If the Flyers have an emergency chute, now would be the time to pull the rip cord.
On Thursday night, their Metropolitan Division free fall picked up even more velocity following a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets, a team that has made up nine points in a span of just two weeks to pull even with the Flyers at 81 points (see observations).
If what we were watching was a skydiving exhibition, Dave Hakstol knew something wasn’t right from the moment his team left the plane.
“I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play, and that squarely comes to me,” Hakstol said. “I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play in that first 20 minutes and that can’t happen this time of year.”
However, it’s been happening for much of this month. The Flyers have been outscored 11-5 in the opening period of their last eight games, and while it explains only part of their failures, poor starts are a contributing factor to their 1-6-1 record in the month of March.
“It was definitely just readiness,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I think the biggest thing for us is to realize what time of year it is. We can’t have any slow starts to these games — then we’re just climbing an uphill battle the rest of the game, making it hard on ourselves.”
The Blue Jackets scored three goals on eight shots, but the Flyers were so disjointed defensively, Columbus could have easily added another goal. The Blue Jackets' second score was a lost battle along the boards and a coverage breakdown that the Flyers have been guilty of on numerous occasions this season.
“We were pretty loose in our coverage,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “Maybe our level of intensity and attention to detail wasn’t where it needed to be and we kind of had to scrap back into it. But obviously, too little, too late.”
With the score 4-2, Alex Lyon replaced Petr Mrazek three minutes and 23 seconds into the second period and proceeded to shut the door, but by then, the damage was done. Right now, the Flyers need exceptional play in net and they’re simply not getting it.
“Petr didn’t give up a bad goal tonight, but you look for a timely save from your goaltender and that’s what we didn’t get in the first half of the game tonight,” Hakstol said.
“I thought the fourth one, a 3-on-1, if I was to make the save there, the game could be different,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t have any big saves in the first period. If that fourth one I would stop, I would probably get the momentum back and we would still have a chance.”
For a team that had its sight set on winning the division just two weeks ago, it's now in a dogfight for its playoff lives.
“The real honest truth is 11 games to go, it’s an even race,” Hakstol said. “There’s eight spots to be had and we’re right there. I told our players after [the game], I’ll take that challenge and I’ll happily take that on with our group.
“Things haven’t gone well here over the last six to seven games. We know that. But it’s that time of year, you’ve got to be able to clear the deck, clear the mind and really get focused on the next challenge ahead.”
But the Flyers' descent continues to gain speed. All you can do is look up, hold your breath and hope the landing isn’t catastrophic.