Sitting Ducks: Thoughts after Anaheim 4, Flyers 1

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I want to start this post with some high praise for Flyers goalie Carter Hart.

Not that Hart was a difference maker in the Flyers 4-1 loss to Anaheim Tuesday, their third consecutive loss. He played fine, in what was his first game in almost three weeks.

No, I want to give him his props for what he said afterward:

Amen, Carter. Amen. The NHL is a league in which every player but one (Tyler Bertuzzi) is vaccinated. Players are being put into protocol with no symptoms whatsoever or with the very mildest of symptoms (a headache, or the sniffles), and being forced to miss multiple games.

However, if a player tests negative for COVID, but has strep throat or the flu and wants to gut it out and play, the league allows them in the locker room, around their teammates, whom they can infect with the same illness, and allows them to play.

For a sport that handled the pandemic so well at the beginning, managing their bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton  to guarantee us a summer playoffs and championship, they couldn’t be mishandling this any more.

Hart’s reaction was to Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov being placed into the protocol just hours before the game Tuesday, forcing the Flyers to dress two more AHLers in their lineup for an NHL game.

Hart is especially frustrated because he was actually sick at Christmas with the flu. He did not test positive for COVID. He was bed-ridden and drained. Oh, and contagious. So, if he felt well enough, he could have gone to the rink, no problem.

He overcame it in about a week, and came back to the team feeling great. And just as he was about to rejoin his team for practice, now recovered from the flu, he tested positive for COVID and had to quarantine. The entire time in quarantine, he was fine. No symptoms at all. But he couldn’t go to the rink per the NHL’s rules.

That’s why he called this “a joke.” In all sports, it’s a joke. Professional athletes, in peak, physical condition, who are vaccinated and are asymptomatic, should not be held out of games. Period.

I’m a believer in science, don’t get me wrong. I would argue that except for the maestro, Kyle Scott himself, no one follows COVID news and studies in Philadelphia sports as much as I do. Hell, one year ago today I got COVID and it nearly killed me. So, I don’t take it lightly, but at the same time, I also know that what the NHL (and NBA) are doing, and what the NFL was doing until they changed their testing practices last week, is a sham.

If a player is symptomatic, fine. They can be held out. There are breakthrough cases for vaccinated individuals, and yes, they can have a bad enough case that it can knock them on their ass for a week – like the flu did to Hart.

But if there are no symptoms, what are we doing? It’s ruining sports. And all because leagues are afraid to buck a narrative that is highly politicized and worry about the optics and being labeled poorly. Stop it.

These are multi-billion dollar entities. They aren’t going to suddenly be boycotted into oblivion. Do the right thing for your sport, and let these athletes play. Be smart about it. Still keep the protocols in place for those that are actually sick, or for those who may be immunocompromised, or for those who are requesting to be tested because they have loved ones at home that they worry about who might be immunocompromised or who are unvaccinated. That’s fine. That’s a player’s choice and should be supported.

But those that aren’t symptomatic or have a reason to be tested, why are you even testing them?

That’s where the joke is, but the problem is that no one is laughing at it.

Now, to the game itself…

If you look at the outcome of the Flyers 4-1 loss to the Ducks, and really just take it for what it is – one game, on the road, midseason, minus four players due to COVID protocols and three more players due to injuries, you could sit where you are and understand the loss.

It makes sense, right?

And you can almost forgive the Flyers for losing just hours after finding out Giroux and Provorov would miss the game. Giroux is their leading scorer, and although he has been wildly inconsistent this year, Provorov is their top defenseman and has never missed a game in his career up until this point.

So, they can get a pass, right? I mean, these things are really outside of their control.

Wrong.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that Giroux and Provorov went into the protocol. Yes, it sucks that Sean Couturier and Derick Brassard are injured as is Ryan Ellis. (Who? Barely know him.) Yes, even depth guys like Jackson Cates and Nick Seeler, guys who aren’t particularly difference makers, but guys who have at least been in the lineup with a little more regularity than Gerry Mayhew, Kevin Connaughton, and Cam York, were in the protocol.

However, the Ducks were missing four NHL centers. That’s right. All four. Including star Ryan Getzlaf and rookie sensation Trevor Zegras. In fact, the Ducks recalled six players from their AHL affiliate San Diego Gulls for the game against the Flyers, five of which played.

Anaheim, who came in on a four-game losing streak, was just as undermanned, if not more so, than the Flyers.

The Flyers should have seen this as an opportunity to take advantage of a good team missing a ton of players and use it as fuel to drive them toward trying to come away with a successful West Coast road trip.

Instead, they were dominated.

Anaheim, again without a true NHL-caliber center, dominated puck possession in the first period. The Flyers were better in the second period, but it went right back to the Ducks controlling play in the third.

And for the Flyers, it’s all about the first period. Win the first period, and they’ll likely win the game. Tie in the first period, and it’s more 50/50, but not a bad scenario for the Flyers. lose the first period, and forget it. They can’t win.

Even down by one goal, like they were against the Ducks, and forget it. Put a fork in them. Done.

Seriously, here’s the breakdown:

  • When leading after the first period the Flyers are 6-1-4. That “4” might be a little unsightly, but still, 16 of a possible 22 points were earned in games where the Flyers were the better team on the scoreboard after 20 minutes.
  • When tied after the first period, the Flyers are 6-4-0. That respectable too. Even game after 20 minutes, and they’ve come out on the winning end 60 percent of the time. Every team would take that percentage.
  • When trailing after 20 minutes, the Flyers are 1-9-2. That’s right. They’ve lost 11 of 12 games they trailed after the first period. It’s awful.

And what’s utterly perplexing about all of this is that for the season, the Flyers have outscored their opponents 30-28 in the first period. So, even though they’ve trailed 12 times after the first period, because of the goal differential and the fact that they’ve given up so few first period goals (they’ve now played 33 games), the fact that they are so terrible when falling behind after 20 minutes says more about their mental makeup than anything else.

How else can you explain such a disparity?

Yes, if you look at every team, you are going to find that they have significantly better record when leading after one period then when trailing after one period. That’s just the flow of hockey. But the goal disparity favoring the Flyers and their inability to stay in games or pull out games once they get behind, is kind of befuddling.

If you want more of a understanding about how this is a mental block for the team, just look at scoring first vs. not scoring first.

Again, yes, teams that score first in the NHL win at a much better rate than those that don’t score first. That’s been that way since the dawn of time, seemingly.

But these Flyers work in extremes. They’ve actually scored the first goal more often than their opponent this season. The Flyers have scored first 17 times, the opposition 16 times.

And when the Flyers score first, they are 11-2-4. When the opponent scores first, they are 2-12-2.

It’s almost like the Flyers think, first goal wins.

So, the NHL average for scoring first and winning hovers between 66-70% each year. The Flyers are pretty on par with that (65%). But this means allowing the first goal yields between a 30-34% chance of winning. The Flyers are at 12.5%.

That difference is what’s killing them, and it’s also more of an indicator of their style of play once they get behind vs. their style of play when the game is tied or they have a lead.

What fails the Flyers is they get out of their system. Their system is solid. It works. When they score, and they stay within it, it garners a win more often than not, and at least one point 88% of the time this season.

But, as soon as they get behind, it’s like they abandon their structure, and try to do to much to get even and often dig themselves a further hole.

And too often, this is coinciding with a bad first period and leaving the Flyers with a seemingly too difficult path to overcome from there.

Another hatty

Anyone else think the Flyers allow too many hat tricks?

I know that sounds weird, but consider this: the Flyers have allowed seven hat tricks in the last 79 games over the past 11 months. That’s a lot.

Troy Terry, the Duck’s breakout star, registered his first career hat trick against the Flyers Tuesday.

The first one was a deft tip drill.

But the second one was pure speed and made Travis Sanheim look really foolish:

The third one was an empty netter.

Still, the Flyers allowed a third line from the Kings to post 11 points on Saturday, and allow a hat trick on Tuesday. Where’s the in-game adjustment to that? When a line or a player is going well for the opponent you have to change something up to try to derail it.

The Flyers did no such thing in either game. When that line went off for the Kings, Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk were each a minus-5. Guess the Flyers didn’t see the need to try and make line changes on the fly to create different matchups.

In Terry’s hat trick, Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen were on the ice for the first two goals.

If a matchup isn’t going your way, you have to try to change it, Mike Yeo. Instead, we get more of the same.

By the way, Yeo has been interim coach for 10 games now. The Flyers have won five and lost five. And they haven’t played great competition in that time either.

Kudos for Cam

York played his first game of the season and looked pretty good. Paired with veteran Justin Braun for the contest, York played 20:20 of ice time, had two shots on goal, three hits and two blocked shots.

Fans who have been clamoring for him will likely use this as proof that he should have been playing all along, but the reality is, when he was in the lineup for the Phantoms, he was just OK, and actually had some down moments as well.

He looked good Tuesday because in the NHL, the structure is better than in the AHL, even for a team like the Flyers who gets away from their structure too often, when they are out of sync it’s sometimes still more structured than the AHL.

As such, a young defenseman can look better at this level.

York will probably get a few more chances this week depending on how long both Provorov and Seeler are in the protocol, but fans shouldn’t suddenly expect this huge breakout. He’s still got a lot to learn, but through three games last season and one game this season, I think it’s safe to say York looks like he has the ability to play at this level, the question that remains is how consistent can he be to stay here?

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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