All it took was watching the final 30 seconds of regulation of the Flyers’ 5-4 shootout loss to Montreal Saturday to determine one thing:
They are who we thought they are.
Watch the rest of the game, and you will see a woefully undermanned team giving maximum effort and playing as hard as their abilities allow them to play in an effort to snap a winless skid.
That is the John Tortorella effect. It’s why, after 18 games, they are 7-7-4 and only four points out of a playoff spot rather than, say, 3-13-2, which on paper, and without some stellar early-season goaltending, they well could be at this point.
If we are being honest with ourselves as watchers of hockey, this should be acceptable at this point. Not that losing six consecutive games (0-4-2) is ever acceptable, but considering this franchise was at rock bottom, the lowest it has ever been, to be where it is right now, after just 18 games, is a positive.
No, you don’t want to give up a win with 1.9 seconds to go in regulation and then ultimately lose the game in the shootout, which, is practically automatic since the Flyers are easily the worst team in the NHL at shootouts since their inception 17 years ago.
Alternatively, a team bereft of experience and talent, whether through injury and attrition, or incompetent roster building, or both, going into a difficult environment like Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada, and coming away with one point isn’t really a bad thing.
Consider these Canadiens, who many thought could be one of the worst teams in the NHL, have been like the Flyers in the sense that they are exceeding early season expectations (9-8-1, 19 points). Not only that, they are pretty good on home ice. Yes, their record at Bell Centre is just 6-4-0, but their four losses have come against Dallas, Minnesota, Vegas and New Jersey, who have a combined record thus far of 48-20-5 with a goal differential of plus-64.
And yet, the Flyers almost put themselves on that list. Except this happened:
Cole Caufield sauve le CH avec 1,9 SECONDE à jouer!🔵⚪️🔴 pic.twitter.com/XNztqW3Zn8
— TVA Sports (@TVASports) November 20, 2022
Side note: Why is it that we always enjoy the calls from the non-English broadcasters in sports? It just seems so much more life or death in their calls, man. So dramatic!
Anyway, there are mistakes on this play galore. The Flyers are really caught running around in their own zone and are playing not to lose rather than playing to win. That never works. Their defense is chaos. Pure chaos. It’s missing a lot of structure at times. Noah Cates misreads the play and has his stick on the wrong side. Patrick Brown’s job is to prevent the cross ice pass to Cole Caufield, and doesn’t get it done. One could even argue that Carter Hart is simply sliding across the goal line full body instead of kicking his right leg out to secure the post – not that the goal is on him. Hell, it’s not on any one guy in particular. It was just a situation where the six guys on the ice were tasked with protecting a one goal lead, and couldn’t do it in the time allotted.
It probably burns Flyers fans just a little more to see that it was Caufield who scored – he had another goal earlier in the game, giving him 12 so far this season (and is on pace for 55). Remember it was Caufield the Flyers passed on at the 2019 draft and selected defenseman Cam York instead, despite many fans and pundits calling for the Flyers to draft the American sniper. The Flyers logic was that they could get a 2-for-1, and although they would be passing on Caufield, they could get York, who was considered a top end puck moving D-man coming out of the U.S. National Development Team program, AND add a Caufield Lite in Bobby Brink early in the second round, giving the Flyers two solid position players instead of just one.
Of course, York is toiling in the minors after disappointing the team with his play in training camp and the preseason, and Brink is recovering from offseason surgery after getting his first cup of coffee with the Flyers last season, playing 10 games in the final month of the season.
So far, advantage Montreal.
But the most important thing to see in the video above occurs at the very end of the clip. It’s following the replay, where it shows Tortorella’s reaction to the goal.
It’s almost as if he knew it was coming. He wasn’t mad. He wasn’t stunned. He just knew. Coach as long as he has and there are things you can just anticipate – coughing up this lead was one of them.
He wasn’t going to let it bother him – at least not publicly. A somewhat subdued Tortorella addressed the gathered media after this loss and said a lot more about the Flyers as a team than about the game.
The best thing about Torts as a coach is he never pulls punches. The guy is always going to tell you how he feels. And you should believe him. This is a telling press conference.
Right now, he doesn’t care about winning or losing as much as he cares about figuring out who he wants to go to war with when winning and losing is the only thing next season, or the season after.
And this isn’t the first time he’s said this. He repeatedly talks about determining what players from this group are going to be part of the push toward ultimate success and which ones are not. Just hearing that has to put some pressure on this young team, but Tortorella wants to see who can handle the pressure.
Listen to his words…
“We don’t know how to manage the game.”
“We have so much to learn about momentums.”
“There was too much panic at the end of the game.”
“These mistakes are ‘to be expected.'”
“We’re going to keep on teaching.”
“I’m still trying to figure out who’s who. Who we want to keep here who’s not going to be a part of it” in the long run.”
“We’re still inexperienced – who’s settling things down? Who’s making the big play? That’s leadership, and it’s lacking. As we build this team that’s what we have to figure out.”
“I’m excited about a lot of things but there are things that cant be part of this if we want to go forward.”
So, when watching the Flyers moving forward, you might want to take Torts’ mentality. Forget the wins and losses. Watch the development. See who emerges. Are there players you think should stick? Are there players that flat out need to go? Might some of your own answers surprise you one way or the other?
That’s what Flyers hockey is going to be for the next little bit. Heck, maybe a lot of bit. The Flyers have 17 games remaining before Christmas. Of those 17, 13 are against winning teams. and the four that aren’t are Washington twice (never easy), Columbus (who already beat the Flyers twice) and Arizona.
“I’m not mad,” Tortorella said. “We didn’t get the result, but I’m not even looking at that right now. … I’m not leaving a building upset with a hockey club when they play that hard. I’m not going to leave upset. We have to do a better job coaching as far as positioning and how to finish off hockey games.”
This is Tortorella asking you for time. With the way he’s run things so far, it’s fair to see, he’s earned it.