VOORHEES, N.J. — If a players-only meeting lends the appearance the Flyers are grasping at straws, that’s probably because the team can’t explain how it has managed to lose nine in a row. Or, more importantly, how exactly it's going to turn its season around.
Back at practice on Thursday, the Flyers divulged little from the closed-door conversation that followed a 3-1 loss to the Sharks two days earlier. But they did put on a united front and promised there will be no finger-pointing to come.
“It’s frustrating going through this stretch, but it was more or less we have each other’s backs,” Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We got into this together, we’re going to get out of it together.”
With the defeats beginning to pile up, and concerns over Flyers coach Dave Hakstol’s job security intensifying, perhaps players simply felt the need to address the atmosphere inside the locker room.
“It’s not nice air around here when you don’t win for nine games in a row,” said Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, who’s currently serving a 10-game suspension. “The guys have a little better feeling of which way we’re going to head and what we need to do to get the two points in our next game.”
As far as solutions to halting a skid that’s almost three weeks in the making, it didn’t sound as though the Flyers touched on anything overly specific during the meeting.
“No one is happy about what’s going on, but we’re sticking together,” Flyers center Sean Couturier said. “Everyone has their part of responsibility during this stretch. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and be better.”
The question is: Better at what exactly?
To be honest, the Flyers don’t seem entirely certain of the answer.
The Flyers have lost games when they couldn’t score goals, others when they couldn’t hold leads. There have been games when the power play has failed them, others when they weren’t able to kill enough penalties.
It’s little things. And it’s a little bit of everything.
“There’s probably a couple of areas of our game where we have to simplify things for sure, even mentally, trying to do things with a real clear purpose,” Hakstol said. “But we still have to continue adding detail to our game.”
Even when looking at one phase under the microscope, such as a struggling Flyers penalty kill that’s allowed 10 goals over the last six games, the dilemma is multifaceted and complex.
“We’ve looked at trying to change it up a little bit with some of the personnel, but it’s not that easy,” Hakstol said. “If it was that simple, you would flip that switch right away.
“You can say we’ve given up PK goals, but it’s different areas that we’ve given them up in terms of the type of goals.”
Despite inconsistencies across the board, some Flyers players also don’t necessarily feel the team has played as poorly as the 0-4-5 record would indicate.
“We’re not playing bad for nine games,” Couturier said. “There’s a bit of bad luck. We have to keep working hard, sticking together and create our own bounces, creating our own luck. Things eventually have to go our way.”
The proliferation of overtime and shootout losses might support Couturier’s case. Just one play here, one play there, and we’re not talking about how the Flyers have merely been mediocre in November as opposed to being mired in a weeks-long losing streak.
Others feel while the performance on the ice hasn’t been as unsatisfactory as the results, players are pressing as the slump drags on.
“Even though we were playing well during the start of this drought, we weren’t getting wins, we weren’t scoring goals, and during those kinds of times, you tend to reach a little bit more,” MacDonald said. “Guys maybe tried to do too much.
“It’s certainly not a fault for effort or anything like that. It’s more than anything wanting to help the team win even more. It’s tough when those things happen. You try to do a little bit too much, then you’re out of position and it kind of snowballs a little bit.”
Still, the only common thread here is the lack of a common thread at all. It’s the little things, and it’s the big things. The game plan is neither simple nor detailed enough. It’s mental, but it’s bad luck.
Maybe the Flyers, with a young, retooling roster that missed the playoffs last season, are growing through some inevitable growing pains.
“We just have to be better,” Couturier said. “It’s plain and simple. It’s a lot of little things, but we just have to be better overall.”
Stuck in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 23 points in 25 games, the Flyers need to get a lot better — and that’s not going to be easy if they haven’t figured out what the problem is.
Hakstol on Martel, Weal
Despite returning Danick Martel to the Phantoms on Wednesday, the Flyers were impressed with the rookie forward’s speed. The 22-year-old’s stamina, on the other hand, is still a work in progress.
“He really added a ton of energy, especially early on,” Hakstol said. “The last game here we had a lot of tired legs, and he was one of them, but he showed he has that burst that can impact games a little bit offensively.”
Martel appeared in four games for the Flyers, registering a minus-1 and six shots on goal. However, he was limited to just 12 shifts and under nine minutes of ice time in each of his last two contests, a decision Hakstol made as the winger’s speed diminished.
“I didn’t think he was all that effective as we were going through that game,” Hakstol said of Tuesday’s contest against the Sharks. “He has to have that burst in order to play the way he needs to play to generate offensive opportunities. Back end of a back-to-back, he didn’t have that burst.”
With Jordan Weal ready to return to the lineup after sitting out the last two games as a healthy scratch, it sounds like we’ve seen the last of Martel with the Flyers for a little while.
“He just needs to keep working towards it,” Hakstol said. “It was a real good opportunity for him to play his first National Hockey League games, and we saw a lot of things we liked in him.”
As for Weal, the Flyers are hoping the second-year player can get back on track. After recording two goals and four assists over his first 14 games this season, he is scoreless with a minus-3 rating in his last seven.
“He needs to hit the restart button and have a fresh start, and that’s exactly what this opportunity should provide for him is a fresh start,” Hakstol said.
“His work ethic, his passion, none of that is lacking, nor has it ever been. It’s a little bit of a restart for him so he can get back in the lineup and have that fresh feel and fresh start.”