New Year, Same Story: Five Takeaways from Penguins 5, Flyers 1
As many of you know from my last post, I’ve been missing the past few Flyers games (live) because of my involvement with Big Daddy Graham’s “A Row Home Christmas.”
But as it turns out, I haven’t been missing much.
The Flyers are what we thought they were, and have been, and will continue to be in the near future. Inconsistent. Frustrating at times. But mostly mediocre. Although qualifying last night’s loss to Pittsburgh as mediocre is far too generous.
Last night was a completely sub-par effort all the way around, including their first stinker from goalie Brian Elliott in quite some time. They have now lost five-of-seven, this after winning six in a row following a ten-game losing streak.
And when a team is that streaky, they can’t be trusted to be consistent ever – either consistently good or consistently bad.
I have a friend who is a degenerate gambler. So much so that he bets hockey with regularity. He has been leaning on me for, ahem, expert advice in hockey for years. Over time I’ve truly done no better than maybe enough to assure he is able to keep betting hockey – meaning slightly better than 50% or just enough to cover his bookie’s vig.
And yet, despite being able to give him picks on games for years, and having my best track record in the playoffs and with Flyers games (because you can get a sense of how the team feels or looks sometimes in practice or morning skates) he is frustrated with me because I have not given him one Flyers game yet this season.
Part of that is because I’m not doing this full-time and I’m not at many of those practices and morning skates, so even though I’m still texting or talking with people with the team from afar, I don’t feel confident giving him a pick based mostly on my gut.
But the real reason is, you can’t tell with this Flyers team from one game to the next. There’s no flow or rhythm to them. They don’t generate any consistency because there’s nothing consistent about them. They really are a team without an identity.
For the better part of two months, Dave Hakstol was opposed to really mixing up his lines. Sure, he would make one forward change here or there. Maybe flip flop two guys in the lineup, but he kept things the same, even while they were losing a bunch of games in a row.
Now, he’s juggling the lineup like his hair’s on fire. After finally moving Travis Konecny on a line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier in Columbus last Saturday (and having them look good in the process against a superior team) they played together all of one lousy period in Florida before that combination was abandoned again.
Of course, Hakstol said after the game that the lineup shifting was just the Flyers trying to find nine forwards that work together. And to his credit, they were re-united the last two games, one which they looked really good (Tampa) and one which they (and everyone else) looked lousy (Pittsburgh).
But here we are 39 games into the season and the Flyers really haven’t found any forwards that work together with the exception of Couturier and Giroux and whoever you put on the wing with them.
So maybe that’s the problem more than anything. Maybe it’s the construction of the team. Maybe these heralded Flyers prospects aren’t as talented as we once thought. Maybe that’s why Ron Hextall has protected so many of them for so long – not wanting them to get swallowed up by the big, bad NHL because they aren’t as good as others their age.
I’ve started constructing a deep dive comparison of all the Flyers players to others around the NHL. And since it’s so lengthy, I’ll break it up into a few posts which I’ll unveil next week during the Flyers bye week which is basically one game past the halfway point of the season
But as for last night… well… maybe I’ll just let Flyers Twitter tell that story:
1. Abused by the worst fourth line in hockey
Couldn’t even be bothered to finish the #Flyers game earlier because my glass of wine would have went through the screen. Pathetic effort. Embarrassing effort. I’m still not over it.
— Amy🖤 (@ladyamyleigh) January 3, 2018
Something tells me at the last minute, Amy’s common sense would have taken over and she would have not reacted to the impulse of throwing wine at the TV…. and instead found something else to throw at it instead.
Unless it was boxed wine, in which case, O.K., maybe.
But since she was tweeting after 1 a.m., I’m betting it was a good bottle – and that she might be feeling the ramifications of it this morning.
Either way, she’s right. That effort was embarrassing.
The Penguins, who have been brutal on offense for about a month, came into the game with very little energy – and the first 10 minutes of the game – a game between hated rivals that is usually intense – was a snooze fest.
The Flyers didn’t play poorly, they just didn’t take advantage of a sleepy Pittsburgh team that was ripe for the picking.
The second half of the first period was a little more chippy, as the Pens were awaking from their slumber as if they got up on the wrong side of the bed. Still, the game was scoreless after a period.
But then in the second, things started to go south.
The Penguins scored, the Flyers answered, and then the Penguins scored again. And again. And again.
It was five goals in a span of 3:51. Problem was, the Penguins scored four of them.
And although the first was by Phil Kessel, on the power play, from Sidney Crosby, the rest of the goals came from guys you don’t really expect to light up the score sheet.
The Penguins fourth line of Ryan Reaves, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Carter Rowney is arguably the worst fourth line in the NHL. This is an argument upon which curmudgeonly eye-testers and analytics truthers usually agree.
And yet they scored two goals by out-working the Flyers and going into the hard areas in front of the net. In both instances, Riley Sheahan was on the ice instead of Rowney, but it’s not like it was Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
And the Flyers just let that fourth line have their way as Reaves and Kuhnhackl scored for only the second time each this season.
Zero excuse to let one of the worst fourth lines in the Eastern Conference score two goals against you.
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) January 3, 2018
For the other Penguins goal, Ian Cole won a 50/50 puck battle with Scott Laughton along the wall and flipped an outlet pass to open ice in the neutral zone. Robert Hagg was out of position so Connor Sheary blew right past him, and Andrew MacDonald didn’t have the wheels to catch him and Sheary scored on a breakaway.
Of course this was aided along by one player the Flyers have counted on a lot not being up to snuff:
2. Brian Elliott
Unfortunately Brian Elliott sucks ass and gives up 3 goals on 6 shots in a matter of minutes.
— Bedard Era Has Begun (@ChiTownGuy24) January 3, 2018
Jettison Brian Elliott into the sun @NHLFlyers
— Dylan Cook (@dkcookie37) January 3, 2018
Brian Elliott: pic.twitter.com/72F94jZ0UU
— steve ⛵️ (@stevruf) January 3, 2018
Get Brian Elliott out of the fucking game
— Jake (@TheOnlyJayke) January 3, 2018
JFC Brian Elliott… 4 goals on 6 shots. pic.twitter.com/bnRf03jvbe
— Michael🍍🍕🌊🥦 (@grilledcheese28) January 3, 2018
Ahhh, Flyers twitter right now is one of the best avenues to stroll down.
What? Common sense on Twitter? We can’t have that Justin! Stop it!
Oh the goalie had a crap-tastic performance for the Flyers. But, It’s hard to knock the guy because he has consistently kept the Flyers in games they had no business being in and even stolen a few wins for them. Not to mention, he hasn’t had a rest in more than a month.
That said, Elliott was not good in this one.
He only played two periods, allowing four goals on just 14 shots.
It was a game where the Flyers needed him to come up with some big saves at key times, and he just couldn’t do it.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing on a night like tonight,” Elliott said. “You want to be at your best, I wasn’t and I don’t think anybody [else] can say they were either.”
That a boy Brian, don’t let your teammates off the hook, they sucked too.
Michal Neuvirth came in for the third period. He allowed a power play goal. It was his first action, and any action by a Flyers goalie not named Elliott since Nov. 28.
The writers wanted to talk to Neuvy about getting back in there, but Neuvy apparently had no interest in talking.
His name was written by the PR staff on the white board in the locker room mere seconds before the media was allowed in, and as soon as we walked into the room (the doors to the locker room were opened exactly five minutes after the game ended), Neuvy’s name was hastily erased on the board – and it wasn’t done by the PR staff.
Was it Neuvy? We don’t know for sure, but the only people in the room in those seconds before we enter are players, PR staff and equipment managers.
I’m betting it was Neuvirth.
Look, if a guy like Giroux, or Simmonds or Voracek, or Couturier or even Elliott decides to take a pass on talking after a game – because they do after almost every game – you let it slide. You understand.
But Neuvirth hasn’t talked in six weeks. He was simply going to get questions about how it felt to get back in there. There was nothing controversial. He didn’t play poorly in the period. It would have been an easy two minutes of his life.
And yet, he said screw it, and bailed out.
It’s the kind of mindset you can’t have in a locker room right now. Especially one as fragile as the Flyers room is.
That’s a bad seed.
3. Can’t generate much of anything
— Jake (@J_Fahringer) January 3, 2018
That was the heat chart after two periods. Notice where the Penguins were shooting from (and subsequently scoring from). It’s nice and blue. Now look at that area for the Flyers. Jake so kindly highlighted it for everyone.
The Flyers shoot the puck. A lot. It doesn’t always get on goal, but they do. And shooting is good. The problem is the quality of their shots and where they are coming from – and far too often, they are coming from lower percentage areas.
That’s why when Dave Hakstol says this, you have to scratch your head and wonder what game he’s watching:
“The first 30 minutes of this hockey game, there’s very little that I would change,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll go back and take a look at it closer, but those same characteristics [from the win in Tampa] were there.
“I think we played a pretty good 30 minutes. Do we want a little bit better? Do we want to find a way to get that first one? Of course. No question, but in saying that, I wouldn’t go back and change a whole lot. If we can execute on one or two of those, and get the lead, I think that’s a huge boost in our own building. At the same time, I thought throughout our lineup we had four lines that were going pretty good.”
In the first 30 minutes, the Flyers had three 2-on-1 breakaways… and didn’t register a shot on goal. In the first 30 minutes the Flyers had zero shots on goal from between the circles. In the first 30 minutes the Flyers penalty kill allowed the first of two goals against for the game.
But hey… let’s not change anything.
Let’s not change the fact that sometimes you have to play a more hybrid style that combines speed and physicality (the Kings won two cups that way. So have the Penguins. Nashville got to the Finals last year playing that way too), and these Flyers never do any of that. Any of it. Ever. I mean, Couturier created an icing with a big check last night, and it was the only memorable physical play of the game. The Flyers want to win pretty and have forgotten that this is hockey and hockey is often times ugly – that’s the beauty of the sport!
Since our cable bills are going up anyway, can you start supplying guts too? pic.twitter.com/8mnWgDTNBF
— The Rate Limit Exceeded Kid (@jsaquella) January 3, 2018
4. Provorov update
While killing a penalty in the third period, Provy blocked a shot by Jamie Oleksiak with his left foot. He was in considerable pain and couldn’t recover in time as the Penguins scored a second power play goal (by Oleksiak later in the shift).
Provorov returned to the game, but afterwards he went down the hall with a doctor for x-rays. He was last seen being told by the doctor that they needed to go into the training room to talk.
Surprisingly, he was at practice today:
Flyers practicing earlier than expected. Noteworthy: Ivan Provorov is on the ice. After the shot he blocked, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to get his skate back on a day later. Tough guy and obviously important piece for PHI.
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) January 3, 2018
The fact that he came back to play with his team down 5-1 in a lost game in the final minutes of a period, speaks volumes of his grit and commitment. He did, however, end up with less than 20 minutes of ice time for the first time since late October.
It’s worth keeping an eye out on his status. If they lose him for any length of time, the Flyers are in real trouble.
5. Lineup woes
The Flyers continue to lack depth – which is an under-reported issue. With Wayne Simmonds having a really down year, relying on Michael Raffl to be a top 6 forward and getting nothing from Nolan Patrick (by the way, Nico Hischier scored his eighth goal of the season last night for the Devils and has 25 points so far this season… compared to seven from Patrick), the Flyers offensive situation is in dire straits.
Yet, instead of playing young players like Taylor Leier on offense, or giving Travis Sanheim a chance to show his offensive ability from the blue line, they continue to sit in favor of Jori Lehtera and Brandon Manning.
None of which makes sense.
Not that anything that happened last night made sense. Not the way they played. The coach’s analysis, the lineup… nothing.
It was a pretty sad night. But at least one Flyers fan saw a silver lining for the Flyers once they got down 4-1:
It's ok #Flyers we're gonna get nuked before the 3rd anyway…
— toolboa (@toolboa) January 3, 2018