There were many different moods watching Wednesday night’s game between the Flyers and Bruins. Through the first period, you saw that sense of luck, feeling like a game that was somehow still within reach shouldn’t have even been close. Then the Flyers did what they have all season and seemed to turn it on at the right time. They looked like they would find a way again.
The problem is that the Boston Bruins are a good team too, so if you are going to live by the mantra that good teams find a way to win, better teams find a way to exploit that. The Flyers finally paid for their flaws this season, and now it is on them to learn from it.
Here are 5 takeaways from Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss for the Flyers to the Bruins.
1. The Most Dangerous Lead
Ah, the dreaded two-goal lead. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a team blowing a lead on occasion. There are nights where it happens. Just ask the Washington Capitals, who twice over the weekend went up 3-0 on the Bruins and lost those leads. But this is happening with alarming regularity for the Flyers.
It started with the Flyers first game in Boston. After surviving the first period, the Flyers scored twice in the second to take a 2-0 lead to the third. That lead was gone in 2:06.
In New Jersey last Tuesday, the Flyers had a 2-0 lead 59 seconds into the second period. By the end of the period, it was gone.
This weekend against the Islanders, twice the Flyers opened up two-goal leads. Their 2-0 lead in the first period of the game was gone by 11:46 of the second. A 3-1 lead through two periods on Sunday took just 6:27 to erase in the third.
Now the Flyers were sitting on a 3-1 lead against Boston with under 10 minutes to play in the third. That one was lost too. That marks five times in the last seven games that the Flyers have held a two-goal lead and let it slip away.
Call it comfort, call it lack of execution catching up with them, but the Flyers need to play for 60 minutes. Maybe playing the Devils or the Islanders in their current state allows you to take that stretch of time off and still find a way. Playing the Bruins does not.
The Flyers have a 7-2-2 record through 11 games, and on the surface, that’s an outstanding result. The seven wins remains tied for the most in the league, as does 16 points. But both of their overtime defeats, both to Boston, could have been wins, and giving away any points, especially when you completely play within your own division, will catch up with you eventually too.
2. The Perfection Line
So much of Boston’s success runs through their top line. In the first two meetings of the season between these teams, one such player was clearly absent – yes, even in games where the Bruins scored four goals in the third period and six collectively in the other.
This was the David Pastrnak show. From the drop of the puck, he was off to the races. He scored 12 seconds in. He scored two more on the power play in the third from his usual spot. All three of his goals were set up by Patrice Bergeron. Pastrnak returned the favor in overtime when he set up Bergeron’s game-winner.
Collectively, the duo had eight points, contributing on all four goals. Brad Marchand had one of the power-play assists. Charlie McAvoy, Nick Ritchie and David Krejci had the others.
If you are going to beat the Bruins, you have to slow down and somehow contain this line. The Flyers struggled to do that early, but were getting the saves from Carter Hart and managed to keep them at bay into the final eight minutes of the third. Then the opportunities opened up again with more space on the ice.
Pretty simple: if you’re not conscious of where these three players are when they are on the ice, they will beat you. It is arguably the best line in hockey right now, and all three players have the ability to take over a game.
3. Pitiful Start
This one is coupled with the last one. Pastrnak made all five Flyers and head coach Alain Vigneault look foolish at the start.
Vigneault started the fourth line against the Bruins top line. Total mismatch. Shayne Gostisbehere got skated around like a pylon by Pastrnak. The last line of defense, Hart and Ivan Provorov, both couldn’t recover either, as Pastrnak’s chance went off the stick of Provorov and beat Hart.
For the remainder of the period, the Flyers couldn’t get out of their own way and again survived. Somehow, it remained a 1-0 game through 20 minutes, and yes, the shots on goal total was a manageable, 8-8. But the Flyers seemingly completely forgot how to complete a pass. Every defenseman turned the puck over. There were numerous icing calls. They couldn’t so much as advance past the red line at times.
I know that the ending of this game will be talked about way more than the beginning, but this is what I focus on when talking about the Flyers getting a justified result for their play. If you want to look at the end and point out how blowing a lead isn’t a recipe for success, I hear you, but you can’t ignore the complete lack of puck management and execution that was on display in the first period. It has hurt this team all season, made them burn so much more energy to try to make things happen, that it can come back to haunt you in the end.
4. Late Penalties Prove Haunting
Let’s talk about penalties and the penalty kill, because this is the area of focus for the final nine minutes of the game.
The Flyers are sitting on a 3-1 lead and for the most part, now really taking it to the Bruins. You can see Boston getting frustrated with Hart’s performance, with the space the Flyers are starting to take away, with the lack of execution on the tip play at the side of the net they tried about 10 times during the game.
Then it happens. It’s a play at the Flyers blue line, one where Nicolas Aube-Kubel is just trying to make a play to get the puck out of the zone. He closes his hand on the puck. Like a bench-minor, this is a totally avoidable infraction, but it’s one that much be called.
The window was cracked open again and the Bruins saw daylight. They took all of 10 seconds to capitalize and make it a one-goal game. You could stop there with the penalty discussion. Aube-Kubel needs to be better and not take a penalty like that in that spot. The Flyers penalty kill needs to step up and bail him out, though certainly easier said than done against that top unit.
The penalty to Kevin Hayes with 2:01 to play was questionable in timing. It’s a penalty by the book. But after letting so much go and calling just four penalties all game, that’s the one they decide to whistle?
I get the frustration with the officials there, but you also can’t put yourself in that spot. You can’t run the risk of getting caught taking a penalty like that. Naturally, the Flyers nearly had it killed off when the Bruins best went to work and tied the game with 14.9 seconds remaining.
The last penalty to Scott Laughton is the most egregious though. It’s as easy an interference call as there is. At the very least, you can take the blown lead and turn it into an opportunity to get the second point back in overtime. It would require you to regroup quickly, but it would open up space and allow you to play in a situation where you have played well for the last two seasons.
Laughton’s penalty came seconds after the face-off following the tying goal. The Flyers never even had a chance.
Discipline has been a problem for this team in recent games, and while they were 14-for-15 entering the game in a recent run of penalty kills, this is the type of team that can make any PK look bad. In this case, it cost the Flyers a game.
It’s one thing to blow a two-goal lead because the other team outplays you and eventually earns that result. It’s another to be in control with eight minutes left and completely lose all sense of discipline. That’s what the Flyers need to learn from in this game.
5. Some Positive Vibes
It wasn’t all negatives in this game. There were a few positives that can be taken moving forward.
For one, Hart continued to look sharp, making a lot of timely saves and nearly stealing this win for the Flyers in the end.
James van Riemsdyk had another assist, but he was just really impressive throughout the game. At times when the Flyers didn’t really have their legs, he was one of the few that was actually creating things and playing with energy.
Joel Farabee is now up to six goals on the season, and what a shot that was on the two-on-one in the third. Perfect placement, perfect execution, and being just 20 years old, the Flyers have a player with plenty of scoring sense with a bright future.
Perhaps the only other positive, even if it shouldn’t have reached this point, was that despite the end result and the way they got there, the Flyers did still get a point. View it how you will, but the Flyers have 16 of them in 11 games, essentially 10 of them without their best forward.
A lot about the Flyers game isn’t sustainable, and things will even out soon enough. Perhaps Wednesday was a sign of that, as the Flyers got a more fitting result for the way the game progressed than in any other this season – perhaps with the exception of the two 6-1 losses. That said, there is still time for them to either turn this around, or see if this team becomes more of what’s expected when Sean Couturier returns.
The problem is that while you could certainly see where Couturier helps this team improve, it was also pretty evident that one player’s return isn’t the fix to the problems this team faces.