It happened again.
Were you expecting something else?
The Flyers had a dreadful start. For the eighth time in nine games this season they got behind 1-0. And from that point they had to chase the game.
This, friends, is the new Flyers hockey.
Everyone wants to talk about the evolution of sports, how the game changes and game plans change and how a team is measured in changes.
Well, under the stewardship of general manager Ron Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers have changed with the sport of hockey.
And for four years, you’ve gotten much of the same thing. A team that so is consistently inconsistent that it’s maddening.
The Flyers lost to the Colorado Avalanche 4-1. They didn’t play all that bad a game. They dominated play for much of the second period, and once they got down 3-0 early in the third period, they played a really high-tempo, high energy brand of hockey.
It’s the kind that, to a man, they say they wish they played for 60 minutes every night.
I mean, take a look at the possession numbers… the Flyers were the better team for most of the game:
Now, just because you are generating more shots than your opponent and driving the play doesn’t always translate to victories.
But, the way this Flyers team plays, it happens this way more often than not.
That’s the great unknown. The players say it’s chronic and that they have to be better. The coach doesn’t really have an absolute answer for it, but you can tell he is getting close to his wit’s end.
Your guys are talking again about getting off to better starts. That seems to be a repeating thing, really year to year:
“We had a good start two games ago, today it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t sharp. We looked exactly like we didn’t practice yesterday and we didn’t. We were coming off a day when we were off the ice yesterday; we had a good morning skate this morning and had an opportunity to be crisp and that didn’t carry over to our start and that’s not acceptable.”
Is that a characteristic of the club?
“It has been too many days and too many games this year.”
How do you address that?
“You address it direct and keep pushing on it. I liked our start two nights ago and then we come out tonight and we’re not sharp, we’re not ready and we’re not crisp with the puck and that puts us back on our heels. It’s not just with the puck, we took another penalty today, stick penalty, in the first two minutes of the game. I barked at the refs initially because I thought it was a soft call and then when I looked at it, it’s a penalty. That’s on us.”
That last quote is about as close as Hakstol will come to criticizing a player, and in this instance, it was Jordan Weal.
Weal has taken four penalties in the last two games. One was an embellishment penalty, which was an awful call, and negated a Flyers power play.
The other three were unnecessary stick infractions and each of them resulted in a power play goal against.
These kinds of things can’t keep happening.
The penalty kill is not good. Again, nothing new. The units have done a better job being aggressive up ice but are just as bad – if not worse – this season than previous seasons under Hakstol once the opposition gets set up in the zone.
But the fact of the matter is, the Flyers have been absolutely miserable to start most games this season.
They have now given up the first goal in eight of the nine games they’ve played. They can’t keep playing from behind. It’s not a good formula for winning.
Against Colorado, it could have gotten even worse, were it not for a fine effort in goal by Brian Elliott.
Let’s talk about him for a minute, shall we?
Elliott has had a pretty uneven start to the season. He played his tail off in the first couple of games and covered up many weaknesses on the defensive front.
His numbers were really inflated at the time, and it was a shame, because he played well.
Then came the home opener, where he was hung out to dry by his teammates and his coach – who left him on the ice for all eight goals in a debacle against the Sharks.
Since then, Elliott has been mostly up and down. He’s had his moments of good play, with key saves here and there, but he hadn’t put together another nice game where he was a standout player.
Yeah, he only allowed the one goal in the 1-0 loss to Vegas, but that game was more about team defense as the Golden Knights only got off 21 shots for the game, and most of them were not Grade A chances.
But he struggled against Florida and was pulled with the team leading by a goal in the third period. It was an odd time for a goalie switch for sure, turning to a marginal NHL backup, who has been sitting cold on the bench, to protect a lead against a team with a lot of momentum.
Elliot then sat the next game and returned for New Jersey where he let up a pair of power play goals, but again the win was the result of team defense more than goaltending.
Then came this Colorado game. And Elliott answered the bell more often than not in the first period. He even had some nice saves during bursts of pressure by the Avalanche over the final 60 minutes.
Ultimately though, it was mistakes that killed the Flyers, and Elliott couldn’t save them. This is becoming a running theme now as well as Elliott has a 3.59 goals against average and a horrendous save percentage of .882.
And it’s sort of getting to him. You can tell. After the San Jose game, he talked about a lack of structure in front of him.
He went back to that word again after the loss to Colorado:
“What I mean by structure is everybody is working for each other, close support, when we have guys coming back hard, back checking, it helps the D out, prevents them from getting really good opportunities. That’s what I mean by structure, basically not having guys like hang below and hoping for a breakaway pass or hoping things come back the other way, it’s really working hard, we’ve had games, we’ve had stretches that we’ve played that way, but I think when we get away from it, it’s a little bit of a scramble and that’s what we don’t want to happen.”
It’s kind of a bit damning when the goalie has had to reference structure in front of him twice now in the span of seven games. The Flyers need to fix this soon – and there’s time – but it’s not right.
2. Too many mistakes
Let’s look at the three Colorado goals prior to the empty-netter:
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) October 22, 2018
It might be easy to say, “Oh Christian Folin, why are you dropping to your knees?” Or, “Why is Ivan Provorov just watching paint dry?”
But the real culprit here is someone who should know better.
Sean Couturier gets caught out of position – mainly watching the play. It allows Mikko Rantanen to find space for himself to get open for the goal.
Hakstol addressed this too after the game. Again, taking a player to task without naming names. You can tell he’s starting the really be bothered by these breakdowns. He’s been much better explaining things after losses this season:
“We made a mistake on the broken play, it’s the third puck coming to the slot and instead of collapsing to the net, our top PK’er stayed out five to eight feet too high, and that’s the difference and that [the puck] goes in the back of the net.”
He’s looking at you Coots.
Matt to Matt?
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) October 23, 2018
This to me seems like a bunch of breakdowns.
First, Robert Hagg decides to let Matt Calvert go behind the net… maybe to take his position on the far post. He stops following Calvert because he sees a teammate on the other side. It looks like he thinks it’s Provorov, who would just pick up Calvert coming out from behind the other side of the net. Except, it wasn’t Provorov. It was Couturier, who vacated that spot to mark a man.
By the time Hagg realized this, it was too late, and Calvert had an easy out to find an open man.
Matt Nieto was unmarked. Not sure if that’s Provorov’s guy or Claude Giroux, who was nearby, but I’m thinking that if Hagg was expecting Provorov to be on the post, then Provy was likely out of position. The forward in the high slot is usually marked by an opposing forward, so it was probably Giroux’s guy, and again, he was a step away from where he needed to be.
This is the structural breakdown that Elliott was talking about. You can’t have that many things go wrong at once defensively in your own zone and not expect to be scored on.
And these are mistakes by guys who have been around.
And it’s frustrating guys in the locker room. Everyone. Even guys with a perpetual smile like Hagg:
“I mean, we’re working our balls off out there, trying as hard as we can and if it’s one guy’s break down then it’s gonna be in the back of the net, so everybody has to work together, stick with a plan, and just execute. That’s how it is and we need to keep working on it and it has to be better, absolutely.”
Another game, another goal.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) October 23, 2018
Yep, Giroux again. Not the best game for the captain. To be fair, he’s been excellent so far this season, so guys are going to have clunkers every now and then – even the best players in the game. So, I wouldn’t worry about this. I expect Giroux to bounce back quickly.
That said, the Flyers seem to have no margin for error. None.
Something’s not right here with Couturier. The guy just doesn’t look the same. Maybe the delay to the start of camp because of his offseason injury is the reason and he’s just a step behind. Who knows, but he doesn’t look like the same player who was a deserving Selke Trophy finalist last season.
He’s such a durable and reliable player that I have no doubt he’ll find his game, but it might be best, in the interim, to juggle things around to try and create a spark.
Maybe give Nolan Patrick, who’s looked good since returning from his upper body injury, a chance on the top unit with Giroux.
Something, anything to try and jump start him. He’s such an important player and he’s being asked to do everything – be the top line center, play on the No. 1 power play, be the best penalty killer, win all the important faceoffs. If he needs a little less responsibility for a few games for his body to play catch up, that might be a benefit for the team in the long run.
Michael Raffl had this happen to him in the second period:
— David Malandra Jr (@djmjr788) October 23, 2018
It looks harmless, but he was in serious pain. He couldn’t put weight on his left leg at all when leaving the ice.
After the game, he was seen walking out of the trainer’s room in his skivvies with a regular pair of shoes on and no boot – but he still had a noticeable limp.
There was no injury update from the Flyers, but the scuttlebutt was that he will miss some time.
This is a blow to the Flyers.
Raffl is a very good role player. He’s the Swiss army knife in the sense that he can play all three forward positions and he can play anywhere in the lineup and not hurt the team. He’s not going to be prolific offensively, but he’s a good forechecker and he’s hard to knock off the puck, which is good in the offensive zone.
On the other side of the coin, he’s very defensively responsible and even though the penalty kill has been poor overall, Raffl has stood out as a guy who has done great work on the kill.
The guess here is Corban Knight, not Mikhail Vorobyev, replaces Raffl because he has some of those similar qualities.
Vorobyev might get another shot, especially with Hakstol being none-too-pleased with Weal’s stick infractions of late, but If Vorobyev gets back in the lineup I would think it’d be in place of Weal as a third line center, not Raffl as a fourth line winger.