Sean Couturier has been such an integral part of the Flyers this season.
So, it’s only right that he got a little bit of love league-wide on Wednesday when he was announced as a finalist for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the best two-way forward in the NHL.
Couturier has long been just on the outskirts of this award, and has finally cracked the top three in voting, joining stalwarts in this category Patrtice Bergeron of Boston and Anze Kopitar of Los Angeles.
It’s a credit to Couturier, who had a breakout offensive season to go along with his excellent defensive play as a shutdown forward.
Wait… what’s that? There was something else that happened last night involving the Flyers? Really? Did I miss it? What was it? A playoff game? Stop. You’re pulling my leg. There was playoff hockey played in Philadelphia last night? Seriously, am I on the Carbonaro Effect? Where are the hidden cameras? I want to see a magic trick!
No, you’re not kidding? There was a game last night? What happened? Anything? Oh, I didn’t miss much. The Flyers were blown out by the Penguins again? Oh, right, right, right. That’s what that sound was. It sounded like something sucking the life out of the city was emanating from the Sports complex. I tried to stay away so I wouldn’t turn into a zombie.
Yeah people, the Flyers played another playoff game yesterday – and, as per usual, it wasn’t pretty.
Couturier, who was in fact named a finalist for the Selke, did not play after nearly being annihilated by teammate Radko Gudas in practice on Tuesday.
And he left a gaping hole in the lineup.
That said, while it was incredibly noticeable that Couturier was not in the lineup, even if he were, the Flyers likely would have been rolled over by the Penguins.
The final score was 5-0. It’s a pretty common theme betwixt these two teams this season. The Penguins have scored at least five goals in seven of the eight games against the Flyers. The Flyers have scored just one goal or none five of the eight times.
This is as lopsided as it gets.
The fact that the Flyers actually won Game 2 of this series is now a total aberration. An outlier. A chance event.
Because it has become painfully obvious they don’t belong on the same ice as the Penguins.
And talent-level does have something to do with it.
The Penguins are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. They have a lot of top-end talent, and the best player in the game in Sidney Crosby – who scored his fifth goal of the series last night, and has now scored on each of the three goalies who have seen action for the Flyers – Brian Elliott, Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth.
Meanwhile, the Flyers are still an up-and-coming team with a lot of young players getting their first taste of playoff action.
So, it’s fair to say the Flyers were always going to be underdogs in this series. It’s fair to say that you knew coming in, they probably weren’t going to beat the Penguins four times.
But, in the very least, you hoped for competitive, playoff hockey, and something to build on as the Flyers rebuild inches along the incredibly slow path that Ron Hextall has forged during his tenure as general manager.
And you aren’t getting that.
That’s the greatest indictment of this team. They are not competitive when the games matter most.
Sure, they have stretches, but as soon as any adversity faces them, they turtle up and never re-emerge.
It’s strange, because it’s a little opposite from the regular season. Sure, they are a streaky regular season team and when things are bad, they snowball, but the Flyers made their bones in 2017-18 as being a team that doesn’t quit, that doesn’t stop trying.
It’s why there were so many one-goal games – or two-goal games with an empty netter. It’s why they went to overtime a league-leading 24 times this season.
But come playoffs, when all teams kick it into a higher gear, under Dave Hakstol’s stewardship as coach, the Flyers continue to drop the clutch.
Dave Hakstol has now coached 10 playoff games with the Flyers. In those 10 games:
- His record is 3-7.
- The Flyers have scored more than two goals just once (Game 2 in Pittsburgh).
- They have been shutout four times.
- They have been outscored in the seven losses 30-3.
Think about that last one for a minute – in 70% of the playoff games Dave Hakstol has coached, his team is being outscored 10-1.
That, in fact, was the goal differential of the two home playoff losses to the Penguins this week – 10-1.
I’d say, this is a trend that should send up the biggest red flags.
Because I don’t care how good the Penguins are, this is the playoffs. No NHL team is 10 times better at than the worst team in the league in the regular season, never mind the playoffs.
But the Flyers, under Hakstol, get obliterated in the playoffs.
The fans see it. I see it. My colleagues in the media see it. But Ron Hextall doesn’t see it. Or if he does, he doesn’t want to address it.
Hextall believes in Hakstol. I don’t see why, but he does.
Not that he wants to tell us why:
The media requested Ron Hextall to speak after the game and the GM declined. #GuessWeWaitTilFriday
— AntSanPhilly (@AntSanPhilly) April 19, 2018
Now, the GM does not have to speak to the media. That is his right. So, the complaint isn’t that he declined, but rather he declined under the circumstances.
Here’s a team that is getting its ass handed to them on home ice in the playoffs. The players sound dejected. The coach has no answers. The fans are irate. This is the time you do say something. This is the opportunity to say something publicly that could turn your team around – that could give it the motivation and momentum it needs to pull of a would-be miracle comeback at this point.
But he chose not to. He chose to politely decline until a more appropriate time.
No wonder the team is so milquetoast.
We don’t need to get into the specifics of last night – just know it was bad. Here’s the quick synopsis:
- Matt Read takes a penalty. Team is already without Couturier. Matchup of Flyers PK vs. Pens PP was terrible enough as it was, now without the two best penalty killers for this one? Flyers had no chance. Evgeni Malkin scores on a tic-tac-toe pass from Phil Kessel and Crosby. 1-0 Penguins.
- The Flyers have sustained pressure for several minutes in the Penguins end, working the crowd into a frenzy. They don’t score though and quickly the Pens come the other way on a 2-on-1 (off a turnover) and Kessel beats Elliott 5-hole – on a shot Elliott should have stopped. That makes it 2-0.
- Flyers go into a shell. Basically wave the white Flag. They score two more times – on two goalies, since the Flyers pulled Elliott in favor of Neuvirth. It’s now 4-0.
- Frankly wasn’t playing close attention. In fact, nobody was. So, when the Penguins scored again, nobody was even shocked or upset.
That’s a microcosm of this frustrating and boring team.
It’s really not worth breaking down any further. This performance lies squarely at the feet of the people who put this team together and who coach this team.
There’s nothing else to say about it. No video breakdown. No analytics analysis. No, this player needs to be better or that player should play on this line nonsense.
Nope. None of that.
The players were bad. Terrible even. But they play in the image and style of the coach and GM and that amounts to playoff blowout losses.
This team is not ready for prime time, and as slow-moving as this process is, and as big a disparity as there is between offensive players in their prime and the defense and goaltending still being really young, it’s no longer certain if it truly ever will be, because the window may never really open far enough.
And that’s a damn shame.