Claude Giroux stood there. His mouth throbbing. His lip swollen. The dried blood changing the red in his beard to a different shade.
Take a puck to the face, and these things happen.
But there he was, trying to talk through the swelling, and explain what is wrong with his team – a team that just 19 days earlier was in first place in the division – but now, after losing to Columbus 5-3 and dropping their seventh game in the last eight contests – finds itself no longer in control of its own destiny and in need of help from around the league.
(Unless they win all 11 remaining games in regulation, which we all know isn’t going to happen)
So, there was Giroux, gutting it out with the media after he had just played another terrific game – registering a point for the eighth consecutive contest as he scored one of the three Flyers’ goals – in the midst of a truly terrific individual season, telling everyone that the Flyers were, once again victims of their own mistakes.
Which prompted me to ask him a question:
Are the mistakes that are happening something new every night or are they something chronic that keep happening every game?
“To be honest, I don’t know what to say to that,” he said. “It’s a good question, but I don’t have an answer for you.”
That’s OK Claude, because you just gave a very clear and lucid answer.
By not answering the question, Giroux spoke volumes. He obviously doesn’t want to be put in a position where he has to say something like, “Yes, we keep making the same mistakes over and over again and they aren’t getting corrected.”
He’s never been the kind of player to point fingers at others. He’ll fall on a sword for his team. It’s what makes him a good leader. But, it’s hard to be so selfless when he’s playing at such a high level and the rest of the team is not.
Giroux is a smart guy. He’s not going to be disingenuous. He’s not going to say something to make teammates look bad, but he’s also not going to say something to make the rest of us roll our eyes and have the B.S. detectors beeping like crazy.
So, he chose not to answer, but at the same time said a bunch.
Because this Flyers team continues to beat itself. It’s maddening to watch, too. Because they aren’t wrong when they say they do a lot of good things. They do. The Flyers get sustained pressure for good chunks of games. They do out-skate and outwork teams – even teams that are probably more talented – for good stretches of time. There are a lot of moments within games that are very encouraging.
But they are then, inexplicably, prone to disastrous mistakes that end up costing them because even if they lead the world in effort, they definitely still lack in talent and depth, and when that’s the case, simple errors end up costing you more frequently.
So after talking to Claude, I decided to ask the coach the same question. Maybe he’d give me an answer.
So I asked.
And he stared at me. For a good three seconds, which made it feel longer. I can only imagine how it looked on television.
But then he gave a good response:
“I’d say tonight for me the second goal against is a big one,” Dave Hakstol said. “Ten seconds after we gave up the first. So that coverage goal, you can’t duplicate that.
“Then the fourth one which was a puck that didn’t get deep and caught on a line change. Doesn’t matter how you want to categorize them. Those are two mistakes that I thought made it a deep hole to come out of.”
I bolded those key phrases for a minute. Because it says, “Yes, Anthony. These are the issues that keep happening and we can’t seem to stop them from happening.”
1. The Same Thing Happens Every Night
Let’s look at them. First, the second goal:
Jenner redirects Johnson's pass to make it 2-0 Columbus. pic.twitter.com/uxBgNKNGRK
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) March 15, 2018
- Why are there four Flyers along the wall – including both defensemen?
- What the hell does Gudas think kicking the puck up the wall is going to accomplish? Really, it can’t be anything good.
- Manning can’t let Jenner come off the wall to the slot like that. Granted he was probably as surprised at Gudas’ kick as the rest of us, but you have to know that if you lose a 50/50 puck, that’s going to be the next move, so you can’t be “outside” your coverage. It’s a mistake that befalls almost every Flyers defenseman frequently.
This is what is chafing Hakstol. Because it happens. A lot. It happens at times when a goalie makes a save or a shot is missed. It happened so frequently to Travis Sanheim that he was benched and ultimately sent down for it.
This is something that ultimately comes down to ice awareness – and it’s a skill that is sorely lacking with this team.
As for the fourth goal:
Atkinson blasts one past Mrazek. pic.twitter.com/MnxfwrM6QX
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) March 16, 2018
I couldn’t find video of the whole play leading up to this, but I’ll describe it for you, though the video above will be pertinent for the following discussion, so be sure to watch it.
Not getting the puck in deep and getting caught on a change is another chronic problem for the Flyers. In this instance it was Jori Lehtera who got lazy. Rather than a hard dump-in knowing his team was changing behind him, Lehtera made a soft flip that Columbus corralled quickly and sent it back the other way, catching the Flyers in that change and creating a 3-on-1.
Now, there are a lot of ways to look at that. Should the players be certain the puck is deep before they change? Yes. Should the coaching staff also be cognizant of that and communicate better from the bench? Yes. But Lehtera also needs to know. He’s a veteran. Hakstol relies on his veterans, no matter how often they continue to fail him.
And here, a veteran failed again.
And that has to fall on the coach, too.
Speaking of falling on the coach – he took the blame for a couple things last night…
But, wait, we gotta get back to this goal! (So much to talk about!)
2. When it comes to chronic issues, nothing in sports (except maybe Cleveland Browns quarterback) compares to Flyers goaltending:
OK… we’ll get to the coaching blunders in a minute. Instead, let’s talk about Petr Mrazek and his failure to do anything on that shot in the gif above.
Mrazek allowed four goals on 10 shots before being lifted. It’s starting to look more and more like the Flyers won’t have to give Detroit a third round pick after all. Mrazek needs to win another game and the Flyers need to make the playoffs for the pick to become a third rounder, and, well, both triggers are in doubt.
Mrazek didn’t let up a softie last night, but he also didn’t help matters. Here’s the coach:
“Petr didn’t give up a bad goal tonight, but you look for a timely save from your goaltender,” Hakstol said. “That’s what we didn’t get in the first half of the game tonight. Like I said, I don’t think he let in a bad goal when you look at all the goals they’re ‘A’ chances. Yet somewhere along the way you need a timely save. On a night like this it’s a big momentum changer.”
That fourth goal above should have been stopped. Ergo, Hakstol pulled Mrazek in favor of Alex Lyon, who came on and played well the rest of the way, shutting out the Blue Jackets. So he did his part.
Anyway, it’s rare that Hakstol dimes out a player like that. Fortunately for us, Mrazek often needs to cool down after a loss before he talks to the media (I won’t say he’s ducking us, because other than one time, he does come out to talk, but after a loss it’s usually after every other player and the coach, and it’s usually a smaller scrum because those media on deadline can’t wait that long).
So, last night, I think there were four of us who got to talk to Mrazek. And I asked him directly:
Coach said you didn’t give up any bad goals tonight but that you didn’t have a timely save either. Are there any you felt you should have had?
And here was Mrazek’s response:
“The fourth one. If I make the big save there the game could be different. I didn’t have any big saves in the first period (either). They pushed us hard in the beginning and got three good, but that fourth one if I make the stop maybe we get the momentum back and maybe we still have the chance.”
Mrazek went on to stay he was surprised by Atkinson’s shot. He though he was going to pass it, which is why his reaction time was off. But he needs to make a big save for this team. He hasn’t done it in a while and that’s part of the reason they are losing again. The Flyers need more confidence in their goaltending and right now; they don’t have a lot at all.
3. O.K. Now the coach – who admits he’s at fault for a lack of good coaching.
Andy Reid conditioned Philadelphia fans to coaches taking the blame for losses. It became so redundant that it was pre-written in stories after every Eagles loss. So the “my bad” approach to coaching is something that we often don’t give a second look.
But the latest Flyers loss should set off all the alarms possible.
Here’s a line of questions and answers from Hakstol’s press conference:
You got a too many men on the power play. Is that just a focus? Is that somebody not waiting?
“No that’s communication,” Hakstol said. “That’s on me. We had G go down so we had a switch with (Nolan Patrick) going to the first unit. That created a shift in the roles in the second unit which also shifts who you’re gonna take on the line change. That’s that.”
Dave, surprised some of the players said they didn’t have enough intensity at the start of the game. Surprised they said that for such a big game?
“I would agree,” said Hakstol. “I thought their team was a little more ready to play and that squarely comes to me. I thought their team was a little more ready to play in that first 20 minutes and that can’t happen at this time of the year.”
Damn right it can’t.
Holy hell, did he just admit that he didn’t have his team ready to play a critical game in March with a playoff spot hanging in the balance?
That isn’t just egregious. That’s far worse. This can’t be the case. Especially when things are going bad. Especially when you’re in a free fall. Especially when confidence in the locker room is so fragile.
That’s when you have to bear down and really find a focus and a readiness to compete to fight your way out of a rut.
It’s one thing if you say, “Hey, this sucks right now. We’re losing and we don’t like it and we will keep scraping and clawing and fighting to find a way out of it.” At least then you give the impression that there is a sense of real urgency.
But to come out and basically say, “Yeah, we weren’t ready. Oops. My bad.” That’s nuts!
The bench minor penalty thing, fine. I get it. Things happen quickly, a coach is human, he can make a mistake too. No big deal.
But to not have your team ready for it’s biggest game of the season? When you’ve had 48 hours to prepare? When a win would have again given you breathing room? And then to just openly admit the other team was more prepared than you were?
I’m astonished. Really. I am.
I appreciate the honesty. That’s a given. I definitely prefer honesty to typical coach speak. But to be so nonchalant about it at this time of year, with so much on the line is the part that gets me.
You want to take blame for a team not being prepared for a mid-week game in November, fine. Do that. Take the heat off your guys and chalk it up to a bad day.
But 12 games before the end of the season? In the midst of a potentially epic collapse?
No. Just no.
Dave, you’ve got to be better than that.
And if you can’t, then there are larger problems here then just some recurring mistakes and a lack of preparedness.