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Flyers-Penguins: Postgame Perspective

Flyers Defense Painful to Watch as Another bad October Commences

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(Kate Frese/Sports Talk Philly)

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Saturday was the ninth game for the Flyers this season. In that game, they had to make their third in-game goalie change of the season. They allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in a row. They scored three or more goals for the seventh time this season, and for the fourth time, it wasn't enough.

The Flyers defense is off to a painfully horrendous start, having now allowed 35 goals in nine games. Part of the problem has been goaltending. But when you allow easy goals to the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, well, goaltending is not really your problem on that night.

That was the primary reason for the Flyers latest defeat, a 5-4 loss to the Penguins.

"We don’t have to change anything after tonight, we have to tighten up on a couple things," head coach Dave Hakstol said. "That’s the blueprint right there. Tonight it wasn’t enough, sometimes that’s the way the game is.

"We have got to do a better job, and we will. Tonight like I said, it was a hell of an effort, I won’t take a back seat on tonight’s effort, it was excellent. There’s a couple things we can clean up easily and even on a couple of the goals where they got bounces, you can do somewhere before that play happens. Until things start coming a little bit easier, A: you have to build on the effort and have a similar determination tomorrow and you have got to continue to clean up a couple of details."

The Flyers made adjustments to the defensive pairings before the game, trying to balance offensive prowess with stay-at-home defending. The Flyers might need a dictionary for the stay-at-home part.

One area that plagued the Flyers was poor outlet passing. When the Flyers couldn't escape the defensive zone, the puck ended up in the back of their net. The blame there doesn't fall on an unsuspecting goaltender. It falls on the skaters, the ones who are expected to execute on zone exits, make crisp passes and start the rush the other way.

 

The Flyers have made mistakes like that in previous games that didn't prove costly. Maybe this will be the wake-up call they need. You certainly can't make mistakes like that against Crosby and Malkin.

But then again, this is nine games where the Flyers have struggled to keep the puck out of their own net. The Penguins finished with five goals. At times, it could have been more. It should have been less -- the overall lack of coverage on Matt Cullen's wraparound goal just 12 seconds after a Penguins power-play tally or letting Malkin get so wide open that an unfortunate bounce becomes an easy goal.

And it's not just one individual here and there. This is collective team defense from top to bottom, forwards and defensemen across the board, from the 19-year-olds to the 30-something veterans.

The Flyers were playing their best first period to date. They were outshooting the Penguins, controlling the play, getting chances, limiting chances the other way and had a 2-0 lead. It took 55 seconds for all that to change.

"You go from playing with the lead to down a goal, especially a two goal lead," Sean Couturier said. "So it’s a different approach to the game, but at the same time it was early in the game so there was no panic. There was still lots of hockey left."

That's when Crosby made his mark with two goals in 43 seconds. Cullen added his as the Flyers were disheveled just 12 seconds later.

The Flyers managed to recover and tie the game in the second, but the damage was done. This is a bad defensive team, certainly not good enough to play with the big boys of the Eastern Conference, and it showed as Crosby and Malkin had their way with the Flyers.

The Flyers have played a lot to open the season. This was their ninth game in just over two weeks. But in a league of no excuses, the Flyers can't talk about avoiding the slow start to the season any longer. At 3-5-1 and with seven points in the standings as October is about to wrap up, it's happened again.

In years past, it would have been an overall lack of scoring that was the chief cause of the Flyers struggles. Four goals, many times, is enough to win you a game. The Flyers have lost three games this season when scoring four goals.

"Usually we talk about not scoring enough early in the season," Couturier said. "We are just giving up too much, too many goals. I mean we are scoring but we are making it hard on ourselves to win games."

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