Just a Bad Loss: Seven Takeaways from Coyotes 4, Flyers 3

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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Somewhere out there, (maybe on the dark web), there is a guy who has chronicled bad losses in the history of sports.

And the encyclopedic volume for the city of Philadelphia is pretty vast, and the Flyers certainly take up their share of chapters.

And while last night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes – the previously winless Coyotes; the on-the-verge-of-historical-worst-start-in-NHL-history Coyotes; the Coyotes team starting their fourth goalie in 12 games (and who have had six on their roster already); the Coyotes team whose goalie Scott Wedgewood is a career minor leaguer with only four previous games of NHL experieince; the Coyotes team who just traded for Wedgewood and he was making his debut for Arizona; the Coyotes who employee Flyers castoffs Nick Cousins, (former draft pick) Mario Kempe, Luke Schenn and Zac Rinaldo and are coached by former Comcast analyst Rick Tocchet – wasn’t the worst loss we’ve ever seen this team take, it’s still unacceptable.

The fact that the Flyers were able to make a dramatic, last minute comeback to tie the game – scoring two goals in the final minute to force overtime – something they had only done once before in franchise history (more on that later), to somehow steal a point in a game they had no business being in based on the way they played is the only saving grace from them getting absolutely roasted on a spitfire today.

Well, that and all the era of good feelings surrounding the other Philadelphia sports teams right now, from the 7-1 Eagles (now with Jay Ajayi), to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid looking pretty damn good together, to the first images of new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler coming from a photo shoot of what I imagine the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition would look like if women were the magazine’s target audience.

So this Flyers loss is going to fly under the radar a bit in Philadelphia today, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t break it down for the faithful.

So… to the Takeaways!

1) Taking them too lightly

Not one Flyer said it. Not their coach. Not their captain. Not their alternate captain. Not their often quotable Yukon Cornelius look-alike leading scorer. Not their frustrated goalie. Not their suddenly dominant top-line center. Not even the defenseman called up to replace the other defenseman who was called up but couldn’t skate because he was injured and the big club didn’t know about it (we’ll get into that too) said it.

Nope. None of them said they might have overlooked Arizona a little bit since the team was coming into the game having lost their first 11 games of the season, matching the 1942-43 New York Rangers for futility to start a season.

Nope. Instead they just said it was one of those games where this kind of stuff happens – not that there’s an excuse for it.

But hey the whole night was like this:

“It’s gonna happen,” said Jake Voracek, who I promise you was not happy with the officiating yet again in this game. “We didn’t have a good start we got scored on two goals, we got scored on a third time, we came back again in the third period which is very good, but obviously you don’t want to be down three-nothing, it’s pretty simple. Of course we want to clean it up.”

My favorite reaction though was from Wayne Simmonds, who is playing through a lot of “nagging injuries” (I use quotes for a reason, you’ll see why when we get to the Sam Morin debacle).

The first question in his media scrum basically asked if Arizona is better than the team thought and Simmonds said:

“…We didn’t play a good game at all. It wasn’t a good first period, we gave pucks up, they capitalized, scored two goals.”

The follow-up question was about not matching the Coyotes’ level of desperation:

“There was probably a lot of desperation from them, but we didn’t play good.”

And then a third question asking if it was the way the Coyotes played that made the Flyer so disjointed:

“We didn’t play a good game, guys. We weren’t passing the puck well, we didn’t do what we want.”

Simmonds is exactly right. They didn’t play a good game. At all. The first period can only be described as atrocious. The second period they got over the hump, per se, and weren’t as bad, but they still looked pretty lethargic.

As a matter of fact, this was the first shot on goal by a Flyers forward:

https://twitter.com/CFJastrzembski/status/925153023789281280

… and it didn’t occur until nearly four minutes into the second period.

It wasn’t until the third period that the Flyers finally gave the necessary effort, and it showed, but those opening minutes were just so… well…

https://twitter.com/CFJastrzembski/status/925138594993451009

Mark Alt, who was the last-minute addition to the Flyers lineup for, well, reasons we’ll get to later, is a right-handed defenseman used to playing the right side. He was paired with Brandon Manning all night and for the most part, held his own – except on this play.

Now, to be fair, he somehow ended up on the ice with Travis Sanheim, and when Alt went to his normal right side position on this play, there was Sanheim. It left the whole left side exposed and Jordan Martinook only had to outskate Jori Lehtera – no hard feat – to the open ice for an easy goal.

Did Alt go to the wrong place? Was Sanheim on the wrong side? It doesn’t matter. There needs to be better communication on this play, and there wasn’t any. And the result was a goal against.

Then, a few minutes later, this:

What isn’t available gif-wise is earlier in the play, Sanheim lost a 50/50 battle on the wall. (Frankly, it was a game Sanheim would like to forget) that allowed the Coyotes to keep the puck in the zone. The goal, was pretty flukey. Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s shot hits Christian Dvorak’s skate blade, the puck caroms right onto Dvorak’s tape and before Brian Elliott could react it’s in the goal for a 2-0 Coyotes lead and Flyers Twitter was like:

Like I said, the Flyers started to course correct after that. Brian Elliott was playing well-enough in goal to keep them in the game. When things were going really bad for the Flyers, he made some key saves to keep the game within reach.

But it was at the start of the third period where things got worse before they got better, and Elliott didn’t help.

Actually, it started at the end of the second period when Simmonds was called for a cross-check and he wasn’t happy about it:

Then, just before Arizona stretched the lead to 3-0, this happened, and there was no call:

The puck stayed in the zone and eventually Brendan Perlini scored a goal that Elliott has to stop:

https://twitter.com/CFJastrzembski/status/925166858050899968

From there the Flyers looked better, tied the score in dramatic fashion and then in overtime, after killing off a penalty, another mistake cost them the potential for a win:

https://twitter.com/CFJastrzembski/status/925179254605795328

And Sanheim’s reaction:

And Hakstol pointing out his blunder:

“Yeah, we gave up a three on two so there is obviously something you can do differently… We made a decision instead of taking the puck to the net. Coming up ice trying to make a decision to delay it to some soft ice, a little bit of a bad roll and bad hop with the puck and they take it over and come back hard for the three on two and make the play for the goal.”

It’s been a rough go for Sanheim to start his NHL career. He’s got to grow and learn from it and not dwell on it. He’s had some games where he’s played well. Others, where he’s not been good at all. The Flyers tenuous situation on defense right now means he’s not going to likely get a break any time soon, but I’m betting Hak would like to do just that and give him a game or two off to recharge the emotional batteries and get back out there.

 

2) More bad officiating

Look, the Flyers don’t lose games because of the officials. Let’s be clear. Each of their six losses so far this season have been of their own doing.

However, have the officials made it harder for the Flyers to overcome some of their mistakes and potentially get back into games? Yes. Absolutely yes.

We don’t need to rehash them all this season, but this has been an ongoing theme.

Last night was no different.

I already pointed out the boarding against Manning that went uncalled. Simmonds didn’t like his cross-check at the end of the second period (I felt, while it might not have been a cross-check by definition, it was still a penalty on Simmonds).

Then there were a few more, like this:

The Flyers missed an opportunity to have a 3-on-1 (Sanheim jumped up into this play too, he’s just off screen) because this was whistled offside. Obviously it was a bad call, but apparently, I’m told, the linesman (not sure if it was Johnny Murray or Michel Cormier) went over and apologized to the bench for blowing it after seeing the replay between periods.

But that doesn’t bother me as much as this:

Except they didn’t get a power play. Because Voracek did this FIRST (emphasis intended… I’ll explain why in a second):

What Voracek did was a penalty. I guess Schenn was bleeding, which is why there was a double minor. So, it’s not like the penalty wasn’t warranted.

However, the refs didn’t see it. Just like they didn’t see the boarding against Manning, or this interference against Simmonds just before the game-winning goal was scored:

Neither referee’s arm went up when Voracek hit Schenn. The play was still going on. Then, after the puck was frozen, there was a scuffle behind the net, Schenn got over-aggressive with Voracek, the officials broke it up and skated over to the scorer’s table and told them there was one penalty – on Schenn for roughing.

So, the Flyers were going on a power play – or so everyone thought.

During the commercial break, the Coyotes bench complained that Schenn was cut by a high stick. The four officials huddled together for a good minute on the ice talking, and finally, Kevin Pollock skated over to the scorer’s table a second time and declared that Voracek was getting a double-minor for high-sticking.

I was told by someone very familiar with the entire proceeding that there was no intention to call a penalty on Voracek until after the Coyotes complained.

Then, after a huddle, and a quick glance at Schenn’s face where there was a cut, a penalty was called after the fact although neither ref saw it.

Even though it was ultimately the correct call, how is the process used to make that call acceptable? This is where the NHL is a mess.

I asked Hakstol about it at his press conference, but he didn’t want to talk about it:

“I don’t want to get into it. [The ref] explained it clearly and that is all I will say.”

You can’t blame him. There’s been so much strange officiating in Flyers games this season and Hakstol is constantly being asked about it and he doesn’t want to come across as a chronic complainer. So, to not take my bait was actually a good move on his part.

But I was talking to a veteran player after the game who told me that the team, in general, is irate with officiating this year, although they don’t want to say it publicly:

“We all know it’s bad. We hear it from guys in other games too, not just ours. But we can’t complain about it, you know.”

He’s right. The league isn’t going to bat one smug eyelash at it.

One guy did say something though. Voracek was more upset with the penalty against him in overtime then how the double minor played out:

“In my opinion you cannot call that. Standing in a far corner he can’t even see what’s going on and then call that, and then you miss the call of interference in overtime there and you know them scoring, but you can’t point out that because we didn’t deserve to win today, it’s simple as that.”

Voracek told me that Ekman-Larsson felt Voracek’s stick and held it under his arm, which looking at this replay, seems to be accurate:

However, here’s where I disagree with Jake… if your stick got there in the first place, it’s going to be called for hooking 99 times out of 100. You have to accept that in this league. It’s just the way it’s going to be called.

BUT, could the officials start mitigating OEL’s sneaky move to draw a penalty by calling guys for embellishment? If they started doing that, it would lead to less devious moves like that to draw penalties and in turn, fewer hooks, because the stick wouldn’t get caught up in the uniform or pads nearly as often.

That’s a way to fix it.

The NHL has no interest in fixing its officiating.

O.K. I’ve blabbered on too long. Let’s get through the rest of these quickly:

 

3) More Coots

Sean Couturier is on fire. There are no more words we can say about him right now. His great games are becoming commonplace.

In case you missed it, here are his two goals from last night:

https://twitter.com/CFJastrzembski/status/925167428396634112

https://twitter.com/CFJastrzembski/status/925176391368310784

That last goal came with 14.4 seconds to play to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Couturier now has nine October goals.

Here are the dates in which he reached his ninth goal in his first six seasons:

  • 2011-12 – Jan. 14, 2012
  • 2012-13 – none
  • 2013-14 – Jan. 28, 2014
  • 2014-15 – Dec. 23, 2014
  • 2015-16 – Jan. 9, 2016
  • 2016-17 – Feb. 2, 2017

And to think there were people out there who didn’t think he was a good player and that he should have been traded. Shame on you.

 

4) Ivan Provorov is a stud

Again. Plain and simple. We don’t have to go into great detail here. If you watched the game last night he was a horse for the Flyers. He played 28 minutes. He had three assists. He blocked three shots. He drove the play considerably. He was the one guy who brought it all night long.

And this play is so unheralded. It’s what allowed the tying goal to happen:

They don’t get the point without Provorov’s play.

And, when they were killing the penalty in OT, well, here was Provorov:

He had to limp off for about 30 seconds to get feeling back in his foot, replaced by Manning, but otherwise he and Radko Gudas killed the entire penalty to keep the Flyers in it for a few minutes.

He was just sensational.

 

5) Not on the same page?

Before the game the Flyers had to call up Mark Alt from the Phantoms to play defense. That’s not a big deal since they needed a defenseman with Shayne Gostisbehere and Andrew MacDonald out of the lineup.

It’s a big deal though because on Sunday night they called up Sam Morin to do the same thing.

The problem is, Morin didn’t skate at the morning practice with the Flyers. When he got to the rink, he complained of a “nagging injury” that had been bothering him while with the Phantoms.

Allegedly, the Phantoms told Hextall that Morin kept the injury from them, however, I talked to a source associated with Lehigh Valley who said Morin has been dealing with a minor groin issue and that the trainers were aware of it.

So, why not relay that to Hextall?

That’s a problem.

You can’t blame Hextall here, and I’m sure he was furious. The double move of calling up both Morin and Alt forced Hextall to have to place Nolan Patrick on injured reserve to have the roster space.

Fortunately, that was done retroactively, and Patrick would be eligible to come off of IR on Wednesday, but this was a housekeeping mess that should have been avoided.

I’m sure somebody in Lehigh Valley got an earful for this. This is a professional business with a requirement for good communication and protocol. You can’t screw this up this badly.

 

6) The Coyotes

This team is better than their 1-10-1 record would indicate. There’s some talent there. Clayton Keller is a way-too-early frontrunner for the Calder Trophy with his style of play – and it was his strip of Sanheim, and subsequent pass to Alex Gologoski, that resulted in the game-winning goal.

They made some bold offseason moves to add Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson, although the latter was injured last night, and they have a budding superstar in OEL and some other nice, young talent in Max Domi and Dvorak.

Their weakness is in goal, where they have been without Antti Raanta – another offseason acquisition – who is on the injured reserve and out indefinitely.

In his place has been a parade of replacement-level players who have been terrible.

But coach Rick Tocchet has them playing a good system and they are in most games. I don’t think they’re a playoff team at all – especially after such a dreadful start – but I don’t think they’ll be a walkover opponent at all this season.

 

7) Loose Pucks

  • Inspired by my colleagues, I have to give the old Flyer report: Schenn played 14:45, took a stick to the face, took a roughing minor had seven hits and was a minus-1. Typical game. Cousins played 9:06, the fewest minutes of any Coyote. Kempe was right there with Cousins, playing a non-descript 10:06. Zac Rinaldo played 9:28 and recorded six hits, second most in the game behind Schenn.
  • Late in the second period, Hakstol switched a couple of his lines. Travis Konecny, who has great speed and playmaking ability, but is also a bit of a gambler, was moved onto the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Simmonds, replacing Jordan Weal. Weal was dropped to the “real fourth line” with Jori Lehtera and Matt Read. Expect that to continue this week.
  • During the penalty kill in the third period when Voracek was given the double minor, the pairing of Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier were sensational. Especially Leier, who at one point, went 1-on-3 against the Coyotes, and beat all three to set up a shorthanded chance. Those two and Michael Raffl have been the most consistent Flyers line this season, bar none.
  • How was Provorov not one of the three stars last night? Come on guys picking stars. Be better than that.

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