ST. PAUL, Minn. — Four shutouts in their first 17 games.
Or you can break it down in a way that sounds a little more alarming: the Flyers essentially have given themselves no shot at winning 24 percent of their games this season which, in part, explains why they’re in last place in a very tightly-packed Metropolitan Division.
“It’s tough to say,” forward Scott Laughton said Tuesday. “I think we’re aware of it for sure. We’ve been shut out four times now and it’s not fun.”
“Everyone’s got pride in their offensive game, and when you get shut out, it doesn’t feel good,” forward Jordan Weal said. “I think if we can really get to our game and do it for a full 60 minutes tonight, I see something going in.”
The Flyers had a similar stretch of offensive ineptitude last season when they were blanked five times over a 19-game stretch from late December to early February, and they finished the season on the wrong side of eight shutouts, which ranked in the bottom five of the league.
The logic is rather simple: when you can’t score, you can’t win, and that has been the case against some of the better goaltenders in the league. L.A.’s Jonathan Quick, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk are big, rangy netminders who cover a lot of area.
“Three of those guys are really big goalies who fight through traffic,” Laughton said. “I thought last game Dubnyk was good but we've got to get more traffic on him, and create better chances for ourselves. If our first line doesn’t score, we’ve got to have other guys who step up.”
Perhaps a little overdue in switching up his second and third lines, head coach Dave Hakstol recognized a needed change after Saturday’s loss to Minnesota in which the Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera lines failed to generate anything off the rush playing with little speed through the neutral zone.
“There’s no need for a desperate mentality or anything like that,” Hakstol said. “A couple of games where we didn’t score, maybe we could have done a little more, gotten to the net a little bit harder, could have found a rebound here or there. In all of those games, we ran into good goaltending performances, but again, you have to find a way to alter that. We can do a little more.”
Whatever the message, the Flyers have been quick to fix their flaws this season. In each of the three games proceeding a shutout, they’ve responded with a win in their next game, outscoring their opponents, 7-3.
“We’ve addressed a few things after the game, and we talked about those things after the games we were shut out and I think we came up with good energy and a mentality,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said.
However, tonight’s game is different. It’s a rare home-and-home against a Western Conference opponent they don’t see too often and once again facing Dubnyk, who will be looking to extend his shutout streak of 138 minutes and 20 seconds following his 1-0 victory Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Wayne Simmonds believes the Flyers can alter their offensive approach by not jamming up the area in front of the crease.
“We had some chances, we just didn’t bury it,” Simmonds said. “They played pretty much five guys packed right in front of the net. We probably needed to maybe pop a guy out or pop a guy up top or something.”
Patrick still out
Flyers rookie Nolan Patrick skated with teammates for a second straight day, however, he’ll miss his ninth straight game with an upper-body injury that he suffered in a game against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 24. Patrick has now skated in some capacity in five of the last six days, providing the possibility he could return to the lineup against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night.
General manager Ron Hextall hinted that Andrew MacDonald could return to the team Monday, but the defenseman did not skate then, and although he traveled with the team, MacDonald was not on the ice for Tuesday’s morning skate at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. MacDonald will miss his 10th straight game with a lower-body injury and likely won’t return until Saturday’s game against the Calgary Flames at the earliest.
Zucker going wild
Minnesota’s Jason Zucker is on a remarkable tear, scoring the Wild’s last six goals over their past three games. No Flyer has done that in their 51-year history and the last Flyer to register six goals over a three-game span was Simmonds when he had multi-goal games in December of 2013.
“You obviously have to be aware,” Hakstol said of Zucker’s presence on the ice. “He’s on a heck of a run. He’s obviously feeling good and he’s a good player and a good offensive player who’s feeling it. So you have to be aware.”