Thursday’s game was already going to be an uphill battle for the Flyers. Like every team in the league, they are dealing with players in COVID protocol and players on the injured list. Unlike their counterparts in Thursday’s game, they were also on the back end of a back-to-back and had an interesting night of travel, arriving at their hotel in San Jose at 4:30 a.m. local time.
Despite that, the Flyers did find a way to keep their points streak going for a seventh straight game, finally getting the tying goal with 4:03 to play in regulation.
This time, the overtime didn’t go their way, delivering a fitting result to end a pair of games where the Flyers were massively outplayed. Injuries, COVID, and everything else aside, the Flyers are not clicking the way they need to. They may be turning the corner in terms of results, but they may be turning into a head-on collision with some of the best teams in the league still ahead on the schedule.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Sharks.
1. Enter Sandman
The star of the show for the Flyers in this game was Felix Sandstrom. It was only a couple of hours before the game that it was revealed Sandstrom would be making his NHL debut. The 2015 third-round pick sure made the most of the opportunity.
Sandstrom was put to the test right away. His first shot against was a partial break for Jeffrey Viel. In short order after that, he had to stop Timo Meier from the slot, Brent Burns streaking up the wing, and make numerous saves on a San Jose power play. He stopped all 12 shots in the first period. Welcome to the National.
While he did allow a pair of goals in the second period in short order, he made 14 more saves in the period and kept the margin at one. With the Sharks back on the power play to start the third, he made his best save, a left pad extension on Alexander Barabanov.
That may very well be the reason the Flyers got a point at all. A goal at any point in the third, and the Flyers are likely done for the night. In total, Sandstrom finished with 43 saves, setting a Flyers record for most saves in an NHL debut. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t quite enough to get the second point.
2. Feeling Frosty
Despite being thoroughly dominated for most of the first period, the Flyers somehow managed to score the first goal with 4:37 to play in the period. They had just four shots to that point, but a three-on-two in transition allowed them to get the puck to Morgan Frost with a wide-open net.
There were two really great plays made on this rush. Upon entry, Oskar Lindblom throws on the brakes and freezes and makes a nifty pass around a defender to Travis Konecny. Konecny then threaded the needle to Frost, who finished it off.
It’s just the second goal of the season for Frost and fourth of his career, but it’s the type of result the Flyers need to see more of, especially with news that Sean Couturier will be out of the lineup while week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Frost has the scoring potential in him, and he’s been able to get on scoring streaks in the AHL. It’s time to see if that can translate to this level, especially with every team needing so much flexibility with their lineups.
Frost was one of the few players with a lot of jump in this game. His line in particular continued their push for the remainder of the first period, nearly scoring again before the intermission.
3. Hard to Yandle
If the disparity in shots in the first period was rough, the second period was somehow even worse. It’s not just the 16-9 total that favored San Jose. It was the overall body of work from the Flyers, just how much they chased the game after a few instances that didn’t go their way at all.
It started at the 3:46 mark when Nick Seeler and Viel dropped the gloves off a face-off. There are two big problems with this fight to me. First, it comes at a time when your team has a 1-0 lead and is looking to build momentum. Seeler may be trying to spark his team, but a fight can always have an adverse effect on the opposition. Secondly, Seeler was only in the lineup because interim head coach Mike Yeo mentioned having fresh bodies for the game, given the previous night’s outing and late night of travel. Your team doesn’t remain fresh if you take yourself off the ice for five minutes and force them to regroup with five defensemen.
The Flyers got a power play shortly after that, an opportunity to add some momentum and pad the lead. Instead, the Sharks won the opening face-off, cleared the puck, got a bounce off the glass near the penalty box and went to work on Keith Yandle. Logan Couture flat-out owned Yandle, making a little chip pass to himself around the defenseman and emerging with a shorthanded breakaway. He scored through the five-hole of Sandstrom.
For the rest of the power play, the Flyers were reeling. The Sharks got the better of the opportunities, nearly scored again while shorthanded, and ultimately did get the go-ahead goal just 13 seconds after the penalty expired. This time, Brent Burns had all day to walk into the slot and pick his spot with a perfect shot.
Yandle is often the focal point of these things at the moment – even though he wasn’t on the ice for the remaining two goals and did later set up Joel Farabee’s game-tying goal – but what is happening with him is symbolic of what we see with many Flyers players right now.
The turnovers, the lack of speed, the flaws in execution – all of it is detrimental to the team's play.
This is not meant to specifically single out Yandle when so many on the team continually have these issues, But Yandle is closing in on the record for consecutive games played.
He’s a good locker room guy. He’s got good leadership qualities. He’s got tons of experience with 1,062 games played in the NHL. These things make teams want to do good by a player, let them have their moment. But it’s getting harder and harder to justify keeping Yandle in the lineup.
The Flyers brought Cam York along on the road trip as a taxi squad member, and Yeo said himself prior to leaving for the trip that York was there because he can go into the lineup and make the team better, whether someone comes out for injury, COVID, or performance. The latter of those three may be creeping up on Yandle.
4. Power Play’s Missed Opportunity
Even with the disastrous second period, the Flyers made their way through down by a goal and emerged from an early third-period penalty kill down by a goal. With 12:28 to play in the third, the Flyers got what appeared to be their best chance at an equalizer. A penalty on Meier put them on the power play. Before they ever had a chance to even get puck control, the window of opportunity opened wider. James van Riemsdyk was tripped by Burns off the face-off, giving the Flyers 1:56 of 5-on-3 time.
What ensued from there was an incredibly passing and stationary power play. There was no puck movement, no speed, no conviction with the puck. It was basically a waiting game to see if a lane would magically appear to put a shot on goal. That led to more turnovers, more puck mismanagement, and more frustration. And two minutes later, the Flyers had virtually nothing to show for it, not even so much as some momentum-building scoring chances that forced James Reimer into action.
This was a spot in the game where there needs to be more urgency. This could have been the game. This could have been the points streak. This could have turned the game into the Flyers favor for good and led them to two points instead.
What it was instead was the power play’s contribution to another night of struggles in multiple areas.
5. New Year’s Resolution
And so closes the book on 2021 for the Philadelphia Flyers. They completed an entire season in that time, playing 56 games in partially-filled arenas and watching a season crumble away amidst COVID breakouts and lackluster performances.
Then came an offseason of change, multiple trades and signings that transformed a roster.
Then came a solid start to the 2021-22 season before a 10-game losing streak not only dropped them to the bottom of the standings, but led to the firing of Alain Vigneault. They have since followed that with points in seven straight games, including five wins.
Yeah, it’s been a year.
And 2022 will be quite a year too.
Its early months will likely determine how the rest of it could go. The Flyers have moved back to within one point of a playoff spot with three points on this back-to-back. Don’t get too excited yet with games in hand for a lot of teams around them, but the Flyers have done a chunk of the heavy lifting and at least continued to earn points. What they can control, they have to this point, at least in terms of the final results.
But 2022 will feature games against the teams they are chasing. 2022 will present the same challenges against better competition with more speed and skill than the Flyers possess. And if they go down this road again and start slipping from the playoff picture, it will lead to more changes.
It might mean a more extensive coaching search in the offseason. It might mean more wholesale changes over the summer. It might mean the captain of the team for the last decade, who ranks second in games played, assists, and points in franchise history, may be moved at the trade deadline.
The Flyers can avoid all of that, though. They can get back to the basics, put the excuses aside, start managing the puck better, start moving it with more speed and conviction, and look like the well-rounded team they believe they can be. That’s all easier said than done at this point.
A new year is about reflection and finding ways to better yourself. It’s what we all do at this time of year. Professional sports teams have their own version of that: the offseason.
But turning the calendar to 2022 and starting the clock on another potential whirlwind summer of change needs to spark this team to be better, or at least to create more of an identity and future for a majority of the players here.
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. And we’ll just have to continue watching in the new year to find out how it all plays out.