SUNRISE, Fla. — Elvis Presley sang about a Blue Christmas. The Flyers are composing their own lyrics to the post-Christmas time blues.
In what's becoming habit coming out of the three-day, league-wide holiday shutdown, the Flyers brought a lackluster effort in the opening 30 minutes Thursday night on their way to a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers (see observations).
“We really didn’t start playing until halfway through this game,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, who began switching up his lines near the end of the first period. “We spotted our opponent three goals and then we got into the intensity level of the game.
"As we went into third, we’re looking for nine forwards that could meet or match the intensity level that the game was at.”
One noticeable move Hakstol made early on was Scott Laughton jumping up into Nolan Patrick’s center position on the second line, as Laughton finished with seven more shifts than the 19-year-old rookie.
“You got to do something when we’re that sloppy to start with,” Laughton said. “Nothing’s going on, giving up odd man rushes every shift it seemed like. We had a good late push, but early in the game, we just weren’t good enough.”
The last time the Flyers won the game proceeding the Christmas break was Dec. 28, 2013, and their record over the past three years after Dec. 25 reflects something resembling a week-long hangover:
• 0-3-1 in 2016-17
• 0-3-0 in 2015-16
• 0-4-1 in 2014-15
“They were off too, so there’s no excuses,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It is what it is.”
Before the viewer at home could settle in for an evening of Flyers hockey, Hakstol’s team was whistled for two penalties in the opening three minutes, which led to the Panthers' early 5-on-3 power play for one minute and 19 seconds. Even after the Flyers successfully killed it off, they still couldn’t muster any momentum.
“I think our urgency was a little off, coming into this one,” Brian Elliott said. “They came at us hard and we really didn’t match it until the final 10 minutes of the game. We've got to have a little bit more jump tomorrow night.”
Hakstol preached attention to details following Thursday morning’s skate, and the Flyers responded with precisely the opposite, as sloppiness and repeated breakdowns led to numerous odd-man rushes for the Panthers throughout the first half of the game.
The Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after Derek MacKenzie scored shorthanded — the fifth shorthanded goal the Flyers allowed — after Claude Giroux’s pass along the boards was cut off leading to a 2-on-1 break for Florida.
“We just couldn’t get anything going,” Giroux said. “The power play wasn’t sharp and that starts with me, and it was a bad game.”
Perhaps forward Michael Raffl perhaps summed it up best.
“I don’t think our passes were crisp enough," he said. "We weren’t skating. We weren’t working hard enough. We didn’t win enough battles. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough. There’s a lot of excuses out there if you look for them.”
Right now, the Flyers need to look for answers and quickly as they fly to central Florida. That's where they will face the NHL’s top team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, with an overall record of 27-7-2.