By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
After five days off, the Flyers lineup finally resembled something more like their usual group as anticipated on paper. But when that group took the ice on Thursday, the first period was nowhere near better.
The Flyers fell behind again. The Flyers lacked energy and the effort was in question. It was called one of the worst first periods they have played by Cam Atkinson after the game. It could have easily been a period with four goals for the Bruins. Instead, it was just two.
That was enough for the Flyers to chip away and eventually even things up, before the special teams game came back into play and ultimately proved to be the difference in the game again.
It was one final game in a calendar year that has been as frustrating and disappointing as ever. Another loss in regulation brought the team’s current losing streak to six, and put a fitting conclusion to a 365-day period to forget.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Bruins.
1. It’s Tricky
The Bruins played on Wednesday night and got a hat trick from Brad Marchand. On Thursday night, it was David Pastrnak’s turn.
In the past nine days alone, the Flyers have allowed hat tricks to Anaheim’s Troy Terry, San Jose’s Tomas Hertl, and Pastrnak. Three times in the last four games, the opposition has scored a hat trick.
Those are the only three the Flyers have allowed this season, but last season, they allowed six hat tricks, including two to Pastrnak and another to Patrice Bergeron. The other three were all against the New York Rangers, two by Mika Zibanejad and another by Chris Kreider.
For Pastrnak that is his third hat trick against the Flyers, but also the 11th of his career. While there are plenty of names on the list with him with 11 or more career hat tricks, it is a pretty rare feat. Only three active players – Sidney Crosby (11), Evgeni Malkin (12), and Alex Ovechkin (28) – have 11 of more.
2. It’s…Tuukka Time
While Pastrnak was at the other end of the ice scoring goals seemingly at will, Tuukka Rask was twiddling his thumbs in his return to the NHL. The goalie had last played in June, but was given plenty of run support before having to make a save.
The Bruins even had two power plays before the Flyers recorded a shot, one of which ended with a goal, but it was getting to the point where a Flyers clear that went all the way down the ice and was played by Rask was drawing the usual Tuukka chants from the TD Garden crowd.
The Bruins had a 2-0 lead and a 7-0 lead in shots before the Flyers got a shot on goal with 10:41 left in the first period. Through two periods, Rask had been relatively untested, facing just 15 shots. The Flyers finished the game with 27 shots and Rask made 25 saves, eventually settling in and looking more and more like the typically sound and stable netminder he is.
If nothing else, the Flyers missed their opportunity in the first period, when Rask was longing for any sort of action, and again in the third as the Bruins faced a two-man disadvantage, but managed to successfully kill it off.
3. Dynamic Duo
The Flyers got the game tied in the second period and the offense seemed to come from the usual suspects. Lately, if the Flyers are getting a quality scoring chance, there’s a good chance Cam Atkinson or Joel Farabee have something to do with it.
On a power play, Atkinson deflected an Ivan Provorov shot for his 15th goal of the season. Farabee scored the equalizer with five minutes left in the second period for his 11th goal of the season.
Since the turn of the New Year, Atkinson is on a five-game points streak to start 2022, with three goals and five assists. Farabee was only held off the board in one of the five games of 2022 – Saturday night against San Jose – but has two goals and three assists in the other four.
It isn’t even just about production. Both Farabee and Atkinson were stopped in the second period as the team tried to get on the board and then get the game tied. Farabee was stopped trying to go to the backhand and through the five-hole with play at four-on-four. Atkinson got a shorthanded breakaway shortly after the Bruins pulled back ahead, but was stopped on his backhand attempt to the blocker side.
If you are looking for bright spots, outside of the play of Carter Hart, these two appear to be it. With the exception of Claude Giroux, who was named to his seventh All-Star Game on Thursday, these are the two most consistent point producers on the team.
Of course, Giroux has the shadow of his impending future, potentially elsewhere, hanging over him as the season progresses. As Hart continues to solidify himself as a goaltender to build around and Farabee prepares to enter a new six-year contract and Atkinson has three years remaining on his, these two forwards appear to gel together and have strong chemistry. That’s something to build on.
4. Don’t Look Up (or Down)
The Flyers turned a horrendous start into a solid comeback effort that fell just short. Still, it went down as another regulation loss, the fourth on this six-game losing streak.
Until this stretch of games comes to an end, the Flyers are essentially in free-fall mode. They certainly should not look up at the teams ahead of them, specifically the one they faced on Thursday that still has 11 more points in the standings and still has two games in hand.
But don’t look now, but there are several teams hot on their heels again from below them in the standings. The Flyers entered the night as the 24th-ranked team in points in the NHL. That didn’t change after Thursday’s action across the league, but what did change was the distance between them and several other teams.
Just take a look at the results:
As the Flyers prepare to face the 3rd-ranked New York Rangers on Saturday in an attempt to snap this six-game losing streak, the potential is there for both the Devils and Blackhawks to move right past them. The Islanders may not be far behind either, with the two head-to-head meetings early next week and four points on the line there. That would drop the Flyers three more spots to 27th of the 32 teams with only five behind them.
5. A Year to Forget
Thursday marked one year since the puck dropped on the 2020-21 season, the 56-game sprint to the finish in a matter of roughly four months time. It has been a year to forget for the Flyers. Just take a look at some of these figures.
In the last 365 days, they have played 92 games and posted a 38-39-15 record. In those games, they have a goal differential of minus-67 and the opponent has scored first 51 times. In 26 of the 39 regulation losses, the Flyers have lost by three or more goals.
In the past year, the Flyers have a 21-5-15 record in one-goal games. They have a 6-8 record in two-goal games. And in games decided by three or more goals, they have an 11-26 record.
It’s amazing the differential there. Only 14 times in 92 games (15.2 percent) have the Flyers had a two-goal result. Of the 92 games, 44 percent have been one-goal games, but only five of them have been losses in regulation. In fact, Thursday’s game in Boston was the Flyers first regulation loss by one goal all season.
That said, 40.7 percent of the team’s games in the last year have been margins of three goals or more.
Of their 38 wins, 21 (55.3 percent) have been by one goal. Another 11 (28.9 percent) have been by three goals. It’s either win big or by the skin of their teeth. There’s really no in-between.
The same goes for the losses, especially when you add in 15 overtime/shootout defeats.
Only five of the 54 losses (9.3 percent) are one-goal regulation losses. The 15 OT/SO losses account for 27.8 percent of the 54 losses. And 26 of the 54 losses (48.1 percent) are by three goals or more.
Again, it’s either hang on to get a point, or get blown out. But that percentage of losses by three goals or more is especially alarming, showing that nearly half of the team’s losses in the last calendar year have been complete blowouts.