Claude Giroux had to answer questions he really couldn’t answer.
His team had just lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 3-1. It was a missed opportunity to get within four points of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The loss hurt their chances at making this miraculous comeback to get into the postseason after having the worst record in the NHL in early January, but it could have been worse. It could have completely buried them had Columbus won – which they didn’t.
So the Flyers are still six points out with nine games to play. A distant flicker of hope still exists.
But there was Giroux, the team’s captain and best player, trying to identify why the team wasn’t able to win another tight game against another decent team – like they have so many times over the past two months.
“I feel we didn’t have a lot of urgency and were going through the motions,” he said. “We didn’t play bad, but we didn’t play good.”
Then, when asked if that surprised him, he said, “Yeah.”
I’m not sure Giroux’s assessment is completely right. There’s actually a lot to unpack there, so let’s get to it, after the jump:
1. “I feel we didn’t have a lot of urgency…”
This is a direct reference to the start of the game as that’s what the question being asked of Giroux was about. And I can understand his frustration. It wasn’t a great first period for the Flyers. They did seem tentative. They did seem conservative. There was a lack of “killer instinct” for lack of a better term.
But that’s also because that’s the tenor the game took on early.
Radko Gudas had a much better assessment of the first period:
“I think we kind of felt each other out the first period,” Gudas said. ” We had one breakdown in our D zone, I didn’t think it was anything bad, but it turned out to be a goal. Then we needed to come back and we just couldn’t come back until the third. So, we tried to keep pushing and I just don’t think it was our best game.”
The first period was, in fact, a feeling out process. The game certainly had a playoff feel to it in that sense. You can tell the stakes were high for both teams, but neither team wanted to make a mistake. As a matter of fact, that conservative approach festered throughout the entire game.
Consider there was only one penalty called, the entire game (and it was a ticky-tack one at that). There were no breakaways or noticeable odd-man rushes resulting in a high-leverage scoring chance.
Both teams were very focused on their defensive play, and the difference in this game was the one mistake that cost the Flyers in the first period:
— Hockey Daily (@HockeyDaily365) March 20, 2019
If you watch the video all the way through you see that Brendan Gallagher forces Oskar Lindblom to turn over the puck. That one little mistake cost the Flyers this goal.
It was the lone mistake that really stood out in the game. But it highlighted a first period that was not the way the Flyers should have started.
One would have to wonder if they would have been better off pushing the envelope early. Playing a little risky coming off the emotional win in Pittsburgh Sunday. Push hard out of the gate and get Montreal back on their heels a little bit.
I’m sure it was considered, but maybe was deemed too risky a tactic. I get it, but with hindsight providing clairvoyance, I wonder if that would have been a better approach for the Flyers.
2. “…were going through the motions.”
I’m not sure I agree with Giroux here either. I think the Flyers were trying to play their game and were simply stifled by Montreal.
Sometimes in hockey, you can’t just point the fingers of blame at someone for a loss, but rather have to be willing to give credit where it is due for a win.
The Canadiens played a masterful defensive game. They swarmed the Flyers. They protected the netfront with precision. Every Flyers chance was either from the outside or Montreal goalie Carey Price had a good look at it.
Not until Shayne Gostisbehere jumped up on a rush and got off a quality shot late in the second period – the Flyers 18th shot on goal of the game – did you really think Price had to do anything remotely special to make a save. He saw everything and shots were right at him. No scramble saves. No flashy glove save to evoke Jim Jackson on the broadcast to scream “left-handed larceny.” No “kick save, and a beauty” references either.
That’s indicative of the play in front of him by his team defense.
The Flyers’ players didn’t really identify that after the game, but coach Scott Gordon sure did.
“Obviously we would’ve liked to get a few more screens,” Gordon said. “But, I also think they worked pretty hard at preventing us from getting near [the net] and whether we need a little more fight or not, I wouldn’t be able to tell you until I saw the tape, but I know that I did look at the chances after the first and second period. We’re in the area but we can’t get to where we want to go.
“…I thought we had a lot of o-zone time, but it was a struggle to get the pucks in net. We had attempted, I don’t know what it was, 30- plus shots that didn’t make it to the net. Plus, the 30- plus that we had. Like I said, at times it’s not from a lack of effort. The other team you have to give credit to. They defended; they did a lot to make it hard for us to get shots.”
As usual, Gordon’s honest assessment is spot on.
The Canadiens were very good. The only time the Flyers had any scoring success was on their lone power play when Sean Couturier scored his 30th goal of the season on a rebound.
Aside from that, at 5-on-5, the Canadiens defense was superb.
3. “We didn’t play bad, but we didn’t play good.”
This is the part I agree with Giroux the most. And it’s the part that is easily forgotten about.
What the Flyers have done over the past nine weeks has been remarkable. I can’t think of another team in recent memory who was the worst team in the league for the first half of the season and then among the best team’s in the league the second half of the season.
The turnaround has been pretty incredible, and a lot of people deserve credit for us being three weeks from the end of the season and still typing the words “playoff race” in Flyers stories.
Of course it starts with the coaching staff, led by Scott Gordon, but Rick Wilson has been integral to the growth of the defense and even the much maligned Ian Laperriere has gotten the penalty kill back to respectability in the second half.
The leadership group deserves credit for keeping the team playing with a never-say-die attitude. The Flyers could have easily folded the tent and really gone through the motions of a half a season. But Giroux, Couturier, Jake Voracek, Gudas, even the much-maligned and role-reduced Andrew MacDonald have been strong voices in the locker room keeping the team believing.
Then, of course there’s been the goaltending, which was stabilized by Carter Hart and a return to health by Brian Elliott.
It’s all been a nice little story. But it will be a mere footnote, because overcoming such an amazingly large points deficit is so hard to do.
It’s almost as if we got to a point where we expected perfection from the Flyers. Fans were complaining that they had no juice in the biggest game of the season against Montreal.
Lest they forget how much juice had been spent just to get to that latest biggest game of the season. The Flyers were 20-6-2 in the 28 games before losing to Montreal. Think about that for a second. That’s Tampa-like.
So, if they lose a game you realllllllly wanted them to win, isn’t it just possible that for one night, they didn’t really have it? And wouldn’t it be a lot different if they had won, say four more games in the first half of the season. Then this loss wouldn’t sting as much.
I don’t blame the Flyers for not having what it takes to win this game. I blame the Flyers for putting themselves in this position from October to December.
And losses like this one to Montreal, while they may be magnified because of the “playoff race,” are hardly as bad a loss as some of us like to believe.