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There’s nothing left to say.
Seriously. Until this Flyers team makes the changes it needs to make, watching them play is going to be torture.
It’s like being tied to a chair and forced to watch the same rerun of a bad 1980s sitcom repeatedly.
You know, one episode of Charles in Charge was enough for a lifetime, but watching the same episode over and over again is sadistic.
For the last eight games, and for 16 of the 24 games played so far this season, that’s what it’s been like watching the Flyers.
They have lost two-thirds of their games, which is pretty dreadful. And nothing ticks me off like broadcasters being forced to call this eight-game losing streak something other than what it is.
While technically correct, this isn’t an eight-game winless streak. That would suggest there was a result in there that while it wasn’t a win, also was not a loss (namely, a tie). But since those don’t exist and the ultimate option in an NHL game is to win it or lose it, then what we have here is a losing streak.
But it is exactly this mentality that permeates throughout this organization right now. Sanitize everything. Make everything seem better than it really is.
Hey – they’ve gotten at least one point in eight of their last 11 games.
I’m pretty sure after the abuse he took for mentioning points in 7-of-10 games following the most recent loss to the New York Islanders, Dave Hakstol wasn’t going to go that route again following last night’s loss to Pittsburgh, but, instead he gave us this:
“We have to finish one of these. There’s nothing more to be said. Night after night we are in position and we were again tonight.”
Yep. That simple. Just finish, boys.
It made me want to highlight two of my favorite tweets from the night:
Live look in at Hakstol now. pic.twitter.com/eU4X5zLWqM
— Rich Lee (@RichLeeNamed) November 28, 2017
— Earl Sullivan (@esull9) November 28, 2017
And yes, they were sent to me almost simultaneously.
Hakstol’s quote would be fine if the Flyers had only lost say three straight, all in overtime. Problem is, when you blow your fifth two-goal lead of the season – and fourth on this eight-game losing streak – it’s not just about not finishing, it’s about not doing a lot of things – not protecting a lead, not taking dumb penalties, not sitting back and letting the other team take it to you.
But I’ve said all this before. It’s as if these Takeaways are on perennial repeat.
And the longer it goes without change, the more damning it is, not just for a coach, who is overmatched at this level, but for the general manager and the entire organization.
I texted with someone I became close with while working for the Flyers who still works there. Part of our exchange was this person saying, “It’s ugly right now…. things aren’t quite the same around here these days.”
That last part was referencing an interjection by me where I indicated the likes of Ed Snider or Bob Clarke would never have accepted this kind of repetitive failure.
Alas, this is the new hockey world in which we live and in which the Flyers are a doormat or an afterthought after generations of being one of the game’s elite franchises.
To the takeaways… I guess.
1) Finding ways to lose
As I mentioned, it was another blown two-goal lead. This time, the Flyers actually gave up the lead in a span of 39 seconds, and then after retaking the lead, gave up a tying goal to force overtime in the final minute or so of the third period. And, after that, made a panic play that gave Pittsburgh a power play in OT and, well, Sidney Crosby took it from there.
These things can’t happen repeatedly.
It’s a sign of a team with zero confidence and with no gameplan to stem the tide.
Looking at advanced stats last night, the Penguins were obviously the better team, with a Corsi For percentage of 59.22, which is pretty high.
But look at the game flow and pay particular attention to the third period:
That’s a spike that you don’t normally see in a game anywhere. It’s what we call an outlier. The Penguins Corsi For percentage in the third period was 80%.
That’s not a typo. It was 80%. That means that off all the shots attempted in the third period, the Pens were responsible for 80% of them.
It’s an absurd number and indicative of the fact that the Flyers had no answers – zero – for what the Penguins were doing.
They were in survival mode, and although they almost pulled it off, they didn’t. They can tell you they weren’t trying to sit back, but if not, then it’s not certain what they were trying to do.
Nor am I sure what Hakstol was doing with his line matchups at the end of the game.
After Michael Raffl gave the Flyers a 4-3 lead (more on that later), Hakstol curiously turned to a line of Dale Weise, Nolan Patrick and Wayne Simmonds and a defensive pairing of Brandon Manning and Shayne Gostisbehere to protect his one-goal lead in the final minutes.
Not many of the Flyers were positive players when you look at their Corsi For Relative percentage (CFRel%), but they did have some guys on the plus side of the ledger – seven skaters in fact.
However, none of those five guys were on that list. As a matter of fact, not only were they not on the list, but Manning (-13.56) was second worst in the game, Patrick (-11.39) was fourth-worst, Simmonds (-7.57) was sixth worst and Weise (-6.57) was seventh worst. Only Ghost was palatable (-1.51), and even he was still negative.
This group was caught in their own end for the better part of two minutes, couldn’t get the puck out of the zone, and the Penguins created several great chances before Brian Elliott made a flashy glove save on Crosby to finally allow the Flyers to make a change.
However, the faceoff was in the Flyers’ end. They lost the draw and seconds later the score was tied.
Hakstol HAS to know that combination of players isn’t the kind you want out there protecting a lead.
If he doesn’t… then Houston we have a problem.
2) Bad Coaching, Bad veterans
Not only did Hakstol’s decision with that line create a self-inflicted conundrum, but so did a couple other decisions he made.
First was re-inserting Jori Lehtera and Weise into the lineup in place of Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal.
Weal has not played well of late, and his ice time and role was diminishing considerably over the last several games. You could see it coming – heck I did here in takeaway No. 3 from last Wednesday’s game.
But, Leier scored against the Islanders. He has provided good jump and energy on the fourth line. He has the ability to skate with a fast team like Pittsburgh that neither Weise nor Lehtera do.
I’d rather the Flyers keep Leier in the lineup, waive one of those veterans, and call up Mike Vecchione and give him a shot on the fourth line. He has to be better than Lethtera right? Lehtera played all of 7:31 in the game and was a third-worst-on-the-team -11.45% in CFRel%.
I get that Weal needs to find his game, but that doesn’t mean Hakstol has to slog the lineup with veteran players who can’t play.
Part of this is on the GM, too. He has to recognize that what he’s giving the coach to work with is substandard.
Trusting the veterans is not always the right option either. He mentioned a veteran reward of sorts for Manning being on the ice in overtime in Friday’s loss to the Islanders.
Trotting out a more veteran lineup didn’t work against Pittsburgh either.
The mistakes that are costing the team are rarely being committed by rookies. It’s veterans making them.
It was Gostisbehere who abandoned his player in overtime in the loss in New York. It was Jake Voracek who committed the same sin in the OT loss to the Isles in Philly.
Voracek then made the panic clear for the delay of game penalty that gave the Penguins the overtime power play yesterday.
Claude Giroux made an error that led to the game-winner in the OT loss to Calgary.
If the guys you are counting on to provide veteran leadership are making the self-inflicted wounds, then why is it that the notion of more veterans in the lineup will equate to improved play?
It doesn’t. It’s a fallacy. At this point, I’d rather see the Flyers lose with the youngsters on the ice than with the same mistakes from players who have been in the league for years.
Another coaching blunder occurred with Hakstol once again misusing his challenge.
After a goal by Patric Hornqvist went to the replay official and was allowed, Hakstol decided to challenge if it was goaltender interference. It wasn’t. Frankly, it wasn’t even that close. But even if you want to argue that it’s 50/50, is it worth burning the challenge there and not saving it for a more critical moment in the game?
Instead, on Jake Guentzel’s tying goal at the end of the third period, one which goalie Brian Elliott thought he was interfered with, Hakstol couldn’t challenge because he had already burned it.
I don’t know what his challenge record is, but just quick memory suggests it isn’t good – and it’s likely hurt the team a couple times.
3) Best five goals allowed performance ever?
I’m being a little facetious here. But Elliott was under fire all night. He made a career-high 47 saves as he personally tried to will the Flyers to victory.
With the exception of the first goal of the game by Guentzel, where he may have been off his angle slightly and got beaten over the waffle pad, Elliott was sensational.
All of the other Penguins goals were on crazy bounces or redirects.
Hornqvist kicked the puck, and then hit it twice in mid-air before it popped over Elliott.
Bryan Rust scored on a breakaway after Elliott originally stoned him, the puck took a crazy hop back off Rust’s stick shaft and fluttered over Elliott to tie the score.
Guentzel’s tying goal went in off his glove and he likely interfered with Elliott on the play. and Crosby’s game-winner was a redirect of a Kris Letang shot.
In between, Elliott saved the Flyers bacon more than once.
He is the most hard-luck goalie in his last seven starts and one relief appearance, having gone 0-2-5. And yet, in those eight games, he has arguably been the Flyers best player.
4) Raffl rolling
Raffl is one guy who has looked pretty good for the Flyers in this horrible stretch. He gave the Flyers what appeared to be the game-winning goal before all went to hell in the final minutes.
And it was a thing of beauty:
Raffl steals the puck and powers past Kessel for a gorgeous goal! pic.twitter.com/RN9IC762NO
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 28, 2017
Raffl is a max effort player, which is why he was still being counted on even without any points through the first 21 games of the season. He also had an assist last night, and now has three points in his last three games.
Maybe Steve Coates was right, he just needed one and then they’d start coming in bunches.
He’s one of the few Flyers who is playing a well-rounded game right now
5) Loose Pucks
- The Flyers have been outscored 14-2 in the third period and overtime during this eight-game losing streak – more evidence that the system is broken.
- Sean Couturier scored this goal:
Coots makes it 3-1 with an assist from Provorov's skate after a Penguins turnover in their own zone. pic.twitter.com/c2GhH20tFO
— Chris Jastrzembski (@CFJastrzembski) November 28, 2017
That makes 14 goals this season for Couturier. The most he’s ever scored in a full season is 15. He could match that tonight while it’s still November. I’m not sure there’s been a better two-way forward in the NHL over the season’s first two months than Couturier.
- Andrew MacDonald returned to the lineup as the Flyers sent Samuel Morin back to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL. While I would have kept Morin here and waived both Weise and Lehtera and made Manning the No. 7 defenseman, I don;t look at this as the Flyers playing MacDonald over a rookie. It wasn’t the best game to have MacDonald try to get back up to speed – against on e of the league’s fastest teams. MacDonald looked a step behind, took a penalty that led to a Pittsburgh goal and had a couple of turnovers that were covered by good goaltending by Elliott. MacDonald will be fine – especially playing with Ivan Provorov – but this was certainly not a great game for him.
- I’m not convinced Hakstol goes back to Michal Neuvirth in goal tonight even though it’s a back-to-back and Elliott faced a ton of shots last night. I just think that with as well as Elliott’s played, as much of an enigma as Neuvirth’s been and with three days off after tonight, that Elliott just might get the nod again.