the season. That’s hardly a time to panic when you have only lost two games in regulation and picked up strong wins in Edmonton and Vancouver earlier in the week.
The Flyers may be 1-1-1 over their last three games, but the process has been troubling to say the least. It may be that things are wearing thin without Hayes up front and Ryan Ellis on the back end, but whatever the reason, the Flyers need to regroup and come back with a similar effort to what was on display in the first two weeks of the season on Saturday in Washington.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.