Flyers-Jets Observations: Some Perspective on a Trying Week
To say this has been a trying week for the Flyers is an understatement. Their three-game road trip was disastrous, three straight regulation losses to undo a lot of momentum that had been built over the last month. On the ice, the Flyers are massively shorthanded, dealing with a plethora of injuries at once. Off the ice, the team was dealt the biggest blow. One of their own is in a completely different battle that goes so far beyond the game of hockey.
What is required in these times is some perspective on everything the team is going through. In most cases, it is not an excuse. Teams go through a lot of the same things -- notably injuries -- and find ways to overcome them and be successful. At the end of the day, this is just three games on an 82-game schedule. Three games do not wipe out what the team had done over the previous 20.
So from these observations come some perspective on the on-ice trials and tribulations and the off-ice emotion that is really the team's greatest test yet.
The news of Oskar Lindblom's diagnosis with Ewing's sarcoma overshadows everything else this week. A common response you see from people on social media when a team underperforms or gets outplayed is that they need to stop being sorry for themselves and earn their money. The truth here is that we can't put ourselves in the players shoes and feel the same way they do about their teammate.
A locker room is a brotherhood, and this is certainly a very close group. When one of your own enters a fight for life, something much greater than hockey, it's impossible to not be affected by it. From an emotional standpoint, this was an unbearable week for the Flyers.
Obviously, the team has expressed that they are playing for Oskar Lindblom for the rest of this season, and the best way to do that is by winning games, but it's certainly going to take some time for the team to digest the news and get back to even the slightest sense of normalcy.
Dealing with Injuries
The timing of other injuries isn't great either. Lindblom was tied for the team lead in goals and second on the team in points. Travis Konecny is also tied for the team lead in goals and leads the way in points. Both are out at the same time.
Add in injuries to Scott Laughton and Tyler Pitlick, which happened early in Saturday's game, and you are missing four regular forwards. Now remember that Michael Raffl is also on the shelf for at least the rest of the month with a broken finger, and that's essentially two full forward lines that are out of the lineup. That's impossible to replace. You need to more or less survive that.
So far, the Flyers have not been able to, and the reason is not what you may think. You may look and think that the offense will immediately suffer as a result of five forwards missing action. Certainly the absence of Lindblom and Konecny does that, but Laughton, Raffl and Pitlick are more depth guys who aren't relied upon for offense. That said, they are all solid two-way players, not to mention Lindblom who has improved his 200-foot game immensely.
What this creates is a lot of new faces being forced into heavy defensive roles. The balance of even-strength defensive play and penalty killing is gone with these players out. It is why the Flyers suddenly allowed 11 goals over the weekend in back-to-back losses in Minnesota and Winnipeg.
Injuries are not an excuse, but when you lose this kind of depth all at the same time, you really are into survival mode. Right now, the Flyers have to find a way to survive.
Time to Step Up
Obviously, when you take a number of players out of the lineup, you need others to step up. This is a perfect time to remember how the top players on this team have not really been the leaders at any point. There have been a handful of games where Claude Giroux or Jake Voracek have stepped up and been the game-changing player, but you really need it now. You need your leadership core and veterans to be their best. It didn't happen on this road trip.
Perhaps the one silver lining was that James van Riemsdyk scored in back-to-back games. That could be a positive step for the veteran forward, who has been chained to the fourth line and finally got some more ice time.
But for the rest, including Giroux, Voracek, Kevin Hayes and Sean Couturier, you have to not only start to be more effective, but start finishing. Hayes had a pretty solid game on Sunday actually, but couldn't finish. Couturier has been held off the board for several games. Giroux and Voracek never got to the point where they take over the game. It's what you need from your best right now.
With a healthy lineup, they weren't relied on and that helped build some early results. With more and more guys out of the lineup, it's time to step up.
In each of the last two games, Joel Farabee made some questionable decisions. When he had his first fight in the NHL last Saturday, it was really a nice touch for the forward. There was a fearlessness to him, where he was willing to stand up for himself and answer the bell. Perhaps that situation also called for it.
In this Saturday's game, he took exception to a missed tripping call on Marcus Foligno and dropped the gloves. The team was already down two forwards and down in the game, 3-1. Wrong place, wrong time.
Farabee was lost for the first four minutes of the third period, leaving the Flyers with three forward lines.
The next night, Farabee was again on the scoresheet for the wrong reasons. The 19-year-old was clearly getting frustrated with his lack of production. Much like in the preseason when he was trying to earn a roster spot, he's getting plenty of opportunities, but can't seem to buy a goal. He took out his frustration on Mathieu Perreault, laying a late hit on the Winnipeg forward. He was assessed a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct. He will have a hearing on Monday and a suspension could be coming. It would make the Flyers even more shorthanded if one of their injured players can't return.
In that moment, you make it more about yourself than the team. As much as you may be frustrated and want to take those frustrations out on the opposition, you can't lose focus of the task at hand. At the time, the Flyers were generally controlling play in the second period, had scored a power-play goal and cut the lead down to one. There was a legitimate chance they could find the tying goal soon at the pace they were going. Farabee's major allowed the Jets five minutes of power-play time. They scored twice during the penalty, then added two more goals in short order to take a 2-1 game and turn it into a 6-1 game in 4:17.
The only way Farabee is coming out of the lineup is via suspension. The Flyers physically can't sit him out given the roster composition at the moment. That said, no matter what happens, this situation will be addressed by the team. Farabee can't hurt his team in this regard, and given the impact that penalty had on this game, it became the focal point of the box score.
The first thing that needs to happen is that the Flyers need to get home. Travel can make you weary. Add in the injuries and the news on Lindblom and chances are that by the time this team got halfway through Sunday's game, they were completely drained. It's not an excuse, but it happens.
For perspective, you have to look at two things. First, you can't treat the NHL schedule like other sports. A three-game losing streak in football could mean your season. A three-game losing streak in hockey brings you back to Earth a bit for sure, but it doesn't completely transform a season. Every team goes through a bit of a slump at some point for whatever reason. This is the Flyers time and they will have to work out of it.
It feels like everybody gets too caught up in comparing this year's Flyers team to last year's. When there's a losing streak, the past doesn't matter, it's the beginning of the end. This team has not fallen behind early in games or into two-goal deficits nearly as easily as last season. This team has not let games snowball out of control near as often. Until this week, the Flyers had gone six weeks without losing back-to-back games in regulation. The loss to Winnipeg is their worst margin for defeat since Oct. 29.
If something like this prolongs for another week or two, probably enough to knock them from the playoff spot they currently hold, then it may be time to worry. But for now, give this team the benefit of the doubt. They have really surprised a lot of people around the league this season and played better in Colorado and Winnipeg than the final scores showed. They could be one win away from a turnaround.