Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing loss in Pittsburgh the tipping point?

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing loss in Pittsburgh the tipping point?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse and that it was OK to step outside in your orange and black gear again, this past week happened.

The bruises got darker and the cuts got deeper this week as the Flyers’ prolonged misery and embarrassment continued with three more painful losses, each in unique fashion, to push the losing streak to 10 games. It’s the longest losing streak for the Flyers since 2008, when they also lost 10 in a row. For those keeping score at home, the longest winless streak (losses and ties) in franchise history is 12 games way back in 1999.

The week kicked off in stunning fashion with a disheartening 5-4 loss in OT to the rival Penguins on Monday in Pittsburgh. It continued back home Tuesday night with a lifeless 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. And then the week ended with yet another dud, a 3-0 shutout loss at home to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon.

So, as you may be able to infer, there is plenty to get to in this week’s observations, and not much, if any of it, is good.

Let’s get to it.

• The feeling heading into this week was that the Flyers, losers of seven straight contests, could benefit from the energy, ill will and overall rivalry with the Penguins, and get some momentum going to turn the ship around. And for 40 minutes, it looked like that feeling was reality.

Until the third period began and the Flyers blew yet another two-goal lead, the fourth such lead they’ve blown during this streak. But they struck back thanks to a sweet power move by Michael Raffl, only to have that lead evaporate with less than a minute left. So of course you knew the nightmare would come full circle with a Sidney Crosby OT winner.

This loss was so demoralizing on so many levels. Here, you had the defending two-time Stanley Cup champs and your blood rival on the ropes to end a long losing streak, and then in the blink of an eye it all swirled down the drain in a most painful, needling fashion while your goalie, Brian Elliott, basically stood on his head with 47 saves and gave you a chance to win yet again.

The question that still lingers almost a week after: was that the tipping point for the Flyers? Was that black eye what finally pushed them off the cliff? If we’re status quo in April and we look back at when the wheels fell off for good, will that be what we point back to? Shake the orange and black Magic 8-ball right now and “all signs point to yes” will appear. And the proof was in how the Flyers responded in the next two games.

• Last week, I wrote that the 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Nov. 21 was the Flyers’ worst performance of the season. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have an new leader in the clubhouse and it’s the dismal showing back home vs. San Jose on Tuesday night, just 24 hours after the meltdown in Pittsburgh.

After Claude Giroux scored just 48 seconds into the contest, the Flyers barely had a pulse for the next 59:12. The Sharks grabbed the game by the throat and the Flyers put up little resistance or pushback.

Yes, the Flyers were a tired team coming off a heartbreaking loss and the Sharks are a big, strong contender from the Western Conference. But still, the Flyers should have more than five measly third-period shots when trailing by two goals. The night was a breeze for Sharks goalie Aaron Dell, who had to make just 22 saves, and not many of the challenging variety.

Just not a good effort whatsoever. And more importantly, an awful response to adversity from the night before.

• The Flyers lost again Saturday, of course, to the Bruins, 3-0, and were shut out for the sixth time in 26 games. That marks the most in the league. But while the Bruins carried the game, the Flyers shouldn’t have been shut out as Giroux cleanly beat Tuukka Rask on the power play near the end of the second period to cut Boston’s lead to 3-1.

But not so fast, as the officials erased the tally for supposed goalie interference on Wayne Simmonds, who had cut in front of Rask and made contact with the Bruins’ netminder, according to the powers that be. And it was an egregiously terrible call by the powers that be.

Simmonds, who is entitled to his ice, barely grazed, if even touched Rask, who was inching out of his crease. That was and still is a good goal, except to the league, which has different rules and standards on different days. That move by Simmonds will be goalie interference one game and not even an afterthought the next. The lack of consistency is baffling. If you’re going to call it tight, call it tight all the time. If you’re going to let some things go, let those things go all the time.

The way the rule is enforced one game and period and play to the next is laughable, to be quite frank.

• Some curious lineup decisions by Dave Hakstol this week, benching young forwards Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier as healthy scratches and inserting veterans Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera into the lineup Monday in Pittsburgh and Tuesday vs. San Jose.

OK, a veteran presence is one thing. But it doesn’t help all that much when those veterans are giving you next to nothing right now. Weise has only two goals on the season and just one point in his last 14 games played. The stats are just as ugly for Lehtera, who has just two assists in 17 contests this season.

Yes, the scoresheet isn’t pretty for Weal or Leier, respectively. Weal, who was counted on coming into the season to provide a secondary scoring jolt in a top-six role, has just two goals and four assists on the campaign and is scoreless in his last 11 contests. Leier, pegged into a fourth-line role that isn’t asking for offense all the time, has a goal and two assists on the season.

But what those two guys do bring night in and night out is energy. And if there’s anything this Flyers team needs desperately right now, it’s an injection of energy. Those two guys should be playing every night.

• Funny (alright, maybe not so much in this case) how things can change over the course of a year. On Dec. 3 last season, the Flyers topped the Chicago Blackhawks to win their fourth of eventually 10 straight games. Fast forward a year and the Flyers are drowning in the quicksand that is this 10-game skid and morale is as low as has been in recent memory. "It's f----ing brutal," according to Shayne Gostisbehere. "Everything we touch right now turns to s--," explained Jake Voracek on Saturday.

Hey, nowhere to go but up, right?


Coming up this week: Monday at Calgary (9:00 p.m. on NBCSP+), Wednesday at Edmonton (9:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday at Vancouver (10:00 p.m. on NBCSP).

Flyers show off their youth in win over Rangers

AP Images

Flyers show off their youth in win over Rangers


The Flyers survived one of the most dangerous lines in hockey to defeat the Rangers, 4-3.

It marked the first game this season at the Wells Fargo Center between the storied rivals. 

Travis Konecny scored twice to give him 22 goals for the season.

Claude Giroux contributed three assists for the second straight game. His second consecutive three-point game allowed him to reach the 90-point mark for the second time in his career.

Goaltender Alex Lyon stopped 33 of 36 shots for his fourth career win.

The Flyers continue to inch closer to securing a playoff spot as the Panthers lost to the Blue Jackets. Currently, Florida is the final team out and trails the Flyers by seven points with just over two weeks remaining in the regular season.

• After a slow start, the Flyers finally got it going five minutes into the game. Jori Lehtera worked his into the slot for a one-timer chance on Rangers rookie goalie Alexandar Georgiev. Just a little over a minute later, Travis Konecny did an excellent job of working his way into the left circle while using Sean Couturier and two Rangers as a shield to block Georgiev’s view. 

• The Flyers didn’t give up too much in the first period and outshot the Rangers, 15-8. However, they were careless defensively against the Rangers’ top line and it cost them. Konecny attempted to intercept a centering pass (which could have resulted in a breakaway). Instead, Mika Zibanejad was able to make a move past Radko Gudas and slide a shot five-hole through Lyon to tie the game at 1-1. With Brandon Manning along the left side board tying up the right winger, Konecny couldn’t afford to whiff on that play.

• After the Flyers were on their heels in the first four minutes of the second period, they came up big during a 4-on-4. Jakub Voracek produced a terrific individual effort to score his 19th goal and give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. Typically when Voracek skates into a sea of defenders, he turns the puck over. In this instance, he was helped out by Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei, who lost his stick and couldn’t tie up Voracek.

• Part of that goal was set up by Zibanejad’s poor decision to engage with the Flyers after the whistle. The result of his overaggressiveness was two minutes for roughing, which negated a Rangers power play that resulted in Voracek’s goal.

• It took all of eight seconds for the Flyers to extend their lead to 4-2 in the third period as Nolan Patrick built up some speed and snapped a shot up high on Georgiev. The goalie couldn’t corral the puck, which led to a rebound. Credit Oskar Lindblom for going hard to the net and stuffing home the rebound for his second goal. Lindblom has been providing effort plays since being called up. He had several quality chances against the Rangers before scoring his goal.

• Lyon came up with his save of the night in the second period as the Flyers were caught in a 2-on-1 situation. He produced a sprawling pad save on Zibanejad. Unlike what we’ve seen from Petr Mrazek recently, Lyon is coming up with saves when his defense lets him down.

• Exhibit B in Lyon’s defense came in the third period as Chris Kreider appeared to have a wide-open net. Lyon continued to battle and appeared to have stopped Kreider’s shot with the side of his mask or shoulder. More concerning was how the Flyers were caught with the pairing of Travis Sanheim and Andrew MacDonald against the Rangers’ top line.

• The Rangers worked their way back to 3-2 on a fortuitous goal from Jesper Fast, who was simply looking to center the puck to a teammate when he banked the puck off Ivan Provorov’s skate and past Lyon. The Rangers’ top line of Zibanejad, Kreider and Fast came into the game on fire and is one of the top scoring lines in hockey over the past few weeks. 

Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

AP Images

Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

Rookie Robert Hagg will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career following his performance Tuesday in Detroit, where the defenseman played just 12:39 and finished with a minus-2 rating, including just four shifts and 2:28 during the Flyers' third-period comeback.

Hagg missed four games with a lower-body injury, and when he returned he played on the left side, paired with Radko Gudas. For most of the second half of the season, Hagg has played the right side with Andrew MacDonald as the team’s second pairing.

“It’s not always about the individual,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “The pair (Hagg and Gudas) didn’t have easy chemistry there. We ended up in some situations with and against the speed and ended up with some bad gaps. The pair and combination wasn’t as effective as we needed it to be.”

Lyon in the crease
If Hakstol wanted to be a very unconventional think-outside-the-box coach, he would start Petr Mrazek for a period and then bring in Alex Lyon for the remaining two periods and beyond.

Lyon will start tonight’s game against the Rangers, the same team he earned his first career win against after replacing Michal Neuvirth following the first period. 

Some of Lyon’s best work this season has been coming in cold off the bench. He owns a .970 save percentage in games he has entered in relief, and a pedestrian .890 save percentage in five games he has started.

“It’s not just based on one performance, it never is,” Hakstol said. “ It’s always based on situation and a player’s body of work. Alex’s body of work has been good. He came in the other night and did an excellent job and that’s part of the decision.”

Shorthanded shortcomings
The Red Wings scored the tenth shorthanded goal against the Flyers Tuesday, matching the Colorado Avalanche for the most 5-on-4 goals allowed this season. 

This season, the Flyers are 4-4-2 in games in which they’ve given up a shorthanded goal, but more importantly, many of those goals have been momentum killers — the difference between tying a game or facing a two-goal deficit.

In the Flyers' 5-1 loss to the Rangers on Jan. 16, New York forward Paul Carey scored shorthanded with ten seconds remaining in the first period that extended the Rangers lead to 3-1, and took away any hope for a Flyers' comeback.    

“The Rangers are going to come with the kitchen sink on their penalty kill and they’re playing without a lot of pressure,” Hakstol said. “At times, you’re going to see two, three and four guys on their PK come up the ice offensively, so we’re going to have to do a very good job of that tonight.” 

Much of the blame can be attributed to the power play’s 1-3-1 setup — Shayne Gostisbehere serving as the only player on the point with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek in the circles, Sean Couturier in the high slot and Wayne Simmonds down low.

When a turnover or giveaway is committed between the circles and the blue line, typically only Gostisbehere or the player taking his spot at the point is the only player back to defend, leaving the Flyers wide open for a two-on-one shorthanded chance against.   

“We starting off taking a chance with one defenseman out there,” Gostisbehere said. “That’s just the name of the game. I don’t think there’s too many power play units with two D out there right now. I think for us, it’s staying within ourselves and keeping it simple.”