9 Game Review #5: All the Wheels Fell Off

Coming off a three-game win streak, the Philadelphia Flyers approached the midpoint of the 2019-20 season looking to carry over the strong play that planted them firmly in a playoff spot.

Unfortunately, the Flyers reverted to their old mediocre ways that we’ve come to know (but not love) in recent seasons, and delivered by far their poorest stretch of games so far this season.

Games 37-45 (home games are underlined):

  1. 5-1 W. vs. NYR
  2. 6-1 L at San Jose
  3. 2-1 OTW at Anaheim
  4. 5-3 L at Los Angeles
  5. 5-4 L at Vegas
  6. 6-2 L at Arizona
  7. 5-4 OTL at Carolina
  8. 3-2 W vs. Washington
  9. 1-0 L vs. Tampa Bay

Philadelphia posted an abysmal 3-5-1 record over these nine games. They collected just 7 out of a possible 18 points in the standings, which ranks 26th in the league during this span. Making matters worse is the fact that four of the nine games were against teams in the bottom third of the league. The Flyers needed to win these games against inferior competition. Instead, they looked lostAs a result, they lost most of the control they had on a playoff spot. They currently sit in the final wild card position with 52 points. But, they have the same points as Carolina and played one more game than the Hurricanes; they are 5 points behind the Islanders and Penguins, but New York and Pittsburgh have three games and two games, respectively, in hand.

The Flyers played well at home against the Rangers, but everything went awry during the team’s annual West Coast road trip. Most of the issues concerning Philadelphia’s play arose during their time away from home. It seemed like all of a sudden, the Flyers forgot how to play hockey once they landed in San Jose. They played very sloppily, neglected to forecheck, and the netminders struggled to make even routine stops. Things got slightly better at home. They pulled off a scrappy win against the league-leading Capitals, and were able to hold their own for sixty minutes against Tampa Bay. This is an encouraging sign, because the Flyers will need to rediscover a high playing level if they want to make up the ground they lost in the standings.

The advanced stats paint a bleak picture during this stretch. The Flyers ranked 18th in CorsiFor%, 24th in GoalsFor%, 21st in Scoring Chances For, and 24th in PDO. This abhorrent stretch of play cannot be pinned down to any one facet of the team. The entire squad was struggling to generate offense, shut down opponents’ chances, and stop shots on net.  Head coach Alain Vigneault “had nothing positive really to say” , and players “didn’t have answers” for the sudden change in performance. Their poor play has exaggerated the enormous disparity in their home and away records, which is one of the reasons the Flyers have never been able to go higher in the standings than 3rd in the Metropolitan Division. Philadelphia holds an absurd 14-2-4 record when playing in the Wells Fargo Center, and an awful 9-13-2 record when on the road. The Flyers will need to learn to win road games if they want to find themselves in the playoffs come April.

Some More Observations

Forwards:

  • Kevin Hayes continues to be a bright spot on the team. He continually does all the little things right, and has been one of the most noticeable players on the ice. He had a short-handed, game-winning deke against Vezina-winner Braden Holtby when the Flyers faced the Capitals.
  • Tyler Pitlick continues to do well in a fourth line role. He only has 11 points through 42 games this season, but Pitlick has gelled particularly well with frequent linemate Scott Laughton.
  • Travis Konecny continues his breakout year. Over the last nine games, he put up 8 points (4g-4a), bringing him to 40 points on the season. TK was also announced as the Flyers’ representative at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.
  • Alain Vigneault has been recalling and demoting players from the AHL to put on the Flyers’ fourth line like they’re going out of style. David Kase was recalled multiple times, Mikhail Vorobyev has popped in and out, Andy Andreoff made a brief appearance, and Connor Bunnaman is currently in the rotation. Additionally, to the chagrin of many fans, Morgan Frost was sent back down to the Phantoms to help him regain his scoring touch.
  • Michael Raffl was activated off of LTIR and returned to game action against Anaheim.

Defense:

  • Two of the Flyers’ mainstays on the blueline, Justin Braun and Shayne Gostisbehere, are both going to be out for significant periods of time. Before the final game of the road trip, GM Chuck Fletcher announces that Braun would be out at least until the All-Star break with a groin injury. Three days later, Fletcher revealed that Ghost had undergone surgery on his left knee, and will be out for about three weeks.
  • With both of them out of the rotation, Robert Hagg returned as a regular to the defense corps. Additionally, Mark Friedman was recalled from Lehigh Valley, and scored his first NHL point against the Bruins – an assist on Connor Bunnaman’s first NHL goal.

Goaltending:

  • Much like the rest of the team, neither of Philadelphia’s netminders played particularly well during the past nine games. Hart delivered a .900 save percentage along with a 3.18 GAA. Hart was also pulled in the dreadful loss to the Coyotes, in which he allowed 3 goals in the first 16 minutes.
  • Brian Elliott also had nothing to write home about, as he posted 3.24 GAA and a .880 save percentage.

Up next for the Flyers: matchups against both of last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, meetings with the Canadiens, Avalanche, and Panthers, and divisional matches with the Capitals, Penguins, and Devils.

All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and NHL.com. Image credit to NHL.com.

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