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There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when the Flyers would crumble because of the team fragility that existed, after a painful loss like the 5-3 defeat they endured to the New York Islanders Tuesday.
This team, however, has gone out of its way to prove time and again that it’s different than those of the past eight seasons that have left a sour taste for fans as they couldn’t get out of their own heads following demoralizing losses.
The rest of this week will tell if this group is re-writing its own story under a new coach and with a much younger and hungrier lineup, but there’s no doubt that the loss Tuesday in Brooklyn was the toughest of the season for the Flyers.
Yes, they’ve had some ugly losses – you only have to go back to last Thursday and a 5-0 shutout at home to the New Jersey Devils to find one – but ugly losses are a lot different than emotional losses. Ugly losses happen usually because of a compete level not being up to snuff. They happen to every good team every season. The good teams get past them quickly. The not-so-good teams don’t. This season the Flyers have moved past them, which is a credit to their mental state as a team. They are stronger and tougher mentally then they have been since April, 2012 when they last won a playoff series.
But this is going to be the biggest hurdle to overcome yet this season.
I would say that the only other loss during the 2019-20 campaign so far that rivals this one was also a loss to the Islanders at Wells Fargo Center back in November when the Flyers coughed up a 3-0 third period lead and lost to New York 4-3 in a shootout.
But at least in that game they still got a point. Also, it was only November and it was in the midst of the best month of the season for the Flyers, one where they finished with an NHL-best 24 points.
The Flyers responded to that loss by going 6-1-1 in their next eight games. If the Flyers can go 6-1-1 in their next eight games, they will likely be in a pretty comfortable spot as far as their playoff position is concerned.
But the caliber of competition in the next eight games is much better than it was back in November. The stakes are higher now that the push is on to make the playoffs. There’s a lot more meat on this bone then there was before Thanksgiving.
So, blowing a three-goal lead on home ice to a division rival in November, while tough to swallow, is easier to overcome than what happened Tuesday.
This time, the roles were somewhat reversed. It was the Flyers who got behind by three goals and stormed back – finally tying the game in the waning minutes by pulling the goalie for an extra attacker and getting a hard-work goal from Sean Couturier at the side of the net to tie the game with just 1:32 to play.
For all intents and purposes, it looked like the Flyers’ resilience would pay off with at least one hard-earned point on the road and possibly a second if they could win it in overtime or the shootout.
But something happened on the way to that oasis – a punch in the gut from Ryan Pulock with 40 seconds left in regulation that made the notion of getting points on the road just a mirage:
PULOCK WITH THE GWG 😍🦞 pic.twitter.com/apCbKqo1oG
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 12, 2020
The Islanders would add an empty-netter to get to the 5-3 final score, but the Flyers looked at that last goal and considered it one that should not have happened.
“We had a pretty awful first, a pretty darn good second two periods then we just pissed one down our leg at the end,” Matt Niskanen told Dave Isaac of the Courier Post.
Also from Dave’s story was Robert Hagg, who scored a goal in the game, talking about how silent the locker room was after the game:
“We didn’t say anything after the game. It speaks itself out. It’s 3-3 with a minute and a half left. It’s unacceptable.”
Coach Alain Vigneault went the furthest though, and without calling out the players by name, put that on James van Riemsdyk and Brian Elliott.
“Unfortunately, they got that fourth goal where we either need a save or a blocked shot, one or the other,” Vigneault said. “I talked [Monday] about the importance of blocked shots in the game. We had an opportunity to get one there and we didn’t, and we lost at least a big point tonight.”
Scroll up and watch the goal again. JVR makes himself small, almost as if he doesn’t want the shot to hit him. If he puts himself in the way of the shot, there’s a good chance the Flyers get at least one point.
Elliott has a tougher job making the save there – it is a bit of a missile coming off Pulock’s stick and it’s ticketed top shelf blocker side, the hardest save for a goalie – but Vigneault probably wanted a better read on the shot from his goalie – especially considering the importance of that shot in the grand scheme.
There’s nothing dire here. The Flyers didn’t fall out of a playoff spot with the loss, although a win could have elevated them from the No. 2 wild card to third place in the Metro, which would have put a little more of a buffer between them and the hard-charging Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers.
But, there are some conundrums to consider.
First is goalie Carter Hart. Hart didn’t play against the Islanders, a night after winning his first game back from an abdominal injury Monday with a strong 30-save effort at home against Florida.
But Hart has really struggled on the road this season (2-9-1, 4.01GAA, .850 save percentage) and hasn’t won a road game since Nov. 10. Yes, he missed a few weeks in there with the injury where he could have earned a road win, but the reality is this is definitely something that has weighed on the young Flyers goalie, and he’s going to have to try and get over it this week, either in Florida on Thursday (most likely) or if not, then in Tampa on Saturday afternoon.
And then there’s the negative trend about the Flyers on road trips of three games or more. With the loss to the Islanders, the Flyers fell to 2-12-2 this season in road games that are part of a trip of three games or more (conversely the Flyers are 10-2-1 on the road when its a one or two-game trip).
Neither of these trends bode well as the Flyers head to South Florida, which is also a negative for northern teams who head down to the sun and sand in the middle of winter. Often, this trip is a trap for those teams, meaning winning both is highly unexpected.
Add in the fact that Florida is going to be looking for revenge after losing Monday in Philly and the fact that they are chasing the Flyers for the final playoff spot, and motivation is also a factor.
There are a lot of things that have to have Flyers fans wringing their hands for the rest of this week.
However, this team has proven time and again this season that they can overcome adversity. This may be their biggest test yet, but if they can get past this loss and buck a couple of really bad trends against them, then there will be a lot to feel good about by the start of next week.
The defensive rotation
One quick note here. Hagg played again on the third pair in place of Shayne Gostisbehere. Hagg has really been a good player for the Flyers this season when he’s been in the lineup. Meanwhile, Gostisbehere has been wildly inconsistent, and is struggling to return from a knee injury.
That said, since they’re headed back to Ghost’s hometown, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play against the Panthers Thursday.
But, I’m not convinced it’s automatically going to be to replace Hagg.
With as well as Hagg and Justin Braun are playing together, Gostisbehere might get a shot back in the lineup in place of Phil Myers.
Now, on the whole, Myers has been better of late, but he still makes too many mistakes that are resulting in goals against. Take this second goal by the Islanders on Tuesday:
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) February 12, 2020
At the start of the clip above, that’s Myers behind the Islanders net. He carried the puck down there and then threw it around the boards… to nobody.
His partner Travis Sanheim tries to poke it off the opponent’s stick, and fails (probably a bit of a risky play too) leaving only Scott Laughton back to play defense on a 2-on-1. Not good at all.
Myers needs better awareness there. It’s fine to be aggressive and bring the puck in that deep, but you can’t just blindly throw it somewhere and hope a teammate can bail you out. Either protect the puck or turn it into a battle on the wall, or make a different pass. Just throwing the puck up the wall to no one is dangerous and it cost the team.
That’s not to say Myers deserves to be punished for this play, it’s just that sometimes, young players need a reminder of how important each play is at this time of year, and sitting for one game isn’t the worst thing in the world. Couple that with how well Hagg has played and the need to get Ghost some action – especially in his hometown, it just sort of makes sense.
For more Flyers coverage, check out Snow The Goalie. Follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook and Twitter. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy preview every Flyers home game pregame and recap the first and second period action during intermission breaks from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts (@AntSanPhilly @JoyOnBroad).