This is bad hockey.
So bad in fact, that we are throwing out the concept of takeaways for this one.
(O.K., fine, you want takeaways? Here you go – Brian Elliot was really good for his fourth straight game in goal. Scott Laughton’s line was the only line that was consistently good. Robert Hagg keeps getting better and better as a defensive defenseman and Devan Dubnyk is unconscious right now in net for Minnesota – that’s it).
Seriously, the real problem at hand that needs to be addressed is the state of the Flyers in general.
How is it that the team has a (cough) .500 record (cough) and is in worse shape than it was at this time last season? How is it that the offense is completely non-existent? How is it that questionable coaching decisions continue to get shrugged aside?
If this isn’t an organizational epidemic, it’s getting darn close and somebody needs to come in and fix it soon, or this will be a lost season before we reach Thanksgiving.
Heck, if my historical analysis is correct, it’s almost at that point now.
Come with me down the rabbit hole…
1. A bad spot
The Flyers, at 8-8-2, are last place in the Metropolitan Division but only six points out of first place. That means the division is either really good or really mediocre.
Either way, it’s where the Flyers are situated – behind seven other teams – that is of the greatest concern right now.
Why? Because it’s near impossible to move past enough of those teams to get into the playoffs.
Since switching to four divisions in the NHL instead of six in the 2013-14 season, teams in last place on Nov. 15th have reached the playoffs exactly once (6.3%) – and that was the Columbus Blue Jackets, who made a torrid push in 2013-14 just to get in.
Wait, 16 teams is a small sample size and not necessarily a good enough history to use to define an argument.
Fair enough – let’s take it a step further.
Since the institution of the shootout and the creation of the dreaded loser point in hockey, there have been 64 teams in last place on this date (NOTE: in 2012/2013 there was a lockout-shortened season, so I used Feb. 8, 2013 as the date there as it was the most approximate to the number of NHL games played in the season compared to other seasons).
In that time, only 11 of 64 (17.2%) have rebounded from a last place start on Nov. 15 to make the playoffs.
O.K. – so it’s happened before. Maybe not frequently but it’s happened. And, not to mention, with 18 points, only four teams in that time have been in last place in their division on this date with more points than the Flyers currently have, and two of them made the playoffs (50%) so it’s at least a 50-50 at this point, right?
Wrong. Let’s take it even a step further.
Everyone keeps asking about this odd quirk in the Flyers schedule that has them playing 17 of their first 21 games against Western Conference teams.
Well, that only made it more imperative for the Flyers to get off to a better start, because that means the Flyers will play 48 of their last 61 games against Eastern Conference opponents – and of those 48, 27 will be within the Metropolitan Division.
Well, that’s good, right? More of a chance for them to play the teams they need to leapfrog.
No. Not exactly. Unless the Flyers go off on a ridiculous tear – and by ridiculous, it needs to be more than 10 games, as evidenced last year when they won 10 straight at one point and still missed the playoffs – then they are going to find themselves frustrated.
Because, let’s be realistic, they aren’t going to win them all. And several of them will slink into overtime, which brings the loser point into play.
The Flyers will be on the plus side of some of them and on the minus side of some, but that’s the problem with it, as long as teams still get points for losing from time-to-time, playing catch-up is all the more difficult.
Let me put it this way – the Flyers need to register 75 points in the remaining 61 games to get to that 93-point threshold which many consider the the point total needed to be in the conversation for a playoff spot.
To do that, they would have to go something like 34-20-7 the rest of the way. Impossible? No. Improbable considering the opposition? Yes.
And to think, that’s just to be in the conversation for a playoff spot. Just three years ago the Pittsburgh Penguins were the last team in the playoffs – and they had 98 points. So 93 may not even be enough.
Some will argue that it’s way too early to be talking about this – but I’ve been blowing this horn for years now that It’s far worse to struggle early in the season in the NHL than it is to struggle later in the season.
If you get out to a fast start it’s easier to overcome a bad stretch later in the season than it is to get behind the eight ball and try and work around it.
Nevertheless, here are the Flyers, in last place on a date when 56.3% of the teams previously in their spot on Nov. 15 (since switching to four divisions) were still there come season’s end.
2. The offense is in shambles
Yes the Flyers have been shutout in back-to-back games before, even by the same team (amazingly it was also against Minnesota – in 2003).
But they’ve never been shutout five times in the first 18 games of a season before. I don’t have the stat readily available, but I would venture to guess that not many teams have.
Heck, the Flyers record for being shutout in a season is 10 times – and that was before I was born, so you know it was a long time ago (1968-69).
These Flyers are on pace to tie that before Christmas.
And really, there is no relief in sight. The Flyers are operating with too little talent up front. Plain and simple.
With a couple of exceptions, all of these guys are good NHL role players, so it’s not a knock against them individually, but it’s them collectively that’s the issue.
So much so that the Flyers may be forced to break up the one line that has been productive for them this season to try and add scoring elsewhere in the lineup.
Here’s how bad it’s been:
The only forwards not named Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek to score a goal this month are Dale Weise and Valtteri Filppula – who each scored a goal in the same game against Colorado.
That’s six games with only two goals from forwards not on the top line.
And, if you want to really take it to another level, only four times have the Flyers gotten multiple goals in a game from forwards not on the Flyers top line:
- Opening night in San Jose (Wayne Simmonds hat trick and Jordan Weal)
- The crazy game in Nashville that they lost 6-5 after the bad coach’s challenge (Filppula had two, Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick)
- The blowout of Washington in the emotional home opener (Scott Laughton had two, Filppula and Simmonds)
- The loss to Colorado (Weise and Filppula).
Not surprisingly, the Flyers are 3-0-1 in games when they get more than one goal from lines not nicknamed “The Ginger Beard Men.”
But those games are few and far between.
Simmonds has six goals, but three came on opening night. He is now in a 10-game goalless drought, which is the second longest of his Flyers career (he had a 16-game drought in his first season with the team, when he was considered a third liner).
He also only has two assists in those 10 games and, until recently, has been invisible.
That said, he has been playing through a lot of pain. He has a groin problem that won’t go away. He was hit by several shots on his legs, he had oral surgery to deal with the loss or potential loss of several teeth – and he hasn’t missed a game.
But not being 100 percent has taken a toll.
That aside, Simmonds needs to score. The power play has been ugly lately – and that’s where he’s made his bones in this league.
The Flyers aren’t getting enough traffic to the net – and that’s Simmonds’ office.
Frankly, the lack of scoring starts with him. He gets a pass for not scoring at his usual pace, but if he’s healthy enough to play, then he’s got to at least contribute a little bit in his circumstance, and he’s not.
It all snowballs from there.
Filppula got off to a great start, but was replaced on the power play by Couturier and now is off the second line entirely after a failed line shuffle by Dave Hakstol.
He’s been a turnover machine in the last few games and doesn’t play nearly enough good defense to be considered a true checking line center.
Maybe it’s just a rough patch for him, but as a team leader (he is wearing an ‘A’ after all) he needs to improve his on-ice game as well.
Weal was supposed to be a gritty goal scorer willing to be the Danny Briere-type little guy unafraid to go into the greasy areas around the net, but he was lost along the boards for far too many games. He looked better last night as a center, with decent possession numbers (55.17% Corsi For), so maybe there’s something there with him in the middle of the ice, but again – he’s not scoring.
Travis Konecny is an offensive talent, but he keeps getting shuttled all over the lineup and can’t find consistent chemistry with anyone. It’s frustrating to watch and you can see it on his face when he’s playing.
He’s not a good defensive forward, so the Flyers need to find him a home where he can be productive, but if no one else is being productive, then what are his odds?
Even the checking line of Raffl, Laughton and Leier – despite having a pretty solid game last night in Minnesota – they need to start finding the net. Raffl doesn’t have a point yet. Laughton has turned into the old Couturier – reliable defensively, but is struggling to finish, and Leier, for all his great speed, doesn’t get enough shots on net (although he did ring one off the pipe last night).
Weise and Jori Lehtera? I don’t get either one.
I’m fine with Weise as a fourth line forward. He does enough to play there, although Hakstol had him on the second line last night, which is a big no-no.
But Lehtera gives you nothing but size. He’s slow. His passes are slow. He has no shot. He plays on the periphery too much for such a big body. He offers nothing.
This secondary scoring needs to be figured out quickly. And that falls on…
3. The coach
Hakstol should be in trouble as a coach as far as I can see. We’re into his third season and a lot of the same issues remain and he hasn’t found his way out of it.
Look, sometimes as a coach, you can only play the hand you’re dealt – I use Brett Brown as a great example here in Philadelphia – and you can only do as best you can with what you have.
But Hakstol has better talent than Brown ever did in his first three seasons coaching the Sixers – and he’s not doing anything with it.
He doesn’t seem to be all that great of a motivator either – at least not at the NHL level.
There was always a gamble with an NCAA coach with no NHL experience running a team at this level. And while he’s not incompetent, he’s also not getting the results.
John Stevens was fired when he was coach here for being too chummy with his players and not holding them accountable when they didn’t produce. His last few games were a mess offensively – but not to this proportion.
Getting shut out five times in 18 games is evidence of a system that is broken. Sure, the Flyers system offensively was scoring 3.42 goals per game in October, but once it’s on film, other teams figure out how to defend it, and it becomes incumbent upon the coach to find tweaks to the system to keep it functional.
In November, the Flyers are averaging 1.50 goals per game, almost two whole goals less than in October.
It’s not like they aren’t getting chances – the Flyers have been pretty solid as a puck possession team this month (second half of the Chicago game excluded) – but they aren’t finding a way.
And if they keep on struggling to find a way, then maybe they need someone else to show them the way.
That is the amount of time that has passed since the Flyers last scored a goal.
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 15, 2017