After another frustrating loss, this one 5-3 to the Washington Capitals, one would think that the Flyers are starting to recognize the gravity of their situation.

Coach Alain Vigneault seems to recognize it. But the players? They aren’t there yet.

The thing is, they need to get to that point before it becomes too late.

The Flyers have lost four of their last six games, and are a mediocre 5-5-1 since returning from the two-week COVID-19 quarantine.

Neither of those marks are the end of the world, per se, but when you consider every game is a division game, and with the shortened season, even though there are still 32 games to play, it can get late really early.

Especially when the teams in front of you are playing like this:

  • New York Islanders: 9-0-1 in their last 10, and have won seven straight
  • Washington Capitals: 8-1-1 in their last 10 – including two wins vs. the Flyers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: 7-3-0 in their last 10 – including 2-1 against the Flyers
  • Boston Bruins: 4-4-2 in their last 10 – including a win over the Flyers

With the exception of the Bruins, who are also struggling, but had such a fast start that they had a cushion for this mediocrity when it hit, everyone else is rolling, and the Flyers are not.

The Flyers never quit. We see that a lot. They overcame a 3-0 deficit in Pittsburgh last week and won 4-3. They stomped out a 3-1 deficit on Tuesday against lowly Buffalo and won 5-4 in a shootout. And even in the loss Thursday, they were down 4-1 in the third period but closed to within 4-3 before a 200-foot empty net goal by Nic Dowd prevented yet another comeback.

But here’s the thing: while it’s great and all that the team never says die, it can’t keep putting itself in that position. It can’t keep trying to come from behind. That’s not a recipe for success.

In six games this month, the Flyers have only had the lead after one of 12 periods in-game. That was a 1-0 lead after the first period of the game against the Caps on Sunday.

Otherwise they have either been tied or trailed after every period this month. That’s got to be unacceptable.

I asked Travis Konecny if the team needs to play with more desperation considering that – and the fact that there’s starting to be separation in the division as the Flyers are now three points out of a playoff spot. Here’s what he said:

“No. I think we’re just going to look at us. We’re not going to pay attention to anyone in front of us or behind us. All that matters is us winning games. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. We got to focus on getting better as a team. When we come out as a team and we pressure, that’s when we are at our best. I’m sure we’ll look at that.”

I didn’t exactly ask if they need to scoreboard watch just yet, but OK. Fine. Concentrate on ourselves. Do what we do best. Of course.

But it’s not happening. Why?

I decided to ask Kevin Hayes. I changed the question around a little bit, and instead of using the word desperation, I asked if there needed to be a sense of urgency now considering the situation. Here’s what he said:

“I think everyone prepares the right way. Everyone wants to play the right way. I think they executed early on and they ended up in the back of our net. You can call it urgency, you can call it execution. We just have to be better.”

Well, execution is something different from urgency. We can talk about execution, and how the lack of it resulted in another loss, but playing with urgency is something almost tangible. You can see a team that recognizes the need to play that way and does. It’s another gear. It ramps up the stakes.

The Flyers can certainly play that way. There is enough talent on this roster to get it to that level. We’ve seen it before in sustained fashion. We’ve even seen it in spurts this season. Arguably, the push in the third period Thursday against Washington. But it’s not there on the regular.

That’s what frustrates the fanbase the most. And with the coaches trying anything and everything to get it going – different line combinations; different defensive pairings; rotating goalies; different special teams combos – and nothing seems to work, that’s when something else has to happen to provide the wakeup call.

Change.

And what could that change be? More healthy scratches, like the ones being thrown at Phil Myers who was scratch for the second time in two weeks Thursday.

Or are there other possibilities? Like a trade?

I asked Vigneault about his constant rotation of defensemen and if he wants to find stability at some point. Here’s what he said:

“If you can get some chemistry in your forward lines or some chemistry with your D pairs it’s a bonus. It also adds responsibility to the players too. When they are used to playing with someone they always prepare the right way. They don’t want to let (their partner) down or (the rest of) their teammates down. It’s something we are striving to get. We’re not there yet. We haven’t found those duos that would allow us to have the game that we believe we can have. We have some other options that we are looking at and sooner or later we’ll come up with them.

I bolded that last sentence because it was telling. What options are they looking at? We’ve seen the group of players who are on this roster who are going to play defense for this team. There’s really no one in the AHL who is ready to come in and take an important role on this team. So where are those options?

How about outside the organization?

On the latest episode of Snow the Goalie I talked about some rumblings and grumblings I have begun to hear permeating from the walls of the Flyers offices about potential trade targets – like Matthias Ekholm in Nashville and Rasmus Ristolainen in Buffalo.

Normally, trades don’t happen until closer to the trade deadline, which is April 12 this season, but the Flyers might be in a spot now where a deal has to happen sooner, just to wake up the roster.

Now, trades only happen when you have willing participants on both sides. So, no matter how hard GM Chuck Fletcher tries, unless another team is willing to engage and has interest in the Flyers’ offer, nothing can get done.

But, we know Buffalo is facing an uncertain future with so many pending unrestricted and restricted free agents, and they have the worst record in the NHL this season, so they are a ripe target for a deal, and Nashville seems to finally be realizing that they need a reset after a run of mostly successful seasons.

Not to mention, they could use some NHL bodies on defense:

Now, Ekholm is one of those two, but there has been conversation of him being the first player Nashville would look to trade in a re-tooling of their roster.

And, I was hearing the Flyers would do a 2-for-1 swap of defensemen (Shayne Gostisbehere, Erik Gustafsson) as part of a deal for Ekholm.

Either way, Nashville is listening to trade offers, too.

I’m certain the Flyers aren’t the only team talking to Buffalo and Nashville. And I’m sure those aren’t the only teams GM Chuck Fletcher has on speed dial. So, as always, take the fact that they are engaging in conversations with these teams with a grain of salt. Sometimes, even if you think you have a deal, it turns out you don’t. There are so many variables that can cause volatility in a trade market.

Yet, something needs to happen. Until then, the Flyers players may continue to not recognize the need for things to start being urgent or desperate, even if the coach has.

When asked about how the team comes out for games, Vigneault pulled out the old fall on the sword answer, but only part way.

“There’s no doubt that we have to be better. That’s on me. My job is to prepare the team and to obviously make sure they know what to expect. I went through the different phases. I am obviously going to have to do a better job next game. At the end of the day players have the responsibility to get themselves ready to execute and compete.”

Because AV knows, even if he won’t say it, this Laissez-faire attitude to playing hockey falls at the feet of the players right now. Not the coach. And if they don’t want to make a change and recognize it, then the organization will, and bring in other players.

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