Flyers 5: Takeaways from Wednesday’s Flyers-Sabres Game
The Flyers took their first loss of the season in their third game of the season. It wasn’t pretty. Here were the Flyers, a team with expectations this season – expectations far beyond just making the playoffs – losing to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. And not just any loss, a game that spiraled out of control from a 1-0 deficit in the third period to a 6-1 defeat by game’s end.
Little did we know at the time that the final score of that game would be revisited, and revisited again, and revisited again. Yes, Wednesday night’s game in Buffalo was the fourth time this season the Flyers were handed a 6-1 defeat.
This one was by far the worst though, because this one helped the Buffalo Sabres, the NHL’s last-place team in the standings, snap an 18-game winless streak, a streak that was only prolonged because they blew a 3-0 lead to the Flyers on Monday night. It was a new low for the Flyers, and a fitting way to cap off a month that progressively got worse.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s Flyers-Sabres game.
1. March of Misery
Analyzing a month can often be difficult to do in short order, especially when you play as often as the Flyers did. In the 31 days of March, realistically 30 because their first game was on March 2, they played 17 games. That’s a brutal schedule for any team of any talent or experience level in any league.
That said, the Flyers finished the month with a 6-10-1 record that only tells part of the story. We’ll go through the losses in just a moment, but take a look at the six wins.
- March 4 - a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh
- March 9 - a 5-4 shootout win over Buffalo
- March 15 - a 5-4 overtime win over the Rangers
- March 18 - a 4-3 win over the Islanders
- March 27 - a 2-1 win over the Rangers
- March 29 - a 4-3 overtime win over Buffalo
That’s just the results. For one, there’s not a single convincing win in the bunch. Remember when the Flyers were playing competitive games last season, games that went to the third period tied 1-1 or where they held a slim 2-1 margin for example, and they would wear out teams in the final 20 minutes to ultimately steamroll them with 5-1 or 6-1 results? Those were wins that made you pay attention. Those were wins that showed what a good team this could be.
These six wins though almost didn’t feel like wins. Here’s why.
That 4-3 win over Pittsburgh on March 4? The Flyers trailed 3-0 just four minutes into the game, then spent the remaining 56 minutes clawing their way back for the win.
The 5-4 shootout win over Buffalo on March 9? The Flyers scored first in that game, then gave up the next three goals to fall behind 3-1 before the first period was over. They scored to cut the lead to one, then gave it back to make it 4-2. They scored once more in the second, then tied it in the third before they won in a shootout.
The 5-4 overtime win against the Rangers on March 15? The Flyers led that game 2-0 after the first, then gave back both goals and trailed 3-2 in an ugly start to the second period. The Flyers tied that game in the second, trailed again early in the third, only to tie it again and later win in overtime.
The 4-3 win over the Islanders on March 18? This was one night after another notable game, and the Flyers came out and opened up the 3-0 lead in the second period after a scoreless first. When the Islanders did score at 7:53 of the third period, it took less than seven minutes for the three-goal lead to vanish. A late regulation goal proved to be the difference in the win.
The 2-1 win over the Rangers on March 27? For a team already mired in a four-game losing streak and fresh off another notable loss, it literally took almost everything the Flyers had to win this game. It took a goal from a defenseman-turned-winger-turned-defenseman again who’s been to hell and back in his pursuit of playing in the NHL to claim victory. Maybe that’s the only one that you highlight as a feel-good win.
The 4-3 overtime win in Buffalo on March 29? This was the aforementioned Monday night game where the Flyers trailed 3-0 to a team on a 17-game winless streak and required a three-goal third-period rally to get things to overtime before winning.
So, yeah, that’s six wins that don’t do much to turn the page or drive momentum. They feel more like results of relief, the feeling that you can prolong the narrative for the team that was ultimately there the entire time.
It sure felt like that all came to a head in the final game of March.
2. Lopsided Losses
The Flyers finished March by allowing six goals in a game to the NHL’s last-place team. That brought their monthly total to 75, a new franchise record for a single month and the most allowed by any team in the NHL in a single calendar month since the 1993-94 season. In the course of 17 games, that’s an average of 4.41 goals against per night, also a new franchise record for a single month. That means that on average, the Flyers needed to score at least five goals on a nightly basis to win games.
That doesn’t cut it.
The end result on Wednesday wasn’t some new problem. 6-1 has happened before, actually with a little too much frequency.
First, get to the root of the problem, which is that the Flyers spent too many games in March playing from behind. In 17 games, there were 12 in which they trailed by two goals or more.
There were also seven games where the team lost by more than one goal. Only once did that have to do with an empty-net goal – a 5-3 loss to Washington where the Flyers had pulled to within a goal.
Forget the fact that the Flyers have lost by the same 6-1 margin four times this season. It’s now happened twice within two weeks. Also in those last two weeks were 9-0 and 8-3 losses, both to the Rangers. The Flyers aren’t just losing games, they are getting flat-out embarrassed most nights.
3. Off Nights
There’s not much sense in breaking down the reason the Flyers allowed six goals. You’ve seen and heard it all before. It’s a blown coverage. A bad bounce. Lack of a backcheck. A lost battle or turnover. It’s happened repeatedly and this game was no different.
But it does keep happening, and there comes a point in the season when you start to forget about this as a slump or a bad month and look at it as defining your season. These mistakes are the Flyers identity. They are mistake-prone, they are frustrated, and it seems to be easy to catch them on an off night.
Don’t take my word for it, take Sean Couturier’s.
“I think we each have our own responsibilities in this struggle,” Couturier said. “Everyone just needs to find a way to bring their ‘A’ game and contribute to the team's success right now. Every night we seem to have some guys on and off and it’s tough to win in this league if you have too many guys off on some nights.”
Too many guys are off on some nights. It doesn’t matter whether that means physically off or mentally or that frustration just sets in at a certain point. It’s a player problem if that’s the mentality going into games.
It screams lack of preparation. That can be a team-wide thing as well, for both players and coaches. And speaking of which...
4. Defeated Season
Alain Vigneault certainly has an unenviable job right now. Not only is he the easy target behind a lot of what happens – after all, coaches so often take the fall in these situations – but he’s also got to answer for the same errors and frustration every night.
As Vigneault spoke following this game, he sounded defeated. As a veteran head coach, a future Hall of Famer at that with a resume rivaled by few, it’s easy to understand why. He knows the road ahead when things get past the point of repair. So as he spoke, he wasn’t his usual upbeat self, which he typically can be despite losses.
“A lot of it, in my estimation, started in the offensive zone. We were a little off on our execution and gave them a couple of rush opportunities,” Vigneault said. “When they did have control in our zone, just a simple stick on puck would enable us to kill a lot of plays, to stop a lot of opportunities to get pucks at the net. We weren’t good enough there and they made us pay for it.”
Vigneault sounds like a broken record with how often he has to say they weren’t good enough. It’s not a false statement, just something that comes up all the time. It actually happened a lot in March. So what did the coach think of the previous month?
“I’m not going to analyze the whole month of March here. I feel for my team,” Vigneault said. “I know we were ready to play tonight. I know our guys wanted to play well, wanted to do the right things. For whatever reason, like I mentioned, offensively we were not where we needed to be and that led to rush opportunities and defensively we had a couple opportunities to kill some plays and we weren’t able to do it. We weren’t good enough.”
This was really where you could hear the defeat in his voice. In saying he feels for the team, it has nothing to do with how he thought they were ready to play. It’s that they wanted to play well, but even the best intentions don’t go according to plan when you simply aren’t good enough. And Vigneault is saying he feels for the team because he’s run out of options. He’s struggling to figure out what he can do to fix this himself. And he knows what lies ahead if the team doesn’t get it together.
After the very next question, Vigneault even repeated most of the previous answer.
“We get another opportunity to play. I said this a little while back, we haven’t been the same since our COVID stoppage, and I’m aware of that,” Vigneault said. “We get a couple of days here to regroup. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played and we need to take it a game at a time. I really feel for our group tonight. I know our guys were ready, they were focused. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good night for our group.”
First of all, disregard what the standings say. There are still 21 games left in the Flyers season and they have to make up three points to get back into the playoff picture. That means mathematically the Flyers are still alive until there are two games left to play. But that means nothing when you were once again embarrassed on the ice, and this time it came against the team snapping an 18-game winless streak.
Vigneault is right about the team’s play since the COVID stoppage, and while many view it as an excuse, I view it as an admission. Much like Chuck Fletcher finally said later in his press conference that the makeup of the team is not right, Vigneault finally seemed to admit what everyone else could see all along. The team hasn’t been playing well far beyond the month of March. They were simply finding a way to win more often in the month of February.
In the final game before their pause, the Flyers didn’t play well in the first period, but found a way to beat the Capitals, 7-4, on the afternoon of Feb. 7. When they returned, it more or less seemed like they were dealt a tough break, playing numerous games without half of their usual roster. But they never found that swagger they had last season. They never looked crisp or sound or even remotely fundamental. That was both before their COVID pause and after. So it’s no excuse, and that may be why Vigneault is feeling so defeated following another lackluster performance.
5. “I Don’t Know”
After Vigneault was at the microphone following the game, Travis Konecny was the first player to meet the media. His answers sure seemed to express where a majority of the Flyers locker room is at the moment.
Just look at his answer as to what the team needs to do in order to turn around their play and results.
“I don’t know. I feel like if we knew, we’d be on top of it,” Konecny said. “I don’t know. To be honest, it’s just not good enough right now from everybody.”
After a month like this, everyone is left searching for answers. There really just aren’t any to be found. Why does the team look like this? Konecny was then asked why the play in this particular game was the way it was when Vigneault said the team was ready and focused.
“I don’t know. I feel the same way,” Konecny said. “I felt like we came out pretty good. [Claude Giroux], Coots and Jake [Voracek] were pushing the pace for us and they had us going. I don’t know. I wish I could give you the answer you’re looking for.”
Me too, Travis, me too.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.