Flyers 5: Takeaways from Sunday’s Flyers-Lightning Game

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

On Sunday evening, the Wells Fargo Center was decked out in a summer’s theme for Shore Night. Never mind the fact that it was the first weekend of December and 45 degrees outside. 

Maybe the theme of the night was to remind you of summer. To remind you that this past summer was when there was a new hope for the Flyers, a transformed roster that indicated that change was necessary and action had been taken. Perhaps it was prophetic, a way of looking ahead to what the summer months will provide you, because by the product on the ice, there will plenty of time to enjoy the shore and no Flyers hockey on the calendar at all.

In a 7-1 rout by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Flyers losing streak reached eight games, with now three of those losses coming at the hands of the back-to-back champs. And the takeaways from this one are pretty simple. It can’t be much longer before more changes start coming. There isn’t much more to say about the play on the ice that hasn’t already been said during this streak. A season that was all about making the playoffs and getting back to winning has become the opposite in a hurry.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game.

1. A Snowball’s Chance

For the first five or six minutes of the first period, there was a clearly noticeable difference between the two teams. The Flyers needed to be the more desperate team in trying to snap a seven-game losing streak and had been sitting idle since Wednesday night’s loss to the Rangers. The Lightning were closing out a stretch of five games in seven nights, including two games in the last three days having won in overtime in Boston on Saturday. 

So for those few minutes, the Flyers were clearly better, winning races to pucks and out-working the Lightning in the offensive zone to create more possession. 

Then the Lightning got a goal in transition with Ryan McDonagh potting a rebound. That started the snowball in motion.

A minute later, McDonagh took a shot that went wide off the end boards and bounced out to Corey Perry, who was able to spin and put it home. That quickly, it was a 2-0 game, and despite a first period where the Flyers out-shot the Lightning, 14-9, and had the better of the possession, it didn’t change the fact that they were once again chasing a game.

2. Dominated by Depth

It’s no secret that the Flyers have been hammered by injuries. It’s no excuse though, especially when you look across at the team they faced. 

No Nikita Kucherov. No Brayden Point. No Erik Cernak. No more Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. No Andrei Vasilevskiy in between the pipes this time, as in the previous two meetings. It all didn’t matter. 

At the end of the night, the Lightning got seven goals and none of them were by prolific goal scorers. McDonagh’s opening tally was his second of the season. Perry’s pair of goals in the game brought his season total to five – three of them having come against the Flyers. Taylor Raddysh scored his second NHL goal, his first having come the night before. Boris Katchouk did score his first NHL goal. Mathieu Joseph scored his fourth of the season shorthanded. Pat Maroon scored his fifth of the season.

You know who didn’t score? Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn – names that you expect to be on the scoresheet regularly. It just goes to show how opposite the two teams are organizationally. The Lightning couldn’t be a deeper team, able to plug in Cal Foote for Cernik who went down with injury again on Saturday, and getting Joseph back to replace Alex Barre-Boulet in the lineup.

3. Hart’s Blunder

It’s been an equally rough stretch for Carter Hart as it has been for the Flyers. Hart is now on a personal five-game losing streak and each has progressively gotten uglier. 

This start for Hart ended with a blunder. With the Flyers on a power play and down 4-0, Hart had to come out of his net to play keep-away from Joseph, who was charging in for a loose puck behind the defense. Hart tried to play it off the boards, but misfired and hit Joseph. With the empty net staring him in the face, Joseph didn’t even get off the shot he probably wanted. It was a weak backhander that crawled toward the goal, but managed to make its way past a diving Hart and just barely enter the net.

That was the end of Hart’s night, his fifth goal allowed on 15 shots. 

4. “Both Hands on the Steering”

Three years ago, right around this time of year, the Flyers made multiple front office changes. They had fired Ron Hextall on Nov. 26, then fired Dave Hakstol as head coach three weeks later on Dec. 17. Chuck Fletcher was hired as GM on Dec. 3 and the Flyers used an interim coach for the remainder of the season until hiring Alain Vigneault on April 15, 2019. 

Four years ago, also right around this time of year, the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak – starting on Nov. 11 and reaching its peak on Dec. 2 – in a year where they ultimately did make the playoffs despite that.

This stretch feels like the two sequences coming together. There’s no real end in sight for this losing streak. The Flyers aren’t losing games by a goal or an unfriendly bounce. They are getting obliterated on a nightly basis. 

Similarly, it feels like this is reaching the end of the line with the coaching staff. For Fletcher, who did show a willingness to go to work and take action when change seemed to be needed, it is time for the same to happen now. The display on Sunday night was a team that has completely given up on its coaching staff. Collectively. Maybe a move isn’t made tomorrow or until later this week or even next weekend while Fletcher gets some things in order, but the writing sure seems to be on the wall. 

For now, Alain Vigneault is really left looking for answers and solutions to the problem. He seemed to be at wit’s end as he addressed the media following an eighth straight defeat, taking responsibility for the team’s shortcomings.

“We are looking for solutions to our situation. We all have a job to do and need to get to work and do our part,” Vigneault said. “The guy that is the leader of this group who has both his hands on the steering wheel is me and I have to find a way to get this group to play better. We are in a bad skid right now and we need to end this. We have an opportunity tomorrow night and hopefully we will play better.”

5. “We Have to Take a Little Pride”

The eight-game losing streak the Flyers are on started with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Lightning on Nov. 18, a game where the Flyers gladly accepted the one point in the standings and could feel good about the effort. They had played a really dominant third period and found a rally quick when Hart let one leak through late in regulation.

Since that game, here are the results:

  • 5-2 loss to Boston on Nov. 20
  • 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 23
  • 2-1 overtime loss to Florida on Nov. 24
  • 6-3 loss to Carolina on Nov. 26
  • 5-2 loss to New Jersey on Nov. 28
  • 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Dec. 1
  • 7-1 loss to the Lightning on Dec. 5

Six of the previous seven losses have been decided by three goals or more. Overall, that is a -23 goal differential.

That is much more reflective of how the Flyers are playing, and even in those losses, there is usually one sequence where you have no idea how the Flyers netminder managed to keep the puck out of the net. These results are embarrassing, and much like last season, they are happening consistently.

“It’s not a little embarrassing, at the end of the day it’s the players that have to dig deep, and obviously stick together,” Cam Atkinson said. “I’ve been in a lot worse situations than this. At the end of the day, we have to take a little pride in coming to the rink and battling. It’s ultimately the players that are going to dig ourselves out of this. I think we had a good conversation after the game. Luckily, we have another opportunity tomorrow to just play the right way, play hard, play for each other.”

“I have played a lot of embarrassing games and this is definitely one of them,” Claude Giroux said. “We need to figure it out pretty quick here.”

There is no rest for the weary. The Flyers face the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night, trying to avoid a ninth straight loss. Then comes a three-game road trip that starts in New Jersey, they head west to Vegas and Arizona to close out the five-in-seven week that could be the breaking point for the season and result in some changes.

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