Flyers 5: Takeaways from Tuesday’s Flyers-Lightning Game
Things are starting to get ugly for the Philadelphia Flyers. The offense has completely dried up, resulting in what is now three shutout losses in the last 11 games. They have a total of 20 goals over their last 12, an average of 1.67 per game.
Their injuries seem to be catching up to them. First Ryan Ellis and now Kevin Hayes returning for at most a couple of games only to be out long-term again is becoming too much for the Flyers and their lack of depth to overcome.
Their style is becoming completely stale and boring in all the wrong ways. There’s no push or energy. There’s no driving the play and creating offensively. It’s always survival mode and pray that the goaltending holds up. Now in the last five games, the Flyers have allowed 18 goals.
Rather than break down the game itself, perhaps it’s better to do something a little different with these takeaways. Instead of looking closer at the lackluster 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, instead let’s revisit Scott Hartnell’s comments on NHL Network from Monday night. I further elaborated on this in my appearance on GameNight on 97.3 ESPN on Tuesday prior to the game, but it’s worth diving in deeper.
1. “It’s a soft team.”
Last season, using the word “soft” to describe the Flyers referred more to their lack of physical play and willingness to stand up for one another. That’s not near as much of a problem this season. So maybe “soft” isn’t exactly the word Hartnell was going for here.
Where he’s right is that the Flyers don’t do any of the dirty work needed to be a successful team.
That is most noticeable on the offense. If you want a reason the offense completely dried up, it’s the lack of traffic in high-danger areas. There are no players in the slot available for a quick pass. There are no netfront screens or traffic waiting to take the goalies eyes or pick up a rebound.
The entire offensive push revolves around the dump and chase method. When a team is working hard and getting to work in the dirty areas, this can be a method that works. In the Flyers case, there’s very little of that. They dump the puck into the zone and basically hope for one of two things, either that the next teammate is the one going in to win the battle or that a mistake will be made by the opposition. Both have been rarities of late, and it leads to a bunch of one-and-done entries (if that), and no sustained offensive pressure whatsoever.
At the other end of the ice, the strategy to beat the Flyers has become simple. If you can get the puck behind the defense and into the corners or behind the net and win a battle, you can get possession and thus build up some sustained zone time. The Flyers tend to do one half of the process needed to exit the zone. If they win the puck battle, they fail to make the breakout pass or successful clear. Or they may not get to that step and just lose the battle.
Ultimately, it lets teams like Tampa Bay simply wear them down throughout the course of a game. The constant push becomes tiring to a defensive core. The wall essentially collapses. The ongoing battle drains the team of any energy it has.
2. “I think the Flyers want to play an easy game.”
In the first few games of the season, the Flyers were often beneficiaries of their opponents’ mistakes. That’s how the Flyers managed 23 goals in the first five games of the season. Many of them came in transition. Many came off turnovers. That continues to be the case even now, catching the opposition in a mistake has been the only way the Flyers have scored.
The problem with wanting a lot of the game to eventually come to you is that the Flyers have played an incredibly difficult schedule. The Top 8 teams in the league right now include the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flyers have faced seven of the eight with only the Rangers still to go. That will come next Wednesday in the first game of December. They also face Florida and Carolina later this week. By the time the team plays next Wednesday in their 23rd game of the season, they will have played 12 games against the Top 8 in the league. Nine of their previous 13 games will also be against that group.
That’s not easy to do while you spend a portion of that schedule waiting for players like Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis to get healthy and return, only to have them go right back on the injured list for weeks-long recoveries in a matter of days. So if you’re looking for an easy game, a quick look at the schedule shows you how unrealistic that is.
3. “The power play for the Flyers has been absolutely awful.”
There’s not really much else to say on this one. The Flyers only got one power play in Tampa on Tuesday, so the numbers don’t change much. They are 4-for-40 in the last 12 games.
It’s less in the numbers and more in the process. They get nothing going. They generate no offense. They barely get into the zone. The result is not just two minutes going by the wayside to score. It’s a complete momentum changer that allows the opposition to build more confidence.
4. “The only thing saving their season thus far is Carter Hart.”
Again, there’s not much more to say on this one. Add in Martin Jones, who in his own right has helped essentially steal three games, and the Flyers are lucky to have the eight wins they do on the backs of their netminders.
Sure, in the first few games of the season, they scored enough goals to make their wins not so reliant on goaltending. Hart was stellar in the first 10 minutes of the 6-1 win over Seattle before the Flyers came to life and blew the doors off the expansion team. But four of the Flyers’ five wins in the last 12 games have come by the exact same score: 2-1. Only the Flyers 3-0 shutout win over Arizona, which was way more of a challenge than it needed to be, is the outlier.
It’s great to see Carter Hart performing at the standards that everyone knows he holds for himself and at the expectations everyone has for him. It will win the Flyers games, even this season. But the Flyers can’t lean on goaltending the entire season and expect to be in any sort of competition in the standings. There needs to be balance across the lineup, and right now, Hart and Jones are the only things keeping the Flyers afloat.
5. “I don’t know if you can change anything up right now.”
This is the harsh reality. Not only are the Flyers without Hayes and Ellis for the long-term, but Derick Brassard also went down with an injury in Tuesday’s game. This could leave the Flyers without their second-line center, their replacement second-line center, and a top-pairing defenseman.
The Flyers can try to fill the void with Morgan Frost coming into the lineup in place of Brassard. That makes all the sense in the world. But Frost isn’t going to magically change the Flyers’ fate on his own.
There’s no real solution to any of this. You can look at the Flyers roster and say they lack a pure goal-scorer who takes over a game. That may be true, but they don’t exactly grow on tree of magically appear. The roster is what it is, and you’re not finding that player in late November.
Similarly, you can only go so far with your third pairing being Keith Yandle and Nick Seeler and you can only go so far with Brassard trying to fill the Hayes’ void at this stage of his career. There isn’t much in the way of improving the defense outside of making a trade or trying to find another waiver wire claim, and that would be more in the way of a Nick Seeler type, not a replacement for Ellis. At forward, you don’t just magically get a Top 6 forward either. At best, you maybe try to acquire some additional depth so you are not so thin down the middle.
Even then, the reality check is already setting in. The Flyers are giving you performances that are reminiscent of last season, and as much as the coach doesn’t want to talk about it, well, his job may end up on the line if it continues.
Remember those t-shirts that read “something to prove?” Well, the Flyers are proving that they don’t have the organizational depth to overcome these injuries. The team on the opposite side of the ice was missing two Top 10 forwards in the league and still beat you to a pulp. The Flyers wouldn’t have a prayer of doing that to a team without their full lineup healthy.
The Flyers are proving that this roster is not equipped to get the job done. Maybe that has to do with the system, maybe that’s talent, but if they wanted to avoid another purge, things needed to improve. For everyone’s sake, it had better start on Wednesday, because this is going to become an ugly season quickly, and it’s only Thanksgiving.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.