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Call it a Comeback. Eighty-Eight…er…uh… Five Takeaways from Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2

Anthony SanFilippo - January 19, 2018

As time passes, the outcome of last night’s game will be no more than a footnote in history as everyone else will remember the pomp and circumstance.

They’ll remember nearly 20,000 people wearing Eric Lindros T-shirts.

They’ll remember the number 88 painted into the ice behind each net. Or, in each corner where he laid out many an opponent with his physical style, or even across the the tarp that covers each tunnel entrance into the locker room area.

They’ll remember the 50-foot projection screens that hung from the scoreboard that showed highlights of Lindros’ career and how, at the end, they dropped rapidly to the ice to reveal, standing alone at center ice, the player who many believe was responsible for the erecting of the Wells Fargo Center to begin with. Big E. Standing amidst the trophies he and his team won in his career – receiving thunderous applause from the fans.

They’ll remember how the Flyers, and specifically Lou Nolan, once again proving why he’s the best Master of Ceremonies, maybe ever, deftly introduced Eric’s parents – Bonnie and Carl, the most meddling parental duo in the history of Philadelphia sports and arguably in the history of the four major sports in North America – by having them escorted to the ice by Lindros’ running mates who got a huge ovation: John Leclair and Mikael Renberg.

They’ll remember the No. 88 slowly being lifted to the rafters, where it became the sixth retired number in franchise history, finally coming to rest, slightly askew (I’m sure the Wells Fargo denizens will fix it by Saturday), in a twist of irony right next to Bobby Clarke’s No. 16.

They’ll remember the messages being played on the scoreboard throughout the game from great players from the Lindros’ era giving video tributes to No. 88 (of course, Jeremy Roenick’s was delivered from a golf course and was the one that blathered on the longest).

They’ll remember all that.

What they might not remember though is a gut check performance by the current hockey team that took place on the ice afterward, in what amounts to just another crucial game for a Flyers team that has designs on making the postseason, no matter how difficult it might be for a last place club at this juncture in the season.

Check that. They’re no longer in last place.

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Lather, Rinse, Repeat – Same Old, Same Old After Rangers 5, Flyers 1

Anthony SanFilippo - January 17, 2018

I usually don’t have an agenda when writing about the Flyers.

It is my intention to always provide an informed opinion or analysis based on data or conversation with people in the know – even if the opinion is unpopular.

But heading into last night’s game in New York – I will admit – I had it in my head that I was going to write a story with a specific, predetermined angle.

I was going to sit down at the keyboard and tell you how impressed I have been of late with the Flyers. After coming back from a bye and playing a very strong game against New Jersey Saturday. I was going to talk about Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek being overlooked as All-Stars in the NHL this year. I was going to talk about the improved play of young guys like Travis Konecny, Jordan Weal, and Nolan Patrick.

I had the whole thing planned in advance. It was going to be the perfect catapult into the lovefest that will be the Eric Lindros number retirement ceremony tomorrow night.

Then the game happened.

The Flyers were completely outworked and buried by a divisional opponent – in a matchup that is critical to the playoff race, no less – for the second time in six games.

And my plan was blown to smithereens.

It’s no wonder I tend to skew toward skepticism with this team.

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Good Vibes… But Maybe Too Good? Thoughts After Flyers 4, Sabres 1

Anthony SanFilippo - January 8, 2018

Tyrell Goulbourne was sitting in the locker room, taking off his pads and packing them in a bag.

This was an indicator that Goulbourne, unlike the rest of his Flyers teammates, wasn’t getting a chance to go on vacation as the Flyers entered a bye week that mandates a full 120 hours off (five days) before they are required to undergo any team activity (The Flyers next practice isn’t until 4 p.m. on Friday).

And yet, here was Goulbourne, all smiles, willing to talk about his NHL experience and the potential to have it continue as soon as the weekend.

I’ll get into my conversation with Goulbourne in a bit, but it’s rare that you see a guy getting sent back down to the minors in such a good mood.

Ahhh, a winning hockey locker room is a unique atmosphere – especially one where you’ve won a few games in a row, or 11 of 16 after a 10-game losing skid – all of which is the case for the Flyers following a not pretty, yet efficient, 4-1 win over Buffalo yesterday.

There’s the woooing as the player of the game is presented with the Ric Flair robe. There’s loud music. Guys are willing to talk and talk at length. There’s a lot of smiling and playfulness.

There’s even some over the top answers to questions, like:

“The feeling is we are very close to the playoffs right now,” Jake Voracek said. “I was reading somewhere that some people felt this team should get blown up during that 10-game losing streak. We didn’t, and we’re staying patient and we’re in a playoff position right now, so that’s good for us.”

Slow down Jake. Or, as Dave Hakstol likes to say, put it in park.

Look, the team should feel good about itself. They’ve played good hockey over the past three games. They were even, for a brief moment, tied for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot yesterday afternoon before the Penguins jumped back in front of them with an overtime win over Boston. Continue Reading

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Halftime Adjustment? Where the Orange and Black Sit at the Midway Point of the Season Following Flyers 6, Blues 3

Anthony SanFilippo - January 7, 2018

While we are enduring the some of the coldest weather on record here in the Philadelphia area, the Flyers are heating up – for the past two games anyway.

Following yesterday’s 6-3 win over St. Louis, the Flyers scored six goals or more in consecutive games for the first time in nearly five years.

It’s been good enough hockey to get the Flyers out of last place in the Metropolitan Division (O.K., they are tied in points with the New York Islanders, but the Flyers have a game in hand, thus, they are ahead of New York. Only in the NHL is a tiebreaker based on something that hasn’t happened yet while in every other sport known to man is a tiebreaker based on results that have happened.)

Nevertheless, for this Flyers team, this is progress.

And it’s been fueled by excellent starts in each of the past two games, ambushing their opponents and dictating the style in which the game is to be played.

On Thursday, everyone assumed the Flyers were playing pissed off after such a dreadful and listless performance two nights earlier against Pittsburgh.

By Saturday, everyone saw it was a definitive change in style that was making a difference.

And it didn’t take long.

Tyrell Goulbourne, making his NHL debut, on his very first shift, was a bowling ball and the guys with the Blues note on their sweaters were the pins.

This included St. Louis captain – and Norris trophy candidate – Alex Pietrangelo who promptly turned over the puck when he saw Goulbourne coming for a big hit, allowing Scott Laughton to take the puck and score from a sharp angle to give the Flyers an early lead they never relinquished. Continue Reading

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Everybody Gets a Point (well, almost everybody): Five Takeaways from Flyers 6, Islanders 4

Anthony SanFilippo - January 5, 2018

Maybe the best thing that could have happened for the Flyers this week was the winter storm Grayson.

After a listless performance against their arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday, the Flyers called up Tyrell Goulbourne for Thursday’s game against the Islanders.

They called up Goulbourne for the purpose of providing energy to a lineup that is frankly bereft of any.

Before the game, Dave Hakstol said it was “too quiet” in the arena on Tuesday. He didn’t mean that as a knock on the fans, but rather the level at which his team was playing.

Ron Hextall echoed that sentiment and said it went beyond just Tuesday’s loss:

“[Overal this season the energy level has been] in and out,” Hextall said. “There’s nights where we need more energy as a group and obviously a big part of this is to bring us some energy.”

Except, it never happened.

Goulbourne was stuck in the Lehigh Valley because of the snow. He got a late start heading toward Philly and there was no evidence he made it to town before game time – or even at all – despite Hextall saying he was on his way.

Goulbourne was considered a healthy scratch and there was no sign of him in the press box during the game or in or around the locker room after the game.

Frankly, with the way the Flyers played last night, it wouldn’t surprise if Goulbourne was immediately loaned back to the Phantoms.

Because the Flyers played with an energy, and a physicality they have not shown very often this season – and certainly not in the last few weeks.

And guess what, it made a difference.

That’s not to say they need to go all old school hockey and have multiple fights every night – after all there were three glove droppings last night – by guys you really would expect: Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton.

No. The Flyers can play the way they played for 40 minutes last night and never get into another fight again, and it would be a successful brand of hockey.

It was a game filled with aggressive physical play between the whistles – big hits, stronger play along the walls and with the puck, a greater physical desire to win those 50/50 plays that make up a hockey game.

Oh… and almost every forward – and even a defenseman or two – found a way to get to a specific area of the ice – between the circles in the offensive zone – and would you believe it, they scored five of their six goals from there?

Now, this really only lasted 40 minutes. The third period was not good and the Flyers almost let an Islanders team that has played pretty dreadful hockey for an extended period of time (they’ve lost eight of 11 and allowed at least four goals in all eight losses) force overtime, which would have been really deflating for the Flyers considering how good the first two periods were, but they ultimately hung on for a much needed victory.

Let’s look at how it happened: Continue Reading

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New Year, Same Story: Five Takeaways from Penguins 5, Flyers 1

Anthony SanFilippo - January 3, 2018

As many of you know from my last post, I’ve been missing the past few Flyers games (live) because of my involvement with Big Daddy Graham’s “A Row Home Christmas.”

But as it turns out, I haven’t been missing much.

The Flyers are what we thought they were, and have been, and will continue to be in the near future. Inconsistent. Frustrating at times. But mostly mediocre. Although qualifying last night’s loss to Pittsburgh as mediocre is far too generous.

Last night was a completely sub-par effort all the way around, including their first stinker from goalie Brian Elliott in quite some time. They have now lost five-of-seven, this after winning six in a row following a ten-game losing streak.

And when a team is that streaky, they can’t be trusted to be consistent ever – either consistently good or consistently bad.

I have a friend who is a degenerate gambler. So much so that he bets hockey with regularity. He has been leaning on me for, ahem, expert advice in hockey for years. Over time I’ve truly done no better than maybe enough to assure he is able to keep betting hockey – meaning slightly better than 50% or just enough to cover his bookie’s vig.

And yet, despite being able to give him picks on games for years, and having my best track record in the playoffs and with Flyers games (because you can get a sense of how the team feels or looks sometimes in practice or morning skates) he is frustrated with me because I have not given him one Flyers game yet this season.

Part of that is because I’m not doing this full-time and I’m not at many of those practices and morning skates, so even though I’m still texting or talking with people with the team from afar, I don’t feel confident giving him a pick based mostly on my gut.

But the real reason is, you can’t tell with this Flyers team from one game to the next. There’s no flow or rhythm to them. They don’t generate any consistency because there’s nothing consistent about them. They really are a team without an identity.

For the better part of two months, Dave Hakstol was opposed to really mixing up his lines. Sure, he would make one forward change here or there. Maybe flip flop two guys in the lineup, but he kept things the same, even while they were losing a bunch of games in a row.

Now, he’s juggling the lineup like his hair’s on fire. After finally moving Travis Konecny on a line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier in Columbus last Saturday (and having them look good in the process against a superior team) they played together all of one lousy period in Florida before that combination was abandoned again.

Of course, Hakstol said after the game that the lineup shifting was just the Flyers trying to find nine forwards that work together. And to his credit, they were re-united the last two games, one which they looked really good (Tampa) and one which they (and everyone else) looked lousy (Pittsburgh).

But here we are 39 games into the season and the Flyers really haven’t found any forwards that work together with the exception of Couturier and Giroux and whoever you put on the wing with them.

So maybe that’s the problem more than anything. Maybe it’s the construction of the team. Maybe these heralded Flyers prospects aren’t as talented as we once thought. Maybe that’s why Ron Hextall has protected so many of them for so long – not wanting them to get swallowed up by the big, bad NHL because they aren’t as good as others their age.

I’ve started constructing a deep dive comparison of all the Flyers players to others around the NHL. And since it’s so lengthy, I’ll break it up into a few posts which I’ll unveil next week during the Flyers bye week which is basically one game past the halfway point of the season

But as for last night… well… maybe I’ll just let Flyers Twitter tell that story:

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A Good Loss? How the Flyers Can Use a 4-1 Defeat Against the Kings to Shape Their Season

Anthony SanFilippo - December 19, 2017

 

Last night’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings was a good thing for the Flyers.

Let me say that again.

Losing to the Kings 4-1, and in the manner that it happened, was a good thing for the Flyers.

Why?

Because it now put them on this season’s precipice. It has brought us to the point of “show us what you’re made of” hockey.

There will be no more talking of streaking. We get it – they weren’t as bad as the results of losing 10 straight would indicate, nor are they as good as how they looked in the six games they won immediately afterward.

And if they won again last night, that’s all we’d still be talking about – streaks, streaks and more streaks.

I get it, it’s a narrative. I would have been right there with everyone else, although still with a keen eye on what was really happening and willing to point out the flaws, even if there was success.

But we won’t have to go down that path for a while. now. Nope, now those streaks are behind us, and the Flyers are 6-6-5 since they began, which is far more indicative of the kind of team they really are than either streak would have indicated.

And now, they’re pretty much done with the Western Conference for a while. With the lone exception of the return of prodigal son Brayden Schenn and the St. Louis Blues the Saturday after New Year’s Day, 20 of the next 21 Flyers games are against Eastern Conference opponents. So, we can stop with the “too many games against the West” talk that has been bandied about for the first 10 weeks of this season.

No, now we are into the meat of the season. It will reach it’s official halfway point after that aforementioned Blues game, and the Flyers find themselves just four points out of a playoff spot, albeit still in last place in the Metropolitan Division.

But when you look at this next stretch of 19 games – between now and the Super Bowl – the Flyers have an opportunity to either play the kind of hockey that will get everyone excited once the NFL season is over, or the kind of hockey that will have us pumped that pitchers and catchers are reporting only a little more than a week later.

If the Flyers are going to prove to us that they can be a playoff team – as Ron Hextall has indicated or as Claude Giroux has professed, then it needs to become apparent over these next 19 games.

There are some tough matchups in there – a visit to both Columbus and Tampa on the back-end of back-to-back road sets. Three games against the upstart Devils, two road trips to Washington, and visits to the Wells Fargo Center by Pittsburgh and the Lightning.

But the schedule does lighten up. The Flyers’ bye week is included in that stretch. So is the Christmas break. And the All-Star break.

In short, after jamming games in on a pretty much every-other-day basis for a while, the Flyers only play 19 times in the next 47 days. That’s a pretty remarkable amount of down time in hockey.

So, they should be fresh on most nights. They should have time to gameplan for most opponents. This should be when we really see if Dave Hakstol has the chops to stay on as coach of this team, or if he should go as may of us suggested a couple of weeks ago.

And if they are going to prove all of us wrong and, in fact, be the playoff team that only they think they are, then now is the time to prove it, and here’s how they’re going to have to do it: Continue Reading

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Everything is Right Again…Or Not: Thoughts on Flyers 2, Sabres 1, and Star Wars The Last Jedi

Anthony SanFilippo - December 15, 2017

 

With a mild wave of my hand I feel confident in telling you, “This is not the hockey you were looking for.”

Yes, the Flyers won, extending their season-best win streak to five games. Yes, they somehow have turned a disastrous 10-game losing streak into a 5-5-5 performance over the past 15 games. And yes, it’s Star Wars day and I have something to say about that as well later, for those of you who are crossover fans.

But the reality is, last night’s 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, a team that, based on talent, is in that awful purgatory between NHL and AHL caliber, was Ugly, and yes, that capital U was intentional.

Don’t believe me, ask some Flyers.

“It was a boring game to watch,” Jake Voracek said. “I should know, I played in it.”

And while waiting for Dale Weise to finish up what had to be the longest media scrum of his career, Michael Raffl was standing off to the side waiting his turn – quite impatiently.

I was standing next to him and this quick exchange took place:

Raffl: (to no one in particular) “Come on Weiser, enough already.”

Me: “Guess you really don’t want to talk to us tonight, huh?”

Raffl: “You saw the game. Every answer I give you guys is going to be a one line answer. That’s all this game deserved.”

Hey, at least they could acknowledge when their own product was bad.

“Yeah, I don’t think it was our best game today,” said Valtteri Filppula, who scored a goal. “But it’s good, sometimes you have to be able to win these types of games and I think that’s a good sign.”

So is winning five in a row. It has quelled the mob chanting for Dave Hakstol’s firing… for now. It has saved the season from plummeting into the abyss… for now.

But, when you play that ugly of a game against the worst team in the sport, it’s got to leave you a little chaffed, even though you still got the two points.

Here’s the rest of the Raffl conversation, before his scrum:

Me: “Well, at least you guys won the game right? You gotta be happy with that, right?”

Raffl: “We’ll take it, but I would say we played better in about six or seven of those games in the 10-game losing streak than we did tonight. This wasn’t fun. It was like a war out there. There wasn’t anything fun about it at all.”

So yeah. Bad hockey. So much so that a non-media member sitting in the press box said to me at one point, “What the hell are we watching tonight?”

Which brings me to the shaping of a hockey narrative – which I think is one of the stories I want to tell you today.

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