The Flyers Won Again, but it Wasn't Good Enough for John Tortorella (Nor Should it Be)
I got a DM from a Flyers fan in the middle of the night after the 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets Thursday. He’s a hardcore fan. So much so that he drives regularly to home games… from Johnstown, PA.
That’s 252 miles in each direction. Just to watch a hockey game. That’s dedication.
But his DM said the following:
“I just got home from the game. … wanted to pass a story on. Coming home I stopped for gas at the first rest stop on the (turnpike) from Valley Forge. Car pulls in behind me and several Flyers fans get out. One guy stays to pump gas. I look over and say, ‘Helluva game, how about it?’ He says, ‘It was a great game, and it would have stunk driving back to Iowa had they lost.’ I’m thinking I’m Billy Badass doing round trips from Johnstown and this cat is driving from Iowa.”
There’s nothing like Philadelphia fans, period, and Flyers fans are their own special breed. Driving halfway across the country, in the middle of February, mid-week, to see the Flyers and the Winnipeg Jets. That’s next level.
And while I thought that was an interesting little fan nugget, it’s not why I started this post telling you that story. No, the reason I did tell it is because of what they said to one another.
And for fans, it certainly was. Here’s a team that nobody expected to be any good at all, consistently beating the best teams in the sport. The Flyers came out of the All-Star break and have smothered two good teams in Florida and Winnipeg, allowing just a power play goal in the first period of one game, and an excuse-me goal after the game was in hand late in the third period (that really might have been offsides) in the latter, while choking the opposing offenses in between.
Here’s a team that is holding on to a playoff spot in the Metropolitan. Up to the minute they have a four-point cushion over the New York Islanders, the nearest of all the teams chasing them. And there’s only 30 games to go.
So, yeah. Helluva game, and all that.
Just don’t expect the coach to agree with you.
John Tortorella was in no mood to discuss his team’s victory. He was annoyed with them. He felt they took the foot off the gas after the first period and that in many ways, they were fortunate to have won the game because of it.
He gave one of his patented, one-minute press conferences. And he wasn’t interested in answering anyone’s questions this time:
He didn’t want to heap praise on Travis Konecny, who scored a goal, got in a fight, and picked up an assist for a Gordie Howe hat trick. It was a “natural” Gordie too. As nothing else happened in between. And frankly, it might have been the fastest Gordie ever – maybe. He had only played 4:08 in the first period and had all three.
He didn’t want to talk about ambushing the Jets with a fast start. He didn’t really want to discuss the role players who are giving him a lot right now – like Ryan Poehling, who scored a shorthanded goal and had the primary assist on Tyson Foerster’s goal to open the scoring in the game.
He wasn’t happy with the last two periods.
Could he have come out and said something like, “Hey, not our best game, but we got exactly the start we were hoping for, and were able to jump on them and held on to come away with two points, and that’s what’s most important?”
Sure. He could have done that. But that’s not Torts.
No, Torts believes in this Flyers team. He believes they can exceed all expectations – and that’s not just making the playoffs, but maybe even doing some damage once they get there.
And if that’s going to be the case, a 20-minute effort at this point in the season is not going to be something to hang your hat on.
He said it as much prior to the game.
“I think we have an idea of who we are,” Torts said. “But can you do it consistently?”
In the last two games, both wins, they’ve done it for three of the six periods. The other three, they’ve not. For the coach, that’s unacceptable.
And the players know it too.
“I think we really need to not even look back on the first period,” Konecny said. “We need to assess the last two and really make sure we stay on top of things.”
Travis Konecny only needed 4:08 TOI for a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/KLyHluc2UM
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 9, 2024
Konecny went on to praise goalie Sam Ersson. Saying that were it not for him, the Jets would have clawed back into the game.
That’s the other thing the Flyer need to be consistent – Ersson. He mostly has this season. He struggled a little out of the gate and he hit a bumpy road right before the All-Star break, but he’s been really good in both of the games since. He’s going to have to carry the load going forward. The Flyers believe in him, but there’s no certainty in this with a rookie.
Torts believes in him. He has since last season. There was a belief last year, in his limited time with the team, that he could be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. There’s no doubt he believes in him still.
After the game I was talking with Poehling, and he said that when they play the way they did in the last two periods in Florida and the first period against Winnipeg – where the mindset is different in each zone, but that each system in place is interconnected, and it allows the Flyers to play fast and heavy at the same time – they’re the hard team to beat, and not the other way around.
“That’s what the coaches have been harping on us to do every game,” he said.
So, when they don’t do it, like in the last two periods Thursday, the coaches aren’t going to be happy. It’s why we got crusty Torts in the presser.
Well, John Tortorella was about as annoyed as I’ve ever seen a coach after a 4-1 win. Clearly he did not like the way the team played over the final 40 minutes.
— Charlie O’Connor (@charlieo_conn) February 9, 2024
I’ve been cautioning fans to not raise their expectation level for this team, and just enjoy the ride, because it’s been a fun one for sure. But that doesn’t mean Torts can’t raise the expectation level internally.
If the players didn’t know it before, they do now. Not all wins are equal. If you want to do something special, you have to take a win on the chin sometimes, so you can be better.
And with each calculated step, John Tortorella is teaching them how to do it.