Making a Blueprint to Bury the Flyers: Thoughts after Getting Shellacked by the Penguins

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, it sucks to be right.

Following their loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday, I wrote these words about using a relentless forecheck against the Flyers:

“Teams scouting the Flyers have to see how the Islanders played and use that as a prototype for how they’ll play against them as well.

It’ll be up to the Flyers to find ways to counter pressure so that they can play their game and not be subdued by the way teams play against them.

If they don’t, games like the one against the Islanders will be more and more frequent.”

Lo and behold, in the very next game the Flyers played, they were ambushed by a forecheck-happy Pittsburgh Penguins team. The Penguins scored four goals in the first period, added a couple more in the middle frame, and in the end, the final score was 7-1 in favor of the Flyers’ most-hated rival.

In short, it was ugly.

The first period was the game. The Penguins blew the Flyers doors off in the opening 20 minutes. From that point forward it was simply a funeral.

And I think Flyers beat writer Dave Isaac from the Courier Post described the first period best with this tweet:

It was bad, and it went from bad to worse before the period was over.

A lot of Flyers fans wanted to blame starting goalie Brian Elliott. Many disagreed with Elliott starting this game over the struggling Carter Hart, so of course, he was going to be in the cross hairs any time the Penguins scored.

And yet despite those complaints, this result had nothing to do with bad goaltending. I’m not sure Bernie Parent in his prime would have had much success in this one.

The Flyers definitely have a problem dealing with defensive zone pressure. That sounds silly, because every team ultimately is more prone to mistakes when the opposition puts pressure on them in their own end.

It just seems like the Flyers though, make mistakes that result from pressure that end up in the back of their net more frequently than most teams.

Let’s look at the first period goals, and the individuals who were directly responsible for each to emphasize this narrative:

GOAL #1: Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Michael Raffl

Once again a bad defensive play starts with a poor decision by Shayne Gostisbehere. This has been a thing now for quite some time and it isn’t going to get any better.

Gostisbehere is a below average defenseman in his own end. That’s never going to change. You can almost live with it if he’s going to provide great offense, as he is capable of doing, which most of his blind loyalists will point out – he did have a 65-point season a few years back.

But, when the offense isn’t there – and it hasn’t been for the last 13 months – the result is a net negative for the Flyers.

On this play, the Penguins forechecker, Dominik Kahun, is two strides from Gostisbehere when he gets the puck on the far wall. Rather than control the puck and starting to skate with it and look for options, Gostisbehere makes a really soft play and just throws the puck behind the net.

I can tell you this is a frequent issue that coaches have had with Gostisbehere in Philadelphia. He frequently makes bad puck movement choices that often put his teammates in bad positions.

There is no one positioned behind the net, so Robert Hagg has to try to get to the puck, but can’t because he is checked into the board by Bryan Rust.

The puck rims around to the near side where Michael Raffl is able to get it, but Kahun has not stopped pressuring the puck, chasing it the whole way (which shows how soft a play it was by Gostisbehere), and is able to get to Raffl as soon as he controls the puck. Raffl has no choice but to try and send it up the wall, but Kahun deflects it, and it goes right to Justin Schultz, whose shot from the point beats Elliott.

Gostisbehere felt pressure (despite having time) and made a bad pass. Hagg was pressured and missed the puck. Raffl was pressured and turned it over.

Forecheck the hell out of the Flyers and this is what happens.

Goal #2 Tyler Pitlick and friends stand around

This was not a good game for Tyler Pitlick. He was directly involved with two of the Penguins goals. The grinding winger has actually been decent in his limited time on the ice this season, but really had issues against Pittsburgh.

I couldn’t find video that went further back than the clip above, but seconds before it begins, Pitlick is waiting for the puck along the wall (where he’s at when the video clip above begins) and rather than skate to t the puck, he waits for it. It never gets to him, and ends up behind the net where Provorov is swarmed by two Penguins (Kahun again).

But then the Flyers really get lazy.

Provorov, is at least trying to win a puck battle that he ultimately loses. Misha Vorobyev’s effort is less than stellar. Matt Niskanen is playing in the right position, in front of the net, but he whiffs at the puck once Kahun gains control.

Meanwhile Pitlick does nothing.

Oh, and Chris Stewart completely allows Jared McCann to get into scoring position without moving. Stewart got caught watching the play and not marking his man.

But it all started with Pitlick not wanting to take an extra stride or two to get to the puck and was waiting for it to get to him. That triggered the Penguins forecheck which caused the turnover and set up the goal.

Bad play all around by this group.

Goal #3 Travis Sanheim and Kevin Hayes

This one isn’t as bad as the others in this period because it’s scored on a rush by the Penguins and not off of a turnover by the Flyers, but, there are still issues that need to be rectified.

Travis Sanheim had a brutal game (minus-4) and his gap control on this rush is less than desirable.

Then there’s Kevin Hayes, who leaves his position to go toward Sidney Crosby. It’s what makes Crosby such a great player, he makes a simple hard stop and turn along the boards and it gets everyone out of position.

Hayes should be marking Simon, who is the trailer, but instead goes to Crosby. Crosby finds Simon coming into the zone and there is a lot of room to operate.

By the time Justin Braun and Joel Farabee realize what’s happening, Simon gets into a prime scoring area and beats Elliott with a wrister.

This is Crosby’s 100th career point against the Flyers. Nos. 101 and 102 are still to come in this game.

When the Flyers get behind, there has been a tendency in recent seasons, for everything to start falling apart around them. Things like gap control and trying to do too much (in Hayes’ case here) often happened as structure would crumble.

For the most part this season, that wasn’t happening. Then came the last two games against the Islanders and Penguins, and everyone is having nightmare flashbacks.

The question moving forward is, can they fix this again before it becomes a chronic issue? I believe in Alain Vigneault and his staff, but it does have to happen quickly before it spirals out of control.

(Oh, and if you want the translation of that Czech tweet, according to Google it’s “Dominik Simon participated in the Penguins cannonade with a goal and two assists! This was his second goal of the season.”)

Goal #4 Sanheim (again) and Pitlick (again)

This play was a microcosm of this game for Sanheim (and maybe his season thus far). He trips over his own skates, which allows Simon the time and space to make the pass to Crosby.

My bigger question is, what the hell is Pitlick doing here?

You can see that he’s with Crosby the whole time entering the zone. He even takes away the passing lane for much of the play.

But then, inexplicably, Pitlick skates to the front of the net – where there is no Penguin for him to defend – and Crosby stops in the far circle and is left wide open.

You really shouldn’t leave any player wide open, but Sid? Come on.

Pitlick then makes a flailing attempt to get back to Crosby, but he’s nowhere close.

One could argue that with Sanheim falling down and Justin Braun tied up with the charging Jake Guentzel, that Pitlick was covering open ice for Sanheim.

However, with other players on the rush as well, you have to leave Simon to the goaltender. Elliott is square to him the entire time. If Simon shoots, you have to count on your goalie to make that save.

Leaving Crosby open on the far wing is verboten.

This is how games are lost. When you have a period with this much turmoil, there are a lot of concerns that crop up.

Now, it’s a sure bet, that in a reactionary city like Philadelphia, fans are going to call for change as a result of the last two games. Trade a core player. Call up somebody from the Phantoms. I get it. But, its the wrong thing to do.

Now, if the team has a few more games like this in the next two weeks, then I’d be on board. But to push the panic button after 11 games in which your team is 5-5-1 and has been the better team on the ice in eight of those 11 games is a little too desperate.

The Flyers are going to take a day off on Wednesday. It’s needed after playing three-in-four. Then they will get back to practice on Thursday in preparation for another back-to-back set with New Jersey and Toronto this weekend.

Hart will likely start the game in New Jersey. He did give up a goal in the third period when he relieved Elliott against Pittsburgh. After the game, Vigneault said Hart’s been “fighting it” lately, which isn’t necessarily confidence-inducing.

But the Flyers match up well against New Jersey. It’s a real opportunity to bounce back after a couple bad games.

However, it’s pretty much a requirement for them at this point, because chasing teams in the division is never a fun exercise.

As for the potential of calling up players from the Phantoms – unless they put Scott Laughton or Nolan Patrick on long-term injured reserve (unlikely) or they waive a player (also unlikely at this time), they can’t make a roster move and remain salary cap compliant.

So, this is the team you’re going to see – for better or for worse – for the time being.

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13 Responses

  1. I want to see where this team is in a month. The start to this season has been what I expected, given the travel and road games. If they are just average by Thanksgiving… then we’ll have a better idea of if this team has improved at all.

  2. I thought this is what pizza box boys like Mikey Miss wanted? A soft non checking new age team? The broad street being a man style of hockey is ancient bro!

  3. Claude Giroux, the team captain, who has been on the Flyers for 12 years, complained about the lack of veteran leadership on the Flyers.

  4. –The flyers are bad..
    –They got waxed by a far superior, but less talented version of last years penguins team!
    –This team has ZERO defense (Still)
    –This team has ZERO Skating ability (Still)
    –This team STINKS, still

    To the first guy, no need to wait a month…they will be the same…theyll keep you around all year to see if they can clinch that 2nd wc spot with between 82-85 points on the last game of the season!!

    Well done Flyers, totally worth raising prices, with this years product! Oh and Gritty!

    1. I know you have no idea what your talking about because you said the PENS are far superior… yet just last year were 1-3 vs. Flyers. Pump the brakes brahhh ….

      1. Were the flyers in the playoffs last year, perhaps I did miss something.
        I know they were in them 2 years ago..where they were eliminated by I believe the Penguins! (when the Penguins were better than this year’s version…)

        I believe i already stated that as well

  5. but the scheduling the Flyers got this year is complete BS. How the puck does a team that opens the season in Czech Republic get to come home for only one game and then get sent all the way to Western Canada? I read somewhere else that they also lead the league in back-to-backs and also in games where they are playing in a back-to-back against an opponent who is rested.

    Again, not an excuse and no reason that Giroux, Couturier, and JVR have been virtually invisible all season. But still, why knee-cap us if we’re already in a wheelchair to begin with?

    1. How much rest do these babies need? It’s not like they go through any playoff grind. I guess the golf course is more stressful on the body than I imagined.

  6. The author writes that reactionary Philly fans want to trade a core player due to the Flyers’ play in these last two games. Seriously? This type of play has been going on for years.

    New GM, new coaching staff, new supporting players … this team is trash. Who else is to blame? This is a core player problem.

    I miss Clarkie.

    Get rid of: G, Jake, Ghost to start the real rebuild.

    But, like clockwork, the Flyers will go on a short tear and then people will say, “See! They’re fine!!!!1 But the reality is that the trash play will return, core intact.

  7. How many 2nd overall picks have become all-stars or better yet, hall-of-famers? The Flyers have 2 on their roster and they’re both putrid. JvR is one of the softest players in the league and Nolan Patrick….well, what the hell happened to him? Was he abducted by aliens or something? Is he still on the team? And would we miss him if he wasn’t? Probably not.

  8. Glad Chuckie spent us right to the cap for this stellar squad! Comcast running the Flyers, bias for action, what could possibly go wrong!

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