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:
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) October 29, 2019
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
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) October 29, 2019
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
— NHL Čeština (@NHLcz) October 30, 2019
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)
— LNH (@LNH_FR) October 30, 2019
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.