Could Have Used That One: Thoughts on a 5-4 Loss and a Missed Opportunity

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it’s something about Tuesdays.

In a strange quirk, the Flyers have dropped 11 of 16 games played on Tuesday nights this year, and really haven’t looked good in any of the last five (1-1-3).

This includes last night’s disappointing loss to the defense-averse New York Islanders.

That marks three straight Tuesday losses to teams in free fall. Detroit had lost 10 straight. Dallas had lost eight in a row. And the Islanders had dropped 16 of their previous 19 games.

OK, so the Tuesday thing is just a goofy coincidence.

Playing down to the competition though? That’s an ongoing issue.

The Flyers had a chance to put a stranglehold on a playoff spot last night, and although they’re still in good shape to get into the postseason, they’ve left themselves in the undesirable position of still playing for that spot in the final two games of the season, as well as falling to the second and final wild card spot. If that’s where they stay, they’ll face a much tougher opponent in Boston or Tampa than they would if they were the top wild card team and drew Washington.

Before we look at a few things from last night, and just to keep you up to date….

The Flyers magic number remains three points – either earned by them or lost by Florida.

The Flyers have two games remaining, both at home – Thursday against Carolina and Saturday against the New York Rangers.

Go at least 1-0-1, and they’re in the playoffs.

However, if there’s a regulation loss in the final two games, then they’ll need help.

Florida has three games remaining – Thursday at home against Boston, Saturday at home against Buffalo, and a makeup game in Boston Sunday night.

So, Thursday is the key.

The Bruins are in a dogfight with Tampa for the top spot in the Atlantic Division (and home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs) and still have an outside chance at the President’s Trophy, which would also come with home ice in the Finals, if they make it that far.

So, Boston has something to play for Thursday.

However, if Florida somehow wins that game, and they played a great game last night to beat the best team in hockey – Nashville – to keep their playoff hopes alive, then its possible that the game Sunday in Boston has no meaning to the Bruins, and they could decide to rest some key players, which wouldn’t help the Flyers if it came down to that game.

I fully expect Florida to trounce Buffalo Saturday if the game has meaning for the Panthers, so really the Flyers have put themselves in a position to have to make this happen themselves.

I think they will, but not if they play anything like they did during the first 40 minutes last night.

1. Train derailment

The only way Wayne Simmonds could have had a worse game last night was if he didn’t score a goal. That’s right, he scored the Flyers first goal – set up nicely by a pair of passes from Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick (more on them later) – but after that, it was all downhill for Simmonds.

He was directly responsible for two Islanders goals.

The first:

What you don’t see here is Simmonds’s pass that was offline in the neutral zone that was intercepted by Josh Bailey, who gets the primary assist on the goal.

This isn’t a really big deal – passes get picked off all the time. Sure, you want your players to be more accurate and you don’t want to see that happen, but hockey is a fast game that is filled with these kinds of turnovers.

There were defensemen back and Ivan Provorov does a nice job of forcing Bailey to the outside.

However Simmonds has to be responsible for Tavares. They both started skating into the Flyers zone from a near identical spot on the ice. But, while Tavares kept chugging, Simmonds started gliding (this is why you always hear hockey coaches say “You gotta move your feet”).

Then, because he’s a step behind, he’s left flailing at Tavaras, but his slashes have no impact as Tavaras makes a move and beats Petr Mrazek for the goal.

Then there was this one:

Simmonds gets faked out because he was leaning toward the blue line instead of toward the circle, which is a more dangerous area of the ice.

Mathew Barzal, who is becoming a thorn in the Flyers side, makes a nice move and Mrazek can’t make the save, and suddenly it’s 3-1.

Both of these goals are evidence of Simmonds not having the legs to make the play.

I never question Simmonds’ desire or effort – the guy has been consistent in that regard for his whole career here.

But I think injuries, the daily beating he takes on the ice, and Father Time are starting to affect him.

It’s why I suggested during our Flyers podcast – Snow the Goalie – that the Flyers should replace Simmonds on the top power play unit and that he might be ripe to be traded in the offseason.

And in the third period, Dave Hakstol did just that, putting Nolan Patrick in Simmonds’ spot and watching as Patrick scored a pair of goals and registered his first three-point NHL night.

It was a move the Flyers should have stuck with initially. Patrick replaced Simmonds when he was out with a hand injury last month, and Patrick looked good on the top power play unit. He has a great net-front presence. He might not be as good at the tip drill as Simmonds – who is an all-timer in that regard – but he has the young legs and the skill to find pucks at his feet and put them in the net.

But, Dave Hakstol didn’t want Simmonds to lose his job due to injury, and was put back on the top power play unit, a united which has struggled. Mightily.

Until last night, when the change was made.

Look, I’m not saying Simmonds isn’t a valuable player anymore. And last night was probably the worst you’ll ever see him play. But, if the guy is a third line winger and not on the top unit of your power play, what’s really his value on the team, especially when he’s slated to count $3.975 million against the salary cap next season?

Guys like Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom and of course Patrick on the power play have moved past him into the Flyers’ Top 6. The Flyers can better spend that money elsewhere and replace Simmonds with a more affordable third line forward next season.

It’s sad to say because he’s been such a good player for so long for the Flyers, but I fear we are seeing his Flyers swan song, and it’s not the prettiest song at the moment… although there is still time.

2. Coaching, Coaching, Coaching

This one is tough today. I am normally an unabashed critic of Hakstol and his decisions. And there is one decision I’m going to knock him for today.

But, that said, I’m also going to defend him a little bit too.

First, my criticism:

As bad as the Islanders are defensively, they’re a pretty solid offensive team. They have good young forwards. They have an all-world player in Tavares. They can put up goals in the blink of an eye. And their forwards are plus skaters.

So, with Michal Raffl coming back into the lineup, why would Hakstol consider taking a plus skater who is a decent defensive forward in Scott Laughton out of the lineup and keep Jori Lehtera, who is slower than me (OK, probably not… but he looks it) in the lineup?

It makes no sense, and it ultimately had an impact as Lehtera had zero chance of skating with Barzal on the game-winning goal last night as you can see below:

Now, this isn’t Lehtera’s fault mind you. I don’t want you to think that’s where the blame is going here. Barzal is a top-end talent and Lehtera has no prayer of skating with him. Frankly, it would be tough for Laughton to skate with him either – but he’d certainly have had a chance. Lehtera had none.

No, the error on this goal was actually by Provorov, who made a bad pinch, which allowed the Islanders to have a 2-on-1.

Now, some are questioning the coach today and asking why Lehtera’s line is on the ice in this situation, especially right after a goal, especially right after a great comeback in the period and especially against that Islanders line.

And here’s where I’m going to defend Hakstol:

He really doesn’t have much of a choice.

It’s that simple.

Let’s address those three complaints individually.

Charlie O’Connor over at The Athletic (I’d provide a link, but it’s behind a paywall… so why bother) did a nice job in his story identifying how frequently Hakstol turns to his third and fourth line after goals are scored. I believe it happened on eight of the nine occasions yesterday.

And while you can certainly ask why after an opposition goal, it’s hard to not do it after the Flyers score.

Very frequently, the Flyers get goals from one of their top two lines at 5-on-5 or on the power play. That’s where a majority of the scoring happens.

Like most coaches, Hakstol likes to deploy his top two lines more frequently than any other, because that will give his team the best chance to score.

It’s common sense really.

So, after you have a line that just scored a goal, you often are making a change (unless someone scored coming off the bench, or after only a few seconds). So, odds are, someone from your top two lines scored and odds are, the other scoring line was also on the ice recently, so your options are often your third or fourth line after a goal.

Now, you may not like the Flyers’ third and fourth lines – and that’s fine. But, he has to play them. They have to get ice time. And in this instance, the Flyers had shortened the bench to try to tie the score and the top line had just come off the ice after Claude Giroux’s 30th goal of the season (Hart Trophy? Anyone?)

As such, it was the right time to turn to a third or fourth line.

Now, the Islanders, being the home team, have the ability to make the last line change, so they smartly got Barzal and company on the ice against the Lehtera line, which was a favorable matchup for them. But really, what was Haktol’s choice here?

All his top end forwards just busted their asses to overcome a 4-1 deficit. Someone else had to play. He even put them out there with his most reliable defenseman – and it was that defenseman’s mistake that led to the game-winning goal.

That friends, is not on the coach.

3. Good things. There were good things!

Well, Patrick and Lindblom were the good things last night.

The two really seem to have nice chemistry and both have playmaking ability while Patrick is also a finisher. Just watch the play they made to set up Simmonds for his goal:

They both have the vision to know where their teammates are and the skill to put the right touch on their passes.

The more they play together, the better they’re going to be. I know I might sound crazy, but I’d like to see them play with Konecny on the right wing and put Voracek back on the top line with Giroux and Couturier.

Putting Voracek back up there might open the flood gates for Couturier again and Konecny has come so much into his own, that the second line with Lindblom and Patrick could be really dynamic.

Just a thought Hak. Give it a shot.

As for Patrick, this is what he gives you that Simmonds doesn’t seem to be able to provide any more on the power play:

and this….

The kid is going to be something special.

4. Meh-razek

The Flyers needed Petr Mrazek to come up with another strong effort like he did against Boston… and he just couldn’t do it.

He didn’t really give up a bad goal, but he certainly didn’t provide that big save that the team needed.

Like, here would have helped:

If the Flyers are going to qualify for the playoffs and make any kind of noise, they really need Brian Elliott to get back out there. Otherwise, it’s a wing and a prayer.

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7 Comments

  • Huge Fan of Ava Graham April 4, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    I’m so fucking tired of this team. We all looked at their schedule down the stretch and thought it’d be easy but of course they fucked it up by loss after loss to dismal team after dismal team. Now we’re worried the fucking Florida Panthers.

    Really, The Panthers? Christ I’m done with this team.

  • SH April 4, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    How much ice time did Manning or Gudas get vs Provy or Ghost last night?

  • Fake Nova Shirts #2 April 4, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I sure am glad Crossingbored has 4 people covering the flyers and no one giving a fuck about the phillies.
    Thats what i look for in a sports blog….not giving a fuck about sports.
    I wonder if the 100’s of CrossingBored advertisers know that CB doesn’t give s shit about baseball.
    But hey….as long as you keep them high demand soccer articles coming i guess its okay.
    WTF!

  • "Coggin Toboggan" makes gargano seem fun to listen to April 4, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Anything on the exclusive subscriber content Kyle has teased for so long?

  • ANTHONY DA GOAT April 4, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you for the only quality content on this site.

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