I decided to tough it out and head down to the Flyers game against the Devils Thursday night despite still recovering from a bout with chronic bronchitis/walking pneumonia.
I should have stayed home. After all, the Flyers did.
A 5-0 loss on home ice to the New Jersey Devils is easily the worst loss of the season. Yes, there were uglier performances – like the end of October in Pittsburgh. There were bad losses to bad teams – like Ottawa in November, San Jose and Los Angeles right after Christmas, and a home loss to Montreal last month in which coach Alain Vigneault called the players’ excuse that they took the Canadiens too lightly “that word that begins with a ‘B'” (read: bullshit).
And yes, all of those losses were bad for varying reasons. But, nothing compares to the debacle of Thursday.
Consider the following:
The Flyers have the NHL’s best home record. The Devils are ranked 29th in total points. The Flyers are in the middle of a six-team war for four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Devils are merely playing out the string and lining up the lottery balls with the hopes of landing the top pick in the draft for the second consecutive year. The Flyers will begin a rough stretch of seven games against teams with top-12 records including a three-game road trip, which is when they have been awful on the road (2-11-2 in road games part of a three-game trip or longer – conversely they are 9-2-1 on the road when the trip is only one or two games). The Flyers were holding on to a playoff spot prior to the game while most of the teams they are involved in the playoff chase with were also playing.
In so many ways this needed to be a must-get two points.
And they blew it.
“Everybody expected us to win,” said Jake Voracek. “We expected to win. That’s a bad loss. We have to win those games. We just shot ourselves in the foot. We have been playing good (previously), that’s true, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to play a game like that.”
The loss, coupled by wins by the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, dropped the Flyers to the outside looking in for the playoff race. These teams are so close that they are going to jockey for position almost daily, but right now the Flyers are on the outs.
You can almost accept it if it’s a loss to a good team, or the Flyers played well and had a bad break go against them. But to be shut out on home ice by the lowly Devils and their backup goalie? Completely unacceptable.
And it snowballed before a majority of fans had even made it into the building, dealing with the onerous gridlock that is traffic and parking for a game.
Asked when did things start going wrong for the team tonight, veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen answered bluntly:
“Thirteen seconds in,” he said.
Here’s what happend:
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 7, 2020
Again, unacceptable play by some guys who were not ready for this to happen. Defensive breakdowns. Lazy play off the wall by a veteran in Claude Giroux (who, to his credit, owned his mistake after the game).
It was ugly.
So too was the Flyers play from there. Once they got on the power play they couldn’t even get set up properly and let the Devils get multiple odd-man rushes against Brian Elliott, who was great in the first period, before letting up a soft goal in the second period and being chased by two quick goals in the third period, the last coming on this awful mistake by Shayne Gostisbehere, who was back in the lineup for the first time after missing 10 straight games:
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 7, 2020
Elliott stormed down the tunnel after getting pulled and a little bird told me he destroyed his goalie stick in anger – and not at himself, but how the team was playing in front of him.
Coach Alain Vigneault had a couple of poignant comments after the game. First this one about Gostisbehere:
“It’s challenging for a player coming back from an injury that took him out for that amount of time,” Vigneault said. “It wasn’t an easy game for him.”
Makes you wonder if they should have just kept Robert Hagg in there, who played really well in Gostisbehere’s absence.
And then Vigneault said this about the dreadful Flyers power play:
“I should have denied. Our power play was terrible. I don’t know what else to tell you. Every time we were on the power play, they were having chances towards our net. So, we should have denied it after the first one. We should have figured it out. I will next time.”
He likely meant “decline” the penalty, but you get his point. Things are a disaster on the power play right now. Nothing is working. The problem is, they don’t have a natural-born sniper to score on the PP, so they get too cute and it often blows up on them.
The Flyers will need to be much better Saturday in Washington. There’s a chance Carter Hart is back for that game, but I’m betting they still give Elliott the start against the Caps.
Also, Joel Farabee should be back after missing a game with the flu.
But, now the Flyers have put themselves in a position where they have to win a road game in Washington all because they puked all over themselves against New Jersey.
And in the end, if the Flyers just miss the playoffs, it’ll be because of a game like this – easily the worst game of the season.