Jake Voracek and I must have been operating on the same mental wavelength after the Flyers blew a two goal lead in the final nine minutes in the first game of the post-Ron Hextall era, losing to the lowly Ottawa Senators 4-3.
“I still don’t know what happened,” he said. “I can’t believe we lost that game.”
Neither can I, Jake. Neither can I.
And it’s weird, because it’s not one of those epic collapses you could see coming. There was no real momentum shift. There was no real noticeable meltdown.
Frankly the game was pretty boring.
The Flyers were the better team through two periods. They weren’t kick-ass dominant by any stretch of the imagination, but they were playing smart, simple hockey, controlled puck possession by a wide margin, took more and better shots, were a little more physical, and, most importantly, they built a lead, 3-1 on goals by Travis Konecny, Voracek and Radko Gudas.
Then came the third period, and although the Flyers weren’t great in the first half of the period, they weren’t terrible either. In fact, they were playing well-enough defensively, still not letting Ottawa generate much in the way of offense.
It’s not like the Senators suddenly got a great spark either. They just seemed to score. It was really strange.
After the jump, I’ll show you just how weird it was:
1. Brady Tkachuk is going to be good
O.K. so here’s how it all started:
Brady Tkachuk gets the Sens within a goal. pic.twitter.com/mZfK8SkiTB
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 28, 2018
Mark Stone had deflected a Colin White shot that rang off the post and landed on the left pad of goalie Anthony Stolarz.
Stolarz admitted afterwards that he couldn’t see the puck and didn’t know where it was. Obviously he couldn’t feel it either because it was on his pad.
So as he moved it slipped off and Tkachuk was Johnny-on-the-spot to bang it home to cut the Flyers lead to 3-2.
Up until that point, the Senators had no jump. They really weren’t getting to the net. Stolarz was having a pretty easy time.
But hockey is a weird game sometimes, and because the Flyers couldn’t separate themselves further than that two-goal lead, this flukey goal suddenly let a pretty dormant team back into the game with a little more than eight minutes to play.
Still, it’s not like the Sens started firing on all cylinders. Sure, Tkachuk scored again less than two minutes later, and it was the result of the Flyers not being patient with the puck and letting the Sens set up shop in the offensive zone, but it wasn’t like Ottawa was buzzing. They were just kind of there.
Then, Thomas Chabot took a shot from the point and, well, Tkachuk was in the right place again:
And we're tied pic.twitter.com/NHHi1d13xJ
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 28, 2018
Tkachuk is going to be special. For such a young kid, he’s got incredible hockey sense and just knows where to get himself positioned on the ice. That’s nine goals in 25 games for the rookie. That’s more than every Flyer except Sean Couturier and the same amount as Wayne Simmonds.
It should also be noted that four of his nine goals have come in two games against the Flyers. Another Flyer killer?
This whole sequence was started by a Shayne Gostisbehere turnover in his own zone. It took a while for the Sens to score off it, but the Flyers became a bit scrambley (new word in the English language) for a few seconds afterwards and let Ottawa set up offense quickly, leading to the goal.
Still, even though this was tied, it didn’t seem like the Flyers were really going to blow it. Maybe they would have to go to overtime or a shootout to win, but the Senators still didn’t seem to have more life than the Flyers.
Ottawa takes a 4-3 lead pic.twitter.com/ACTIvRX9wk
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 28, 2018
That’s an unbelievable goal by Matt Duchene, one which he admitted afterwards was quite lucky. You can’t knock Stolarz for it either. Gudas blocks the initial shot and then Duchene just swats it out of the air.
What you don’t see is how Duchene got the puck.
It was a bad turnover by Travis Sanheim. Rather than make a simple move and carry the puck out of the zone around the oncoming forechecker, or make a simpler pass back over to Gudas on the far side of the ice where there was room, he tried to throw it up the boards to Dale Weise who was marked by Duchene. Duchene then basically waltzed into the zone unchallenged, leading to the goal.
It all happened so quickly. It all spiraled out of control. No one saw this coming – not even Ottawa.
But then, a very candid Voracek explained it all afterwards, and what he said was very telling.
2. Jake spitting truth
Here’s a transcription of a great interview with Voracek afterwards. I’ve bolded and italicized important parts of his answers for emphasis and will break them down:
Is the team feeling any added pressure knowing that the fate of the coach could be in your hands?
“It doesn’t matter if we feel pressure or not. We were just up 3-1 in the third, had full control of the game and gave it away. I don’t think that has anything to do with pressure the way we played in the third. That’s a winnable game, we just gave it away.”
What did you see that went wrong there in the last ten minutes of the game?
“As soon as they got that second goal we kind of got scared. You can’t do that. Every single team is going to jump on it and gain the momentum and that’s what they did.It’s only a one goal game and we’ve been in that situation so many times, I still don’t know what happened. I can’t believe we lost that game.”
This is another way of saying this hockey team is fragile. That it doesn’t do well under pressure. I know from talking to some people that the fragility is even worse on home ice. For some reason this team struggles to perform in front of the home crowd. They are letting outside pressure get to them. That’s not a good thing, and it isn’t going to go away soon.
When you say that the team got a little bit scared after the second goal, is that lack of focus? Or is that just getting in your own heads as a team collectively?
“I don’t think it’s lack of focus; I think it’s just the way things are going right now. Everything we touch it just doesn’t work. Like I said, nobody gives a damn of the position we are in. Every single guy in the locker room has to find a way to go out there, no matter what the score is, no matter what time it is during the game, we have to find a way to contribute. It feels like we got scared. We started slamming pucks across the ice instead of just holding it and making a hard play. We were just whacking on it, it’s not a good thing.”
I think the “slamming pucks across the ice” bit is in reference to Gostisbehere whose turnover on the tying goal was trying to make a something happen that he shouldn’t have. I could be wrong, but that seems like it. It could also be in reference to Sanheim’s play, but I think he takes him to task later. Of course, he could be just dog piling on the rabbit too so…
Is that what the problem is in the defensive zone? You guys just turn the puck over there constantly?
“We were fine the first 40 minutes. We were making simple plays, when we had the puck we made a play out of it instead of just––as soon as you start whacking pucks, standing still, that’s trouble. I think that’s what we did in the third period, that’s why they came and won. We just gave the puck away and put our other guys in a tough position. If you have the puck and the ice, you have to take it and make the play. That’s the bottom line.”
See, this is the one I think relates to Sanheim. He had ice to skate and make a play – and didn’t, and that’s why they lose the game. These chronic mistakes from the younge rplayers are weighing heavy on the veterans.
Is this mistakes from a young team?
“I think it’s mistakes by a team that doesn’t have confidence, which we don’t have right now, and there’s nobody to blame but us.We put ourselves in that position. We have a tough record. Like I said, 3-1 against a team that played [the day before]? No matter what kind of position you are in, mentally you have to find a way to win that game. We didn’t.”
Another shot at the younger players. You can’t be a team that lacks confidence and expect any level of success.
When you say everything you touch stops working and this team lacks confidence how do you even begin to reset mentally?
“It starts with everyday work. Practice. Come to the [rink] and if you aren’t in the lineup you have to earn that spot. And if you are in the lineup, there’s a lot of talented guys in this room. Like I said, nobody cares if somebody doesn’t have confidence. That’s your problem. As players we have to find a way to gain confidence and contribute to the team. I know we have a lot of young guys, but we have a lot of older guys as well. I went through it so many times in my career, sometimes all it takes is one shot or one pass, but we have too many guys thinking too much right now, which is hurting us.”
In other words, guys are in their own heads and it’s a problem. Ivan Provorov has taken a step back this season. Shayne Gostisbehere has taken a step back this season. (Dave Hakstol paired them back up in this game, with mixed results). Travis Sanheim has been good with possession numbers, but it’s plays like the game-winning goal that keeps him from graduating from the third pair.
Meanwhile, with the exception of Konecny, who’s been mostly good this season (still with some lapses in judgment mixed in there) the young forwards are lost in the woods too. Nolan Patrick hasn’t taken that next step. Oskar Lindblom has regressed. Jordan Weal has been uneven. Scott Laughton has added some productivity, but his 5-on-5 play has leveled off since a hot start.
It’s really troublesome.
Is this a good time to get away and go to Pittsburgh on Saturday?
“I don’t think it’s ever a good time to go to Pittsburgh.”
No Jake. No, it’s not.
The thing is, this is all evidence that more needs to happen than just firing the GM. More changes are needed – and I believe they are coming, and coming soon.
And it’s probably going to get worse for the last place Flyers before it gets better.