Short-Handed and Short of Breath - Thoughts after Flyers Come Up... Short in Colorado
The formula for the Flyers 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver Wednesday was pretty simple.
They had to go up against one of the Western Conference favorites, who entered the game on a 6-0-1 roll, minus their two leading scorers and one of their defensemen, all sitting out with injuries.
So, with a mishmash lineup that consisted of a fourth line of two AHLers and a veteran who has been a healthy scratch for 95 percent of the season, forcing coach Alain Vigneault to shorten his bench in the thin air of the Mile High City, and the Avs humming on all cylinders, the Flyers were at a significant disadvantage from the puck drop.
Give them credit for hanging around. Heck, after getting blitzed in the second half of the first period, only to be able to stay in the game courtesy of stellar goaltending from Carter Hart, the Flyers dominated the second period. They outshot the Avs 15-4 in the period, including 11-0 from the start of the frame.
The problem was, they couldn’t get a puck past Colorado backup goalie Pavel Francouz.
Yeah, I admit, I didn’t know who he was either. But, Philip Grubauer was hurt for Colorado, so the rookie goalie got the start. And as I watched him, I thought he had happy feet in the crease, which is never a good thing, and yet, he seemed to be able to stop everything thrown his way.
Only Claude Giroux was able to actually get a shot past Francouz, who finished with 32 saves, and that wasn’t until late in the third period when the Avs pretty much had the game in hand.
The Flyers seemed to tilt the ice some in the third period too, but they couldn’t finish.
Vigneault put Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek together as a top line, and that was the one Flyers unit that seemed to have a good bite in the game all night.
Kevin Hayes’ line with Joel Farabee and Scott Laughton, which has been a really effective third line for the Flyers for the past two weeks, struggled as a second line. Hayes and Laughton were on the ice for all three of Colorado’s goals.
The thrown together line of James van Riemsdyk-Morgan Frost-Tyler Pitlick was throttled possession-wise. Even though they weren’t on the ice for a goal against, they couldn’t generate much of anything going the other way, which kept the Flyers hemmed back in their own end far too often.
As for that aforementioned fourth line of David Kase (who was making his NHL debut), Misha Vorobyev and Chris Stewart – they were used sparingly, but when they were out there, they did a fine job of injecting energy into the Flyers with a smart, aggressive forecheck.
That said, Vigneault only deployed them in optimal situations, like faceoffs in the offensive zone or neutral zone or against Colorado’s fourth line, protecting them from having to face the big boys.
And while we’re not looking at an overall bad game for the Flyers – losing 3-1 to a team as good as the Avalanche on the road minus three players including your two leading goal scorers could have been a lot worse – there has to be a concern for the Flyers (17-9-5, 39 points) that they might not have the organizational depth to overcome a rash of injuries all at the same time.
With five players out of the lineup (not mentioned were Michael Raffl, who is sidelined for another three-plus weeks with a fractured hand, and Nolan Patrick, who has yet to see the ice this season as he still battle migraine disorder), the Flyers are relying on a really young lineup to try and hold their position in a playoff spot. With the loss, the Flyers slipped from third place in the Metro into the top wild card spot, being passed by the idle Carolina Hurricanes.
And while the Flyers’ December slate isn’t as treacherous as it was in November or it will be in January, being bitten repeatedly by the injury bug can suddenly make inferior teams tougher to beat.
Colorado wasn’t that case – heck, they would have been tough to beat with a healthy lineup – and they were missing their starting goalie and electric defenseman Cale Makar with injuries of their own.
But looking ahead to this weekend, Minnesota and Winnipeg could fit that bill.
The Wild got off to a terrible start, but have been better since Nov. 1 (10-4-4) and will be motivated to play against the general manager that built most of that squad – Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher.
Meanwhile the Jets have also stabilized after a rocky first month and have gone 13-3-2 since Nov. 1.
And yet, at full health, the Flyers are better than both teams. But, will they get any healthier before playing them this weekend?
Neither Raffl nor Patrick will be back, those are givens.
Phil Myers likely will get back in the lineup, and probably for Robert Hagg, although Shayne Gostisbehere had a regressive game against Colorado after starting to look like his former self in a recent spate of games, but the Flyers defense is pretty consistent night in and night out with the top two pairs set in stone and the bottom three rotating, so Myers’ impact might not be measurable just yet.
Travis Konecny is in concussion protocol, which usually lasts a week at minimum. Saturday would be exactly one week. I guess there is a chance he can join the team in Minnesota or in Winnipeg, but since he didn’t start the trip with the team and stayed back in Philly, my guess is he misses both.
He leaves a big hole in the lineup as the team’s leading scorer. His absence alone really forces the Flyers to load up at the top of the lineup.
Oskar Lindblom’s injury though is a mystery. To hear Vigneault say Wednesday that he’s “unsure yet” about the seriousness of Lindblom’s injury is concerning. The Flyers had three days to evaluate the injury (unless it happened in practice) and to still be unsure three days later is odd.
It’s an upper body, so when there is uncertainty, it tells me it’s not skeletal. Usually, a bone or joint injury is easily diagnosed. That means it’s either another concussion – which you are always “unsure” about – a muscular injury, where an MRI is usually needed to determine severity, or, it’s something abdominal – which is where there is a real gray area if said injury should be considered upper or lower body.
As such, without much in the way of information, it’s hard to determine if Lindblom will be back or not this weekend, however, if the historical nature of such coach’s comments about a players injury stands true, then I’d say there’s about a 75 percent chance he doesn’t play either game this weekend either.
Yeah, that’s a hedge. But it’s the best I can offer you with the limited information available.
As for goaltending, Hart had a good game, although his save percentage wasn’t outstanding (.889) and he did let up three goals, he was better than the stats would indicate.
Still, overall, Hart is much, much better at home (1.62 GAA, .940 Save pct.) than he is on the road (3.70, .855). With those splits I thought there was an outside chance Brian Elliott would start two of the three games on this trip, but that’s not going to be the case.
But, they will split the weekend games. My initial instinct is that Elliott would get the nod in Minnesota and Hart in Winnipeg, just because the Jets are the more dangerous offensive team, but with Hart’s road struggles, Vigneault might decide to flip that, especially if he is still missing so much firepower in the lineup.
The next couple days will be curious for the Flyers as they try not to get themselves into a rut on the road.