If the Flyers were satisfied to take a point given the circumstances in Thursday’s game against the Rangers, they were handed a result that was essentially expected based on the lineups on paper on Sunday in Lake Tahoe.
Through 20 minutes, the Flyers managed to remain competitive with the Bruins, even leading in the game for a few brief moments. But as was anticipated, the Bruins lineup did their damage as the game wore on, and in the closing stages of the second, put the game out of reach.
While it may have been an expected result given the circumstances, there were things on display where the lineup didn’t really matter. The Bruins have had the Flyers number all season. So has David Pastrnak. That wasn’t changing no matter who was on the ice.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s 7-3 Flyers loss to the Bruins.
1. Filling Up on Pasta
The first two times the Flyers faced the Boston Bruins, David Pastrnak was still recovering from injury and not in the lineup. In the three games he has played against the Flyers since returning, Pastrnak has destroyed the Flyers.
Sunday was just another example. In what has already been a dominant month for Pastrnak, he secured another hat trick to only further pad his numbers against the Flyers. On Feb. 3, he also had a hat trick, and an assist on the game-winning goal in overtime by Patrice Bergeron. On Feb. 5, he had an assist on the tying goal by Brad Marchand in a 2-1 Boston win.
In three games, that’s six goals and two assists for eight points. To put that in perspective, Pastrnak has played in six other games since his return to the ice. In those games, he has three goals and three assists for a total of six points. There’s just something about the Flyers.
Pastrnak’s totals are very reflective of how the Bruins have fared against the Flyers all season. Take away the Flyers meetings with the Bruins – which in this already short and strange season of scheduling is a third of the team’s games – and you get very different numbers.
Still, Pastrnak has not only found a way to terrorize the Flyers, but has struck early and late in multiple games. In Sunday’s game, he scored 34 seconds into the game and 46 seconds into the second period. He completed his hat trick late in the third with a goal off a turnover. In the Feb. 3 game where he also had a hat trick, he scored 12 seconds in, then completed the hat trick with 14 seconds left in regulation.
More than just being a Flyer killer, the timing of his goals is always at a prominent point in the game and can turn it around in a hurry. Much like the Bruins, who have had the Flyers number all season, I’m sure people are sick of Pasta too.
2. Dagger to the Hart
There was a lot of anticipation around Carter Hart being able to play in his first outdoor game in the NHL. He had seemingly been robbed of the chance to play on a big stage at the Stadium Series a couple years back and this was his chance to take center stage.
Giving up a goal 34 seconds probably wasn’t part of the plan. That may have been the only goal where Hart didn’t have some responsibility on his part.
Charlie McAvoy scored to tie the game at two in the first on a distance shot through a screen that still beat Hart clean and looked stoppable. On Pastrnak’s second of the game 46 seconds into the second period, Hart appeared to drop early as the rolling puck was elevated and went bar down. Hart also needed a save on Charlie Coyle’s goal late in the second.
Coyle also had a goal on Hart in Boston in January, a goal that made it a 3-1 game that eventually became a 6-1 defeat. That goal then felt like a dagger. This one did too. Sure enough, it ultimately became the game-winner, though the game was over well before that became the deciding marker.
That said, Hart appeared shaky and was clearly becoming more rattled. In these games when the Flyers really needed the goaltending performance to perhaps be the x-factor with a shorthanded lineup, Hart just wasn’t sharp in this one at all and it showed.
Still, that doesn’t mean he’s defined by this game. Yes, he’s had his struggles. He’s also been victimized by the Bruins the same way the Flyers have.
In the 10 games the Flyers have played against the rest of the East Division, they are 8-1-1 and have allowed 2.6 goals per game, 26 total. In the five games against Boston, where they are 0-3-2 on the season, they have allowed 23 total goals, an average of 4.6 per game.
In Hart’s case, his numbers too drastically change against Boston. Hart has a 5-1-1 record this season with a 2.73 GAA and .919 save percentage against the rest of the division. Against Boston, he is 0-2-2 with a 5.31 GAA and .843 save percentage. That certainly skews the numbers for the season as a whole.
Hart has the talent to be a very successful goalie in the league, perhaps one of the elites. But he’s also in his second season as a full-time starter. There will be growing pains. The goalie at the other end of the ice tonight knows a thing or two about that.
3. Unraveling in a Hurry
Just like in their 6-1 loss in Boston back in January, the game got out of hand quickly, even quicker than before.
As the second period approached the final minutes, the Flyers were actually in a spot where surviving the end of the period could put them in a position to potentially win the game or get it to overtime and grab another point. A 3-2 margin in the final five minutes of the second period was certainly better than most expected.
Then came Coyle’s goal at 16:14 of the period, a goal off a neutral-zone turnover where you needed your goalie to bail you out. He couldn’t. Just 33 seconds later, another one found the net, as a distance shot by Trent Frederic beat Hart high to the glove side. That quickly, the margin went from one to three.
As if that wasn’t enough, Andy Andreoff took a penalty after the goal was scored, putting the Flyers on the penalty kill for the third time in the game. To that point, they had actually done well in this area, but the Bruins made them pay the third time with a John Moore shot that was deflected by Nick Ritchie.
Just like that, in a span of 1:39, the game went from a competitive 3-2 margin to a complete blowout at 6-2.
For some perspective, the Flyers have been in this spot before at different times and different situations. Just look how often the Bruins have made them pay with quick strikes.
- Jan. 21 - two goals in 1:09, two more in 1:56 all in the third period
- Feb. 3 - three goals in the final 8:26 of regulation and overtime combined
- Feb. 5 - two goals in 27 seconds
- Feb. 21 - three goals in 1:39
In the span of a month, not only have the Flyers lost to the Bruins five times, but in four of the games, they have had multiple goals scored in a short span, completely changing the outlook of the game.
4. Lack of Intensity
A main focal point of the Flyers season has been the shot totals. Yes, the Flyers have been outshot in almost every game. Yes, the Flyers have taken the fewest shots in the league, while allowing the second most.
But shot totals can be deceiving. There are times when a team is credited with a shot for a weak bouncing puck on goal from center ice or a dump-in that hits the goalie’s pads. That said, shot totals can also showcase how much a team has possession, and how much they are driving the play by maintaining control of the puck and generating opportunities.
The Flyers actually had a solid first period in this area. They looked fast, up on their skates, ready to play, and following Pastrnak’s early tally, erased the goal and took the league with determined play. Even in a tie game, they finished the period with an 11-9 advantage in shots.
But for the remainder of the game, the Flyers mustered just eight shots on goal. The Bruins dominated the second period with a 15-3 shot advantage, showing by the four-goal differential on the scoreboard.
It is in the third period where the Flyers play is especially egregious. Trailing by four goals and essentially out of the game, the least a team could do is match the intensity of the opposition, show that you are still determined to try to make something happen. The Flyers did draw a couple of penalties and scored a power-play goal to cut into the margin briefly, but they still finished the period with just five shots. Boston had 12 in the final 20 minutes.
This is what has made the Bruins so successful against the Flyers and the rest of the league. When you match their intensity, when you pressure them to death and forecheck like there’s no tomorrow, you have a shot to win. But if you can’t, not only will they hand you lopsided defeats like this, but they won’t stop just because the score reads 6-2 in the third period. They still play intense playoff-style hockey.
That is what the Flyers need to take from this game, just as they have the other four they have lost this season. It doesn’t matter if you were suiting up with half of the minor-league roster or not. The presence of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton and Justin Braun doesn’t change this result. Know why? Because it’s already happened four more times with those guys in the lineup.
The Flyers have certainly made it very clear in their recent meetings with both Washington and the Rangers that they can compete with everybody else in this division. Against the Rangers especially, the presence of the players missing likely does turn that game in their favor.
But not against this team. Not against the Bruins. And that’s the biggest thing holding the Flyers back from being a true contender. The East Division runs through Boston. And if the Flyers can’t beat them, they will simply not get past the same spot they were in the playoffs the previous summer.
5. Get Motivated
The NHL has over the years tried new concepts and made a lot of things work and done a nice job with many endeavors. But the way this weekend played out was pretty embarrassing on their part.
First of all, Saturday’s game was a total debacle, because two teams took the ice at Lake Tahoe for a period, dealt with dangerous ice conditions, only for the game to be suspended until midnight ET, well past the time frame of viewership for the casual fan. The ice and weather conditions also forced Sunday’s Flyers game to have the time changed twice, only for the start to be further delayed by a Zamboni issue, so the scheduled 7:30 start time was more like 8 p.m.
Beyond that, the NHL also got exactly what they deserved with the result in Sunday’s game. The Flyers were down and out with multiple players on the COVID list a week ago. They still have players on the list and were going to be short-handed no matter the circumstances. And the NHL had them fly for five hours and thousands of miles, cross-country, in a pandemic, to play one game where everyone who even remotely follows the game knew they were outmatched. Way to market the game.
But for the six players who had to stay home, that would have been there otherwise, guys like Giroux and Voracek, this should be motivation to come back better than ever. The Flyers got embarrassed on national television by the Bruins in an outdoor game because they were playing with half a true NHL lineup, and while that’s still no excuse for a lot of things that happened on the ice, it’s a mockery to the team, to the guys that should have been there, but had to quarantine instead.
As of Sunday evening, the Flyers still have all six players on the COVID list, which means their status for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers is also in jeopardy and perhaps the next possible return date could be the weekend series in Buffalo.
Whenever these players do return, once they get back up to speed after weeks off the ice, they should be more motivated than ever to show what heights this team can reach with a fully healthy lineup. They haven’t been able to all season, outside of the season opener. Here’s hoping that day is coming soon.