When the Flyers lost 6-1 to Buffalo on Monday, the response on Tuesday was critical. It was important to show that the embarrassment of that game was not going to be accepted.
When the Flyers finally hit the road for the first time this season, they had a third period to forget on Thursday, allowing four goals to the Bruins in a game that somehow managed to reach a shootout.
If you thought it couldn’t get any worse than that, the Flyers had another thing in store for you on Saturday. A close game on the scoreboard unraveled again and the Flyers were left to pick up the pieces from another embarrassing effort and loss. It presents a lot of questions as the team moves forward, watching their start of three wins in four games completely fade away.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s blowout loss to the Bruins.
1. Lack of Execution
This is the source of the Flyers problems. This is not a personnel issue. This is not something that is suffering because of injuries. This is where it all starts.
If you are not going to make smart plays and execute with precision starting in your own zone, you will never get going in the offensive zone. If you are not willing to go to work and win the battles, you will not generate much in the offensive zone.
There’s a reason Brad Marchand scored the Bruins fifth goal by being the beneficiary of a turnover by Erik Gustafsson in the Flyers zone. There’s a reason the Flyers finished the game with 17 shots. It starts with execution and needs to be fueled by effort.
For this team to be successful, they need to move the puck with vigor. They need to play decisive. They need to make the smart play and keep moving forward. Even the slightest hesitation puts them in a vulnerable position. It leads to a battle lost. It leads to the unforced turnover. It leads to losses like this.
When the Flyers look back at this week, they will look back at the sloppy play and lack of execution as the reason it went the way it did. It doesn’t get fixed because someone suddenly walks through that door. It gets corrected through practice and building chemistry and communicating on the ice.
2. Frustration Mounting
After the final siren sounded, Carter Hart turned around and smashed his stick on the net multiple times, eventually breaking it into three pieces. He apologized for it after the game, but he didn’t need to.
If you were to play the full 60 minutes with that kind of effort in front of you, it would be near impossible to hide your frustration.
Look, Hart has shown that he is not going to be the Vezina candidate many believe he can be in the second full season of his career. He’s allowed too many goals for any team’s liking. That’s what he needs to fix. But the rest of the team has left him out to dry for two games now in this six-game season. Many of the goals do not fall squarely on the goaltender.
If these kinds of results are not frustrating, this team can fizzle out before the season really gets underway and they can miss the playoffs again. That’s not what the expectations are and that’s not the potential that this team has.
3. No Preseason, No Excuse
A comment that has been bounced around a lot early on this season has noted the lack of preseason games to prepare for the season. Look, the preseason will never be viewed as pointless ever again after this season. It provides players with the setting to play in true game situations, take contact and become ready for the season.
That said, any team would play something like six-to-eight preseason games at most. This was the Flyers sixth game of the season. It’s completely understandable if the execution isn’t what it would be mid-season. It takes time to get there. But after six games, the Flyers are running out of time to point to that logic.
The preseason stretch is just about over. The season is well underway at this point. There are no do-overs. These games count toward your playoff push.
This is why bouncing back from Monday’s 6-1 loss to win on Tuesday and still getting a point on Thursday was huge. It goes a long way when you only have so many opportunities to get points at all. But this level of play won’t cut it, and the longer it takes to correct, the harder the climb will be for the Flyers.
4. No Help Coming
It’s six games into the season. The Flyers have lost two games in regulation, both by 6-1 scores. The natural reaction is that the sky is falling and the season is over and something drastic needs to be done.
You can wish it all you want, but instant help isn’t walking through the door. One thing I said a lot at the start of last season when Chuck Fletcher was entering his first full season as GM and Alain Vigneault was the newly-hired head coach, that it would fall on the players. If they were unable to perform to expectations, you would see a shakeup during the next offseason. The team got to the second round of the playoffs and came one game short of the conference finals.
The players have it in them to be better, to do better and to make the adjustments necessary to turn this around before it gets any worse. It’s going to be on the players to respond.
That is the challenge. You can want to acquire a pure goal-scorer. You can express a desire to have Matt Niskanen or any other top-4 defenseman come to save the day. It’s not happening. The message from that: it’s on you to fix this, and soon.
5. Fast Start Fading
When the Flyers started off the season with two three-goal wins against the Penguins and rebounded from Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Sabres with a 3-0 win, it helped to mask the struggles the team was experiencing. After all, winning is a cure-all. It doesn’t matter how it looks, it just matters if you get the two points. The Flyers had six points in four games and were among the teams off to the best start around the league in that area.
But it was only going to last so long if the play didn’t take a serious step forward. They needed to allow fewer shots on goal. They needed to start taking more shots of quality. They needed to play with more structure and execute more. If they could do those things and start to string together wins with solid play, it would make those nights of survival look so much better.
That is starting to catch up with the Flyers now. They went from six points in the standings on Tuesday to seven points – adding just one in two games in Boston – by the end of Saturday. A 3-1-0 record has turned to a 3-2-1 record.
While this is still far from the worst start you could have, the Flyers are getting what they deserve now. Pittsburgh couldn’t exploit this in the first series of the season. Buffalo was able to attack the Flyers and cash in with regularity, only to be stymied the next night as the Flyers got outstanding goaltending.
The Boston series really showed that the team has a flawed process to their games so far. They don’t attack the game. They don’t create their own luck or opportunities. They are waiting for them to just show up magically.
The Flyers good start to the season in the standings isn’t completely gone just yet, but with two games against New Jersey and two games with the Islanders ahead to close out January and the first 10 games of the 56-game schedule, there isn’t much time before the 3-1-0 start turns into a slow start and a mountain to climb in a difficult division.