By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
When the Flyers took the ice on Thursday, you saw the potential of this team and how they can play shutdown hockey. It lasted for nearly 50 minutes of the game, as they got the defensive play, got the scoring, got the goaltending, got everything they needed.
It sure seemed like that first goal allowed, though, set off the snowball effect. The Islanders scored three goals before you could blink and the game was tied again. It took a late goal for the Flyers to get the much-needed win.
In Saturday’s game, it took just over six minutes for the Flyers to allow a goal. After another 10 minutes, the Islanders had four on the board and the game was as good as over. Two more third-period turnovers padded the score further, resulting in a 6-1 defeat for the Flyers. There’s an awful lot to unpack in another result like that.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game.
1. March Madness
Saturday’s loss to the Islanders brought the Flyers record for the month to 4-7-0. There really hasn’t been an in-between on the way this team is playing. They have either had to fight and claw to get the win, sometimes not making it back enough to complete the comeback, or have lost in rather embarrassing fashion.
There has been one thing consistent about the Flyers play this month: if they’re going to win, it’s going to require four goals or more. In every game this month, the Flyers have allowed at least three goals. In the entire month, they have allowed 51 goals. It’s been 11 games. In the 18 games prior to March, they allowed 52 total. While that’s not an encouraging rate, it’s somehow only gotten worse.
2. Four Score
To double down on the goals allowed rate the Flyers are having, let’s magnify it a little more. This season, in just 29 games, the Flyers have allowed four goals or more in 14 games. It’s alarming how much of a regular occurrence this has become.
For context, the Flyers played 69 regular season games last season. They allowed four goals or more 20 times, approximately 29 percent of the time. In the playoffs, the Flyers played 16 games. They allowed four goals or more five times, a rate of 31.25 percent. The Flyers are allowing four goals in a game in just under half of their games. Their average, in fact, is 3.55 goals allowed per game. That’s second-worst in the league, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators, who don’t exactly set a high bar at 3.91 goals allowed per game.
That is completely unacceptable.
The Flyers have constantly been left to chase games. They are falling behind at insurmountable margins. It creates an uphill battle every night. It may be possible to rally back against Buffalo or the Rangers, as they have before, but not when you are playing teams like Washington and the Islanders.
It’s not like the Flyers are simply falling behind by a goal early and having to come back from an early goal. It almost always snowballs into something bigger. It’s a troublesome trend that shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.
3. Turnover Machine
Even in giving up a three-goal lead in the third period on Thursday, the Flyers certainly did one thing better than they had in most games this month. They protected the puck and managed it well, finishing the game with just three giveaways and five total turnovers. The Islanders had 10 giveaways and 11 turnovers.
In Saturday’s game, they were a turnover machine. The Flyers totaled 20 giveaways and 24 turnovers. Essentially every goal came off of a mistake when it comes to puck management.
The Islanders first goal was a power-play goal, one that resulted from a penalty taken by Travis Konecny in the offensive zone. It was an unfortunate bounce, as Oskar Lindblom blocked a shot and it bounced right to Jean-Gabriel Pageau for the easy goal.
But from there, the Flyers only made things worse with each turnover. The Islanders second goal came off a netmouth scramble where the Flyers didn’t move their feet, didn’t try to clear players out of prime real estate and the Islanders won the battle. Jordan Eberle was the lucky recipient to get another open net.
The third goal: a gift-wrapped turnover at the blue line by Nate Prosser that let Casey Cizikas go in with an angle. It’s a shot that also needed to be stopped by Carter Hart at that stage of the game. The goal forced Alain Vigneault to use his timeout in desperation.
The fourth goal: another Cizikas goal. Prosser tries to push the puck along the boards for Erik Gustafsson. Cizikas wins the battle in the corner and gets it in front to a wide-open Oliver Wahlstrom, who fanned on the chance, but Thomas Hickey then jumps on the puck before the Flyers are even close to being back in position. Cizikas then beats Gustafsson out of the corner to the open space and is in position for a one-timer on the cross-ice pass. That led to Oskar Lindblom dropping the gloves for a fight with Wahlstrom. Yes, Oskar Lindblom, less than a year removed from cancer treatments and weeks removed from a bout with COVID-19, was the brave one who actually tried to take matters into his own hands and spark the team. That sure speaks volumes.
The fifth goal: it’s a harmless dump-in by the Islanders and the Flyers get control behind the net, only for Prosser to give it away on a silver platter to Anthony Beauvillier, who knocks it down to Brock Nelson, who gives it right back to Beauvillier for the goal.
The sixth goal: not much to say. Carter Hart gives it away himself this time and Josh Bailey is able to move it from his skates to his stick and score into the open net.
Each goal was worse than the next, as the Flyers got lit up once again off their own mistakes.
4. An Untimely Absence
Earlier on Saturday morning, Alain Vigneault said the Flyers would be using the same lineup as Thursday. That didn’t turn out to be the case by gametime though.
Sean Couturier was a late scratch with a lower-body injury. The untimely absence would hurt the Flyers, who were without their top defensive forward.
For a team that may be already operating on life support in a shortened season that is now in its latter half, the Flyers do not need something to be seriously wrong with Couturier if they have hopes of turning it around. At the very least, his presence gives the impression that things can at least be under some control when he’s on the ice. Without him, you saw what a discombobulated mess this team is defensively. Collectively. There was not a single defensive performance in this game from any player that could qualify as good.
As much as Couturier’s absence hurt the Flyers, the final score would indicate it didn’t matter whether he played or didn’t. That may be true, but it would have been nice to at least see if the Flyers had the same type of response following Thursday’s game with their top center in the lineup.
5. Something’s Gotta Give
One of the things I listed in takeaways from Thursday’s game was that the 50 minutes of tight defense and building up a 3-0 lead on a team like the Islanders was certainly something to build on. It showed the Flyers are capable of playing that style and being successful. But it couldn’t last for just one game.
Turns out, it lasted for exactly one game, and not even an entire game. In the last 10 minutes, the Flyers let the 3-0 lead slip away and had to dig down deep to get the win and the two points they desperately needed. In this game, it was almost over before it started. Four goals in less than 10 minutes for the Islanders put them on cruise control.
Here’s an alarming figure: it’s the fourth time this week that the Flyers allowed at least three goals in a single period. There was the three-goal second period to the Rangers on Monday that erased a 2-0 start for the Flyers. There was the seven-goal debacle on Wednesday in the 9-0 loss to the Rangers. There was the quick three-goal comeback on Thursday by the Islanders. And then there were four goals in the first by the Islanders on Saturday.
The Flyers don’t just seem to give up a goal or two in a period that chips away at the margin, they give them up in chunks.
It’s gone from being a rough start to a month and is evolving into a month that could truly kill the team’s playoff hopes. It’s not quite at that point just yet, but the writing is on the wall. The team has struggled all season to play sound defensive hockey. They did their best to survive that for the first few weeks. It’s now caught up to them, chewed them up, spit them back out, and is coming in for the kill.
There’s no sign that something is going to change immediately, but something’s got to give soon enough. In a season where everyone, and I mean everyone, from top to bottom believed that an even bigger step would be taken, the Flyers are in danger of taking a further step back than anyone imagined. It’s getting to the point where the next game feels like the potential breaking point. If the 9-0 loss to the Rangers wasn’t embarrassing enough earlier in the week, how does coming out two games later and losing 6-1 for the third time this season in 29 games feel?
One of these days, a loss of that magnitude is going to lead to something significant. Who knows what that will be, but it sure feels like it’s coming.