By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
It seems like everything the Flyers do, nothing really makes sense.
The Flyers went out West to start a six-game road trip and played three teams not in the playoff picture. They fought and clawed their way to an overtime win in one of them and lost the other two in blowouts. Then they played three current playoff teams and suffered a similar fate, perhaps only really having a true chance in the final game of the trip in Carolina that ended with an overtime loss.
Then the Flyers came home and played their next four games, including one on the road, against four teams in the Top 6 in league standings. They went 3-1-0 with the one loss being a 1-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning, at the time on a nine-game winning streak extended to 10 with that result.
The night after a dramatic win over the St. Louis Blues, the best team in the Western Conference standings, the Flyers had made it through a brutal four-game stretch with six points. When they returned to host Montreal, who had just two wins all month and had lost the night before, it felt like a game the Flyers should have taken. Instead, they continued to have the Jekyll and Hyde personalities of a team in flux, teetering on the line between playoff team and non-contender.
What's the reason?
"No clue," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We're trying to figure it out, but I don't have an answer."
It was certainly an emotional letdown for the Flyers, who did manage to get the game's first goal despite a lackluster first period, then allowed three quick goals late in the first and early in the second that essentially put the game away.
Alain Vigneault didn't have any excuses, voicing his frustration, first with the fact that the Montreal was in the exact situation the Flyers were in.
"In my mind it was an even playing field," Vigneault said. "They played last night, we had played last night. They had played two nights ago, we had played two nights ago. Same thing for both teams. They were better than we were tonight. At the end of the day, that’s it."
Claude Giroux noted that, while it's no excuse, it can be tough to get up the next day and play another game, no matter the opponent. Vigneault didn't buy into the theory.
"You know that word that starts with b? No. These are big games. There is nothing separating teams," Vigneault said. "And tonight, it is a couple plays. I understand emotionally, but points are the same. This game is worth two. Last game was worth two. You have to get up for it. You have to get yourself ready. It's going to be a battle. Tonight, it just goes to show how one play can change the outcome. That play at the end of the first was a huge play, and we didn’t play it well and it ended up in the back of our net."
The sequence Vigneault is on Montreal's tying goal late in the first that ultimately led to future events that changed the game. Just 19 seconds after Joel Farabee had scored to give the Flyers the lead, Montreal scored the tying goal. Defensively, Phil Myers abandoned the front of the net to follow his man and Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek got their signals crossed and missed an assignment that allowed Tomas Tatar to get wide open in the slot. Tatar finished on his chance and the game was tied.
The Flyers should have been up 1-0 with Farabee's goal coming with just 1:13 remaining in the period. Instead, not only did Montreal tie the game, but they got a power play in the next period just 55 seconds into the period. Ilya Kovalchuk scored at 2:08. Eleven seconds later, Artturi Lehkonen had a goal as the Flyers fell asleep in coverage off the ensuing face-off. A two-goal lead against an all-World goaltender like Carey Price was a gargantuan task.
"We should have gotten through that period with a 1-0 lead and then take a penalty early in the second, get a break away chance on Price, he makes the save," Vigneault said. "A couple minutes later it is 3-1 and we are down by two. There is no doubt he is one of the best goaltenders in the league, so it was going to be an uphill battle. Just weren’t good enough tonight."
Vigneault proceeded to discuss how the line of Giroux, Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes needs to be better — adding that he likes Couturier's line at the moment and doesn't plan to break it up — and made some really good points about two areas of struggle for the Flyers.
The Flyers didn't play a crisp game by any stretch. This team is at its best when they are hard on the puck, making quick decisions and aggressive on the forecheck to win battles and create opportunities. When they play slow, it is not pretty. Vigneault's assessment of this and where the rest of the league is at was spot on.
"There is a tremendous amount of parody in this league. So if you are a little bit off in one area, unless you are Washington or maybe St. Louis you can get by, and there are three or four teams. We are one of 20-some teams who need to be sharp in all areas," Vigneault said. "We need to have contributions from our whole group to have an opportunity to win a given game. That's how tight it is. When you have one part of your game that is off, you aren’t good enough. And tonight, we weren’t good enough."
Another area where the Flyers could have turned the game was on the power play. The Flyers had two power plays in the second period, then two more in the third and failed to score. While there were certainly some chances, Vigneault was quick to point out that opportunities does not equate to success.
"I thought the power play tonight had looks…didn't finish," Vigneault said. "This is a result-oriented business and some of our guys need to find a way to finish. Tonight, that could have been momentum for us and could have been a difference in the game."
At the end of the day, Vigneault knows what defines the team. It is more the results and less the process of getting there. It's easy to forget the Flyers were in a forgettable game on home ice down 5-2 to Boston on Monday before a rally and a dramatic shootout win. All that remains is the end result and two points. On this night, the result was a far too familiar one for the Flyers, who had let an opponent on the outside looking in handle them with relative ease.
And it was Vigneault who provided a different perspective of the game. The results weren't there, and it wasn't good enough. Following a true letdown of a game that went in such familiar fashion, it was refreshing to hear a coach give a true assessment of his team for a change.