Flyers coach John Tortorella is trying to pull out every trick in his bag to get the Flyers into the playoffs, it’s just that they don’t seem to be working as well now as they did before.

When he would scratch players previously, they would come out and play better. When he demoted guys in the lineup, he would get more effort out of them. When he needed a boost from his backup goalie early in the season, and played him a little more regularly than expected, he got it. When he would bench a player for an entire period, he would get a positive response in the near future.

It’s what has made him a part of the Jack Adams Award conversation this year.

But things have gotten dicey since the deadline. The team is just 3-7-2 since trading away Sean Walker. There were some built in excuses, with playing a lot of games in a short time frame late in the season. There were injuries to other key players and having to rely on AHL plug-ins. But on Monday, in a game in which a win would have likely eliminated three teams chasing them for the final playoff spot, the Flyers lost for the fifth straight game, dropping a crucial game to one of those chasing teams, the New York Islanders, 4-3.

Since the deadline Torts has tried scratching captain Sean Couturier. That didn’t work. He scratched veteran forward Cam Atkinson for 10 games. That didn’t work. He alternated several goalies, including making Ivan Fedotov’s much-anticipated NHL debut in a relief performance after Sam Ersson allowed two goals on six shots to start the game Monday.

And although Fedotov played wonderfully in relief, it still didn’t work quite well enough, as the Flyers were only able to muster one point in a game where they really needed two.

He’s given them days off and not made them practice so they can rest and recover. He’s juggled the lineup and put guys in different positions to try and jump start a moribund offense. He re-inserted veterans for Monday’s game, knowing the gravity of it, and slotted them into key lineup positions, hoping that would make a difference. It didn’t.

Following the seven-game gauntlet against the top teams in the Eastern Conference in which the Flyers managed to get six points, and played well enough to almost earn one or two more, they only had to play .500 hockey in the last nine games of the season, facing some inferior teams.

The first of those nine games was a 4-1 loss to Montreal last Thursday. It was a dangerous spot coming off the stretch they had just played. They weren’t bad in that game, but they weren’t good enough to win. Torts chalked it up to a couple little things that went wrong, but that was definitely a missed opportunity to get points against a bad team.

The second was Saturday, when they were embarrassed on home ice by the lowly Chicago Blackhawks, 5-1. Torts was not happy with the effort in that game at all, and rightfully so. That was a must-have two points against the team with the second-worst record in the sport.

The third was Monday, against a desperate Islanders team that entered the game five points behind the Flyers with two games in hand. The Flyers were lucky to come away with one point in this one, and Torts knew it, which is why his latest tactic was to publicly lambaste his team.

Here it is in all its glory:

Let’s deconstruct his answers:

On his team’s play after tying the score 2-2:

“Soft. One guy played. The goalie.”

Well, that’s a mouthful in the first word, eh? Calling your team soft is basically challenging their competitiveness. It’s questioning their will and their determination. And it wasn’t just a couple of guys. He was questioning everyone in uniform save for Ivan Fedotov and Sean Couturier, who got hurt in the first period (more on that in a bit). Coaches don’t usually go there when talking about a team’s compete level. They often tell you that they are trying hard, but that mistakes are their downfall. Not this time. This time it was a direct shot at the team’s desire for a 20-minute stretch of hockey.

On Fedotov’s debut:

“Terrific. He’s the only guy that played.” 

He said more about Fedotov later, so we’ll break down his assessment then, but it’s hard to argue with this brief response. Fedotov was, in fact, terrific.

On his level of surprise about the way the team played:

“You’re finding things out here, O.K? When these games are on a whole different plane, O.K? It’s still regular season, right? But it’s a whole different plane. So, we’re finding things out.”

He goes on to talk about this further in the next question…

On his concern that this lingered after the Chicago loss and that his team played a ‘soft game” –

“Not the whole game, and not the whole group. There are certain people that they don’t have a clue how to play, or just don’t have it in them to play in these types of situations. And this is why I’m glad we’re playing them. Because we have to figure things out as far as what we’re going to become as a team here. That was embarrassing – the second period – for the Philadelphia Flyer uniform. The way we played – embarrassing. High marks as for as we came back in the third. Some guys.” 

There you go. This was Torts ripping players who he was not happy with. He didn’t call them out by name, but he didn’t need to. Joel Farabee was already in the doghouse, being bumped down to the fourth line to start the game, and he was glued to the bench for much of the second period. Travis Konecny, who as a reminder is playing through an injury, didn’t see the ice for the first seven minutes of the third period. But those are just two examples. Scott Laughton, who has been one of the Flyers better players in recent weeks, had a couple of brutal turnovers. Morgan Frost had a really inconsistent game. Sure, he tied the score with 9.6 seconds remaining, which was huge in getting the Flyers the needed point in the standings, but it was his turnover in overtime that led to the Isles game-winner. He also was invisible until the third period. Cam Atkinson was back in the lineup after a 10-game hiatus and gave them nothing. It’s hard to criticize Jamie Drysdale, playing in his first game after missing a month of hockey with a shoulder injury, but he looked rusty and got caught flat-footed on this Bo Horvat goal:

O.K. Back to Torts:

On the decision to pull starting goalie Sam Ersson and go to Fedotov:

“I wanted to bring him in. It just didn’t look right with Ers. I’m totally impressed. I put him in a hell of a spot and he’s the only goddamn player to play in the second period.”

Fedotov faced 17 shots in his first period of NHL action. He stoned Matthew Barzal on a breakaway about five minutes into his NHL career:

He made 16 saves in the period, and the only one he couldn’t stop was a redirection in front by Anders Lee that put the Islanders up 3-2. The save on the Barzal goal elicited a standing ovation from the Flyers crowd. It was well-deserved. Fedotov was incredibly impressive.

Any update on Sean Couturier?


That’s actually more of an update than you think. The fact that the team didn’t put out an update on Couturier’s injury, which occurred when he was driven awkwardly into the boards in the first period by Ryan Pulock, and the fact that the coach gave a one word answer afterwards tells you that there is a fear that this is a significant injury.

Coots was in obvious pain when he came off the ice and immediately went down the tunnel, favoring his right arm/shoulder. The team will likely update his status in the next 24 hours or so, but it wouldn’t surprise if that’s the last we saw of him this season.

On having a three day break before having to play again and maybe using it as a chance for guys to rest:

“Yeah, we can talk about that – to rest, this, that, the other thing – if you don’t have enough balls to play in these type of games, rest doesn’t do us any good. Doesn’t do us any good.” 

Funny, earlier this season Torts said “We’ve got balls” and now he’s questioning whether or not they have them. Which is it?

Regardless, with that mic drop at the end of the press conference, Torts told his players what he thinks of their desire. The Flyers embark on a four-game road trip. Three games against teams behind them in the standings (Buffalo, Columbus, and Montreal) and concluding with another visit to Madison Square Garden to face a New York Rangers team they haven’t beaten all season.

Then they close it out with two home games against New Jersey, and one with Washington that could well be for a playoff berth.

We’ll see if the Flyers can find their balls again to stave off elimination and play beyond those six games.