Robert Hagg

Talks of one-man show, the core illustrate trying times for Flyers

Talks of one-man show, the core illustrate trying times for Flyers

Sunday was not a pretty day at the Wells Fargo Center.

The scene on the ice was unbecoming and the postgame vibe felt worse.

These are not the prettiest times for the Flyers. A season with expectations spiraled into the general manager and head coach being fired, and couldn't be resurrected. 

The Flyers were officially eliminated from playoff contention Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina. They came home and played an uninspired game Sunday in front of fans who are just as disgruntled with the 2018-19 season. 

The Flyers lost, 3-0, to the rebuilding Rangers, a team that had lost 13 of its last 16 games and owned just one road victory since Feb. 20 (see observations)

For the Flyers, there was little rhythm, little execution and apparently not much togetherness.

"I know we still have to stick with each other, play our game, play for the team, and that didn't happen today," Robert Hagg said. "It was too much of a one-man show out there, trying to do too much. For me, not a point-producing guy, it's frustrating. We're talking about before the game to do all the small things right for the team and we're going out there and doing exactly the opposite. It's frustrating.

"We have all the pieces, but we need to stick together and play as a team. I don't think we're doing that right now. It doesn't matter who you put out there, if you don't play together, it doesn't matter. If you're trying to do a one-man show for 60 minutes, you're going to end up 3-0 and in the back."

The Flyers were left questioning pride and effort Sunday. Just add it on to the laundry list of questions this season has produced. 

"We're a frustrating team right now," Claude Giroux said. "We're our worst enemy."

Once again, the Flyers are experiencing a fate becoming all too common. They've missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons, which includes the 2012-13 shortened campaign, and haven't made the postseason in consecutive years since 2010-12, when they last won a series.

Jakub Voracek has never shied away from talking about the team's core. After the Flyers missed the playoffs in 2016-17, he said, "It's going to get blown up and we all know it," if the team didn't get back to the postseason and start winning some series.

On Sunday, Voracek was asked how the Flyers could break their pattern of making the playoffs one season and missing them the next.

"I don't know … I think we said the core was going to get traded," he said, frustrated and purposefully dramatic. "Maybe the core? Maybe we've got to get traded — me, G, Coots, I don't know. You'll figure it out."

General manager Chuck Fletcher probably isn't contemplating trading away Voracek, Giroux and Sean Couturier. He's probably trying to find ways to make the Flyers better, to provide a promising start in 2019-20, so they're not requiring a Herculean second-half run just to be in the picture.

"I mean, everyone is watching, people are still watching, we have fans out there expecting us to go out there and play our best," Hagg said.

Fletcher is watching and he'll be looking for answers this summer — because these are not pretty times.

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Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

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AP Images

Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

Throughout the first half of this season, the Flyers have been relatively injury free on defense, but as a group, they’ve regressed from last season. However, under assistant Rick Wilson and new coach Scott Gordon, we’re beginning to see signs of improvement. 

After breaking down the goaltending Monday, we grade out the Flyers' blue line.  

Radko Gudas

Grade: B+ 
Stats: 2 G, 11 A, plus-10, 18:00 A/TOI

Dare I say that Gudas has been the Flyers' steadiest defenseman this season. While some writers like to use Corsi as a barometer for puck possession, I like to utilize goals against/60 minutes during 5-on-5 play to determine the strength of a player’s overall defense. Gudas’ 1.76 goals allowed/60 min. is the best of any Flyers defenseman … by far. Perhaps most impressively is how Gudas has adapted his physical game without taking foolish penalties.

Offensively, Gudas’ philosophy seems rather simple. When given the opportunity, just put the puck on net as he leads the team with 16 rebounds created at even strength while contributing 13 points — a nice total considering he barely strays from the blue line.

Robert Hagg

Grade: B
Stats: 4 G, 9 A, plus-5, 17:43 A/TOI

Hagg has gained a reputation as such a hard hitter that other teams' forwards have altered their forechecking approach with the Flyers' defenseman on the ice. Hagg had his most consistent month in November and has cut down on some of the positioning flaws in the defensive zone that were a problem area in his rookie season.

Hagg has even chipped in some additional offense this season. His 15 primary points (goals, first assists) at 5-on-5 is second on the Flyers behind Travis Sanheim’s 16, and he’s currently on pace to finish with seven goals and 22 points, which would more than double last season’s totals. 

Travis Sanheim

Grade: B-
Stats: 4 G, 11A, minus-6, 17:56 A/TOI

I like the decision from Wilson in placing Sanheim on the top pairing Ivan Provorov. Not only was the Provy-Shayne Gostisbehere combination simply not working, but it has given the Flyers a chance to see how much responsibility Sanheim can handle. Sanheim was tested early against the opposition’s top forwards with a minus-12 rating in 13 games but has had periods of steady play. Has seen his ice time jump by five minutes from October into January. 

Overall, Sanheim has made a conscious effort to refine the defensive aspect of his game with improved positioning but can still get beaten one-on-one and along the boards. Would also prefer to see Sanheim on one of the two power-play units.

Ivan Provorov

Grade: C-
Stats: 4 G, 13 A, minus-14, 24:54 A/TOI

It’s beyond baffling to see Provorov’s struggles with his puck management this season. It began over a 10-15 game stretch last season, and it’s been a problem area for the entire season. The new coaching staff has worked on eliminating some of those errant passes and making that first pass up the boards. Provorov’s 3.28 goals allowed/60 min. at even strength is up significantly from 2.18 last season. 

For a player many expected to work his way into the Norris Trophy conversation, it’s been quite the regression offensively as well. Provorov is projected to finish with seven goals after leading all NHL defensemen with 17 last season. As he simplifies his game, look for Provorov to have a much better second half.

Shayne Gostisbehere

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 15 A, minus-12, 20:12 A/TOI

Everything came together for Gostisbehere last season, and conversely, nothing worked over the first few months of this season. Ghost was an NHL-worst minus-18 when Dave Hakstol was fired. Since then, he’s had much more favorable matchups and has settled in playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as the team’s third pairing.

However, the most alarming aspect to Gostisbehere’s season has been his lack of efficiency on the power play, so much so, he’s no longer part of that top unit. Last season, he averaged 7.03 pts./60 min. on the PP compared to just 2.86 this season, a 59 percent dropoff. A big reason to Gostisbehere’s lack of success on the power play has been a failure to get pucks through traffic and his shot on net.

Christian Folin

Grade: D+
Stats: 0 G, 1 A, plus-4, 16:13 A/TOI

After some obvious struggles in the opening month, Folin has settled in but still can’t be counted on to play extensively. Interestingly, Gordon is much cautious in his use of Folin than Hakstol and Gord Murphy were. After averaging over 17 minutes in October and November, Folin is playing just under 13 minutes in January. 

Will be interesting to see how much the Flyers utilize Folin over the second half of the season with Phillippe Myers possibly getting a look with the big club. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to invest in Folin as he won’t be with the team beyond this season and the Flyers can fill that role with a Phantom next season.

Andrew MacDonald

Grade: D
Stats: 0 G, 5 A, minus -5, 17:55 A/TOI

Quite frankly, MacDonald came back way too early from a lower-body injury he suffered during an offseason workout and that seemed to throw off the first half of his season. Has been limited to 27 games and has been a healthy scratch as a result of ineffective play. More turnover prone than last season, MacDonald has also really struggled early on with the penalty kill this season.

Last season was the first time MacDonald TOI dipped below 20 minutes per game, and this season, it’s a career-low 17:55. Hasn’t been nearly as active jumping in offensively as well. Zero goals in 27 games with no shots on net in 10 of those games.

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Lightning 6, Flyers 5 (OT): Another furious comeback steals Flyers a point

Lightning 6, Flyers 5 (OT): Another furious comeback steals Flyers a point

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. — Apparently, the Flyers don’t play their best hockey until they’ve spotted the best team in hockey a three-goal lead.

Once again, the Flyers dug themselves out of a third-period crater, erasing a three-goal deficit against the Lightning and once again, they lost on the first shift in overtime, 6-5.

Is Claude Giroux’s goal the play of the year and what happened to Nolan Patrick?

• Similar to the game at the Wells Fargo Center in November, the Flyers displayed incredible resiliency. It took a fortuitous goal off the skate of Dale Weise, but that ignited the Flyers to score three unanswered goals in the first 8:30 of the third period.

• The Flyers had no answer again for the Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson line. The trio were skating at will with countless chances, swarming in the offensive zone. It looked too easy and through two periods, that line had three goals with five assists.

• Don’t blame Tampa’s first goal on the Flyers' defensemen. Even with the dynamic line combination of Point, Kucherov and Johnson, you need tight gaps and a commitment by all five players on the ice. The Flyers made it way too easy and Giroux can’t stop skating once he crosses his blue line. I wonder if Giroux is conditioned to play defense as if he’s still at left wing, instead of center. He failed to pick up Kucherov or negate the pass from Johnson on the goal.  

• However, Giroux has the ability to make up for mistakes, proving why he’s one of the most skilled players in the world as he put on an exhibition skating between three Lightning players. Maybe the goal of the season.

• Michal Neuvirth can’t be too pleased with Andrew MacDonald, who was overpowered in front of the Flyers' crease on the Lightning’s first power play that resulted in Point’s 2-1 goal. MacDonald obstructed Neuvirth’s ability to make the save. For most of this season, MacDonald has been a liability on the penalty kill and part of a bigger problem, where personnel is the bigger issue within that unit.

You can see MacDonald on his back side here.

• Speaking with former colleague and NBC analyst Brian Boucher during the morning skate, we both liked the makeup of the Flyers' third line of Scott Laughton, Nolan Patrick and Michael Raffl, especially if Patrick can ever get it going. Raffl now has a goal in back-to-back games. If the Flyers fall back in the playoff chase, I think a team like the Bruins or Capitals would look to add a player like Raffl, who plays a heavy game when he’s engaged.

• I look at Patrick and I just see a player with no confidence right now in his game. He’s not a threat offensively because he rarely has the puck on his stick, and he appeared to be in some sort of pain on Steven Stamkos’s goal from the slot that gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead as he stood to the left of Neuvirth. He left the game at that point and never returned with an upper-body injury.

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