The end of a challenging week for the Flyers came with a whimper. The presence of fans in the building for the first time in almost a year gave them the expected boost in the opening period before the rested Washington Capitals took over the game.
The 3-1 loss to Washington, with all three goals coming in a span of 10 minutes of game time, marked the end of a 1-3-0 week for the Flyers, that produced just two points in the standings and pushed them below the playoff line.
At 22 games into the season and with some added time to get their full lineup on the ice with regularity, there is still plenty of time left in the season and the panic button shouldn’t be pushed just yet. But there are ongoing trends that don’t bode well for the Flyers if this continues in the weeks ahead.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game against the Capitals.
1. Fast Start for Farabee
Early in the game, the Flyers definitely had the jump and were winning a lot of battles. When they finally got a grade-A opportunity with Joel Farabee streaking up ice on a two-on-one with James van Riemsdyk, he did what he’s done multiple times already this season.
Farabee beat Ilya Samsonov through the five-hole with his shot, scoring his 11th goal of the season. At just 21, Farabee is the team’s leading goal-scorer. It’s impressive how he continues to do this night in and night out.
What was especially refreshing to see was Farabee’s reaction after scoring. As the crowd roared in approval, Farabee signals for the fans to take it to another level. It was a fitting welcome back to the fans. Too bad it was the only time they were able to cheer like that.
2. Unable to Finish
Before getting to the Flyers downfall in this game, it wasn’t like there weren’t opportunities to really break this game open. The Flyers played the remaining portion of the first period just as well and had their chances.
In the second, that continued as the Flyers got several quality looks at different points in the period. Moments before the game was tied, the Flyers had three glorious opportunities to make it a 2-0 game. Travis Konecny missed wide for the second time in the period. Travis Sanheim hit the crossbar. Scott Laughton was open at the side of the net and had a pass just barely elude him.
The opportunities were there. The ability to finish was not.
This is one of those games where a team says that if they had just got the bounces, the result might have been different. That very well could be true, but the Flyers weren’t creating many of those opportunities in the latter half of the game. For the second straight game, when it got down to the final 20 to 30 minutes, the Flyers didn’t match the intensity or energy level of the opposition.
3. Defensive Breakdowns
Now to the goals that did the Flyers in. The first Washington goal was coming from a mile away.
To that point, Washington had really controlled the period and the Flyers were more or less in survival mode. It was really only a matter of time before someone found a way to beat Carter Hart.
T.J. Oshie has control of the puck out near the blue line and fakes a pass back to Dmitry Orlov. That gets Connor Bunnaman down and out of the play. At the same time, Nicolas Aube-Kubel tries to move into position and pivots. It’s unclear on the replay whether he collided with Sanheim or not, but Sanheim goes down and the two ultimately come together. Now three Flyers are out of the play and Oshie has Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara waiting on the other side of the ice with no coverage.
Oshie goes to the sharp-shooter and Ovechkin knows just what to do with it, firing a shot from the slot high over Hart, off the back bar to tie things up.
Then came the second goal of the period. Moments before it was scored, the Flyers were called for icing on a puck that never crossed the goal line. Despite that, the play right off the face-off featured another breakdown.
Evgeny Kuznetsov wins the face-off against Sean Couturier, getting it over to Jakub Vrana and quickly back to Orlov. Orlov dishes off to Vrana and heads for the net on a set play, while Vrana passes to John Carlson on a set play.
As this happens, Farabee loses coverage of Orlov. That provides enough time and space for Carlson to connect through the seam and get it to Orlov for a one-touch play. Orlov gets it on goal and it goes through the legs of a sliding Hart, who reacts as if he should have made the save.
In the third, the Capitals goal at 4:15 was essentially a dagger for a Flyers team already chasing the game. It resulted in another defensive breakdown that stemmed from a neutral zone incident.
Chara took down Farabee in the neutral zone on a clean hit, but lingered around and started to stir things up with both Farabee and van Riemsdyk, who came in to stand up for a teammate. Throughout this, play carried on and it’s now a 4-on-3 the other way.
Nick Jensen is the fourth guy who comes in as the trailer as the Flyers get caught flat-footed. Oshie drops a pass to Nicklas Backstrom and Couturier gets drawn toward him and essentially is out of the play from there. As the puck gets over to Jensen, both defensemen are on the same side of the ice and the Capitals not only have Jensen wide open on that side, but Ovechkin as well. Jensen keeps it himself and snaps a shot past Hart.
4. Burnt to a Crisp
In the moments that followed Jensen’s goal, certainly not a dagger in terms of time left in the game, the Flyers ultimate problems were really on display.
As the game progressed, the Flyers struggled to penetrate the neutral zone and get clean entries into the offensive zone. They struggled to get out of their own zone with crisp passes. They struggled in just about every area they could. So rather than take a step in the right direction with a few shifts to build on, they simply couldn’t connect on much of anything as precious time dwindled.
Even when they got a power play in the third, a chance to cut the lead to one and make it interesting, they couldn’t seem to get a quality chance on goal.
It is one of the biggest areas of improvement over the coming days. The Flyers need to play crisp hockey. They need to be making accurate passes. They need to be skating with purpose. They need to be doing the simple things to win battles, gain entry into the zone and retain possession.
It wasn’t there on Sunday night just like it wasn’t there late on Saturday afternoon. That certainly has to change quickly.
5. Schedule Not an Excuse
Sunday’s game marked the final game of a six-game in nine-day stretch that Alain Vigneault profiled heavily, reminding almost every day of the task ahead of the team in that time. The Flyers started with two wins in Buffalo, lost on Tuesday in Pittsburgh only to rebound with a comeback win, giving them a 3-1-0 start to the six-game stretch. However, it ended with back-to-back losses in regulation over the weekend, bringing their record to 3-3-0 in the last six games.
It’s a matter of perspective how you look at that. You can see a team that started hot with a 3-1-0 record and had a bad weekend, or you can see the team that has now lost three of their last four games in regulation.
The two weekend games seemed to feature a common thread. This was a team that looked completely drained facing two teams that were ready to go and determined to make the desired result happen.
The schedule is no excuse in a shortened season. This is what everyone signed up for and the Flyers knew, like every other team, that things were subject to change in an uncertain time in the world. The schedule wasn’t originally supposed to feature six games in nine nights or four games in six nights. Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh became an addition to the schedule upon the reconstruction of the team’s schedule following their COVID situation. It is what it is.
So the Flyers can’t use that as an excuse. Every team is playing an insane amount of hockey in a couple of months. The Flyers have already played four games since the calendar turned to March and have 13 more games before it is over. The first two days of April are the next time they will have two days off from games on the schedule.
A complete day off for the Flyers comes at a good time. They need the break to refuel and get ready for a game against Buffalo on Tuesday, one that they should be able to claim, especially given what is coming down the road. There are two more games with Washington ahead before seven of the next eight games against the New York teams.