By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
It seems like every time the Flyers start to change the narrative a bit, they make a complete 180 and create thoughts going the other way.
It was just nine days earlier that the Flyers had survived the onslaught in the third period from the Boston Bruins to force overtime and escaped with a second straight shootout win, marking four straight wins against viable opponents in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers shootout loss to the Capitals later in the week was certainly admirable and a moral victory for a team that continued to hang with the top teams in the East and gain early points in the standings. The three games since have left a lot to be desired though.
Perhaps the Flyers were due for Friday’s loss to Ottawa after stringing together points in seven straight games. Their response on Saturday was great at the beginning, opening up a 3-0 lead on the Islanders, only to watch it slip away into another shootout loss.
Then came Tuesday’s game, where the Flyers got off to a decent start and got the first goal, but crumbled after that to put the game out of reach.
Here are some observations from the Flyers loss to the Panthers.
Might as well start with one of the only positives from the game. Morgan Frost was excellent in his debut.
Obviously, the first thing you want to focus on is his ability to keep up with the pace. He looked fine in that department, perhaps a little slow and hesitant early in the game from nerves, but improving as the game went on to earn some crucial ice time in the third period.
Frost also got his first NHL goal, a tremendous shot from in tight that went up and over the stick-side shoulder of all-world netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.
There are reinforcements coming for the Flyers soon. Scott Laughton is nearing the end of his injury timeline, and when he enters the lineup, someone has to go down to the minors. The easy option is Frost because he is not subject to waivers and is under the 10 games played mark that would start his entry-level timeline. So this is very much an important audition for the 20-year-old. Consider his first audition a successful one.
For the third time this season, Carter Hart was pulled from a start. But this was not like the first two.
There was something that was a bit off with Hart in each of the first two starts that were cut short. In this game, Hart had to be very sharp early. The Panthers were getting a lot of quality chances from high-danger areas and Hart was keeping the Flyers in the game.
The first goal allowed by Hart was a case of friendly fire — a point shot that sailed through a maze of players and was deflected by Andy Andreoff. That’s not on Hart, who probably would have been able to stop the shot had there not been a deflection.
The second goal Hart admitted was poor positioning on his part. As most goalies in the league do, Hart goes down early and leaves a lot of the top of the net exposed. Brett Connolly puts a shot off the side of Hart’s mask that banks into the net. Hart said he may have been leaning too much to provide an angle for a bank shot.
There are three mistakes on the third Panthers goal that allow a lot of people to shoulder the blame. Joel Farabee makes a poor neutral zone decision with his team in need of a change. The puck doesn’t get deep, the Panthers get a turnover and they are coming the other way on a transition rush with tired Flyers on the ice. Both Travis Sanheim and Matt Niskanen are drawn to Evgenii Dadonov, who takes the initial shot. Hart leaves a big rebound and skilled forward Aleksander Barkov is left open to settle it and sling a shot over Hart’s shoulder bar down.
The final goal allowed by Hart teeters a fine line between a great and perfectly-placed shot and needing your goalie to make the save. On one hand, the Flyers were completely being dominated at this point in the game. No legs, no energy, the Panthers were putting on a clinic. So the quick-cycle passing set up Jonathan Huberdeau from a dangerous spot and he fired a perfect shot. That said, it does go short-side on Hart and there are a lot of people who could look at that and think you need a save from your goaltender. However you view it, that was the end of Hart’s night.
Lately, this area of the game has been a tale of good and bad for the Flyers. The penalty kill was really put to the test in this game. A 5-2 final isn’t pretty, but this game could have really turned ugly late in the second period when Phil Myers received six penalty minutes for catching Huberdeau up high with a cross-check that resulted in a cross-checking minor and high-sticking double-minor. The Flyers had to kill off a four-minute Florida power play.
The Flyers finished the night at 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, which will only improve their ranking. With the season now a quarter of the way through, the Flyers penalty kill has been a pleasant improvement.
Now to the power play. The Flyers had a big one in the third period that allowed the opportunity to close the gap to one goal with plenty of time still remaining to find the equalizer. The Flyers only had two power plays in the game, so those chances were limited. That said, the Flyers continue to look for the perfect play on the power play when inside options are taken away. They put Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek on their weak sides, taking away one-time options. That has to change.
There are too many chances getting away from the Flyers when it comes to the man-advantage.
All players are subject to scoring slumps, but the slumps the Flyers veterans are all collectively going through is beyond frustrating.
So for context, Morgan Frost gets called up, plays in his first game and instantly gets on the scoresheet. Here’s how the top veteran forwards on the team have fared of late:
Sean Couturier is probably the lone exception to the rule here. In the same 12-game span, Couturier has four goals and six assists.
The rest of the lineup is young players — Frost, Farabee, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom — or role players who aren’t expected to provide a lot of scoring — Tyler Pitlick, Andreoff, Michael Raffl.
The bottom line is that these players have to provide more. The Flyers have a good young team when you look at the fairly consistent production that Konecny, Lindblom and Couturier continue to provide and the emergence of Farabee and Frost in the lineup. To be fair, Farabee has hit a wall of late in his play. But he’s 19 years old. That’s to be expected. It’s a tired act from veterans like Giroux, Voracek and JVR to go disappearing for 10-game stretches.
So here we go again. The Flyers go out and start November with wins in five of the first six games. They earned points in shootout losses to Toronto and Washington to start the month of November on a seven-game points streak. They have followed a four-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak.
A year ago, the Flyers had a similar path. In a much less demanding November schedule, the Flyers won four of the first five games, including a three-game winning streak, then lost their next four games and closed the month losing six of seven games.
It may be hard to believe, but the four-game losing streak and earning just two points in the standings in that time have not been enough to knock the Flyers out of a playoff spot at the moment. They still hold the second wildcard by one point over Buffalo, who is 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, and two points over Toronto, currently on a five-game losing streak.
If Thanksgiving is a marker for teams that should be in the playoff discussion at the end of the year — and this year Thanksgiving is so late in the month, you might as well use the end of November as the marker — then the Flyers have six games left this month to turn things around and build momentum around the notion that they can be a playoff team.