Flyers 5: Takeaways from Wednesday’s Flyers-Rangers Game
On Tuesday, when GM Chuck Fletcher met with the media, it was nothing more that a way for everybody to get a feel for the temperature in the room following a 10-game segment with a 2-6-2 record. There was some thought that it could be to announce some sort of change, perhaps a coaching change in the midst of a six-game losing streak.
On Wednesday night, the losing streak hit seven with a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers, and if Tuesday’s temperature check was lukewarm, the heat is on now for sure.
Alain Vigneault’s postgame press conference lasted about two and a half minutes. But it was his tone and clearly visible frustration that told the story. The Flyers coach and his staff may have received a vote of confidence of sorts from Fletcher just a day earlier, but the veteran bench boss knows when the ship is sinking and he becomes the first guy on the chopping block.
So today, the takeaways are molded around his brief but telling comments after yet another loss. Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s game.
1. “I’m Not Satisfied About Anything Here.”
The question that prompted this response wasn’t clearly audible on the press conference recording, but presumably had to do with a better process in terms of possession, entries, and scoring chances.
The Flyers had all of those on Wednesday. There wasn’t a question in effort or generation. They had more shot attempts at 5-on-5, generated shots on goal on the power play, and had prolonged segments where they were the better team in those departments until a late surge by the Rangers.
But when you’re locked in a seven-game losing streak with no end in sight, you don’t have time for moral victories.
“I’m not satisfied about anything here,” Vigneault said. “We have to find a way to win games here. This is serious here.”
If that sounds like some urgency in Vigneault’s comments, that’s because it almost certainly is. It’s hitting a desperate point for the Flyers. You want evidence. When was the last time you saw Vigneault call a timeout less than a minute into the third period of a game just because it allowed the top power-play unit to get a breather and stay on the ice? That type of timeout happens at the 19:16 mark of a period, not with 19:16 still to play in a two-goal game.
What it sounded like was a coach who knows his time is coming soon if they don’t find a way to win a game. Fletcher had said it the day before. First and foremost, the team just needs to find a way out of the losing streak and to win. And the longer the losing streak builds, the hotter the temperature becomes. Based on that, it’s already reaching a boil.
2. “We’re Not Scoring Right Now. We’re Not Finishing.”
For the 16th straight game, the Flyers finished with three goals or fewer scored. At this point, it’s actually easier to count the games where they have scored three than the ones they have not: three.
Morgan Frost had the lone goal of this particular game, as the scoring woes continued. In some of the previous games, there simply wasn’t even enough puck possession to generate chances. In this case, they had plenty of opportunities, not just by being able to carry the puck into the zone, but with power-play time. A lot of it.
The Flyers had nine minutes of power-play time in the game, including a five-minute power play for a charging major on Dryden Hunt early in the second period.
It doesn’t matter that the Flyers had 13 power-play shots in the game. It doesn’t matter that on some of them, Igor Shesterkin was masterful and making brilliant saves. The Flyers needed to find a way to score. Specifically on that five-minute power play, they could have found their way back into the game with a goal or two.
Instead, it was the start of another 0-for-3 night, with each opportunity coming at a critical point in the game. But much like the game itself, there’s no moral victory here for getting more pucks to the net on the man-advantage when you don’t cash in. Not during a seven-game losing streak.
3. “We’re Going to Have To Find a Way to Win Games 1-0 or 2-1.”
As Vigneault’s frustration continued to show, he said this.
“We’re going to have to find a way to win games 1-0 or 2-1,” Vigneault said. “Until we get some of that finish that I know some of these players have, but definitely right now, we’re not seeing it. We’re not executing it. We’re going to have to tighten up defensively and find a way to win 1-0 or 2-1.”
Take a moment to digest that statement. For the past month, pretty much every win the Flyers have has come by a 2-1 margin. It has been driven by outstanding goaltending. And the head coach, seeing no end in sight to this scoring drought, is looking for another win in that fashion. It’s essentially placing everything on the shoulders of Carter Hart and Martin Jones and hoping they can steal a game.
If you are watching at home or attending one of the games coming up at Wells Fargo Center, what’s the thought process when the team falls behind by allowing the first goal? What’s the confidence level going to be like on the bench or in the room when the team knows that they already face an uphill battle, both in finding ways to score and in having to play perfect defense to prevent digging a larger hole?
What that statement basically showed is that the only thing that the Flyers have gotten consistently all season is quality goaltending. They have leaned on it for many of their eight wins this season. And apparently, with no answers to everything else going wrong with the team, they are going to do it again.
With five games coming up next week in seven days, if that wall essentially breaks down from the pressure, this will certainly be a telling comment.
4. “He’s Got to Make That Play.”
The Flyers entered the second period already down 2-0 when 34 seconds into the period, they faced a 3-0 deficit. The Rangers made quick work of a failed clear by Scott Laughton, one that could have sent the Flyers the other way on an odd-man rush.
Vigneault, already frustrated from his response about needing to find a way to win and not being satisfied, was still showing his frustration as he discussed Laughton’s failed clear.
“He’s got a play that if he makes, we’re going down on a two-on-one,” Vigneault said. “He’s got to make that play. That’s a play you have to make, just like when you’re on the power play and there’s some openings and some lanes.”
The thing about that play in particular is that it already essentially put the game out of reach. No, to that point Vigneault had not specifically mentioned finding a way to win 1-0 or 2-1, but the trend of the past month already told you this would take some sort of effort to find a way on this night.
It didn’t get as out of hand as the last second period at Madison Square Garden that the Flyers entered in a 2-0 deficit – though a goal allowed in the first 34 seconds sure felt like the start of one – but it put the game out of reach enough for a team with dried-up scoring.
5. “They Have the Talent to Make It and They’ve Got to Find a Way to Make It.”
In his press conference Tuesday, Fletcher seemed to focus more on the players finding a way and wondering if it was a personnel issue. Well, Vigneault seemed to echo that, not in a sense that there’s a missing piece to the roster – which isn’t his job description anyway – but that the players he has on the roster, several for his entire tenure as Flyers head coach, have the ability to finish and score, but simply aren’t.
“There’s some plays our guys have made in the past that they have the talent to make it and they’ve got to find a way to make it,” Vigneault said.
This kind of comes back to the previous comment about finding a way to win 1-0 or 2-1 games. It’s a sense that at some point, players will be able to find a way to produce again the way they had previously to some extent, that at some point you start to create bounces or luck that favors you and leads to more offense.
That said, there was some urgency in Vigneault’s voice again about finding a way and needing to make the plays the players have made in the past as soon as possible. Vigneault almost sounds like he knows his fate is coming one way or another. He may not have more than a week. He may have the rest of the month of December. He may have the rest of the season.
But it sure feels like he knows that the lack of production, the lack of sustained offensive play, the lack of wins is weighing on the franchise and creating a lot of discussion and a lot of questions about the future. When that happens, usually somebody isn’t part of that future any longer. Considering half of the playing roster was turned over in the last few months, the seat couldn’t be hotter for Vigneault.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.