By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
When it comes down to it, the Flyers probably should have received a better fate than the 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders on Monday. That’s just the way it goes when essentially every turnover goes into your net and even your best game in a long time isn’t enough.
The bigger challenge for the Flyers was about following up the effort from that game against a team lower in the standings. If the effort put forth on Monday would win a lot of games, then repeating it against a team like the Devils should be able to start them down the right path.
The only thing consistent about the Flyers right now is their ability to be inconsistent. One night, you get a decent effort. The next, you get an embarrassing effort. And on a night when you needed to build on that effort, needed to turn it into a win, needed to start getting things back on the rails right away, the Flyers were as flat as can be.
It doesn’t end up looking that bad on the scoreboard, a 4-3 loss, but it’s been the formula for the results lately, as the Flyers continue to fall behind in games and then turn it on for 10 minutes to close the gap to one goal before time runs out.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s game.
1. Sleepy Start
The Flyers spoke on Monday night about a better effort, about the things they did well in the game despite the loss. It was typically things you hear after a 2-1 defeat in overtime where you felt you deserved a better fate, but had to deal with the result. But moral victories did you no good at this stage of the season, you needed to turn that into results.
Now, playing the New York Islanders is certainly a different animal from playing the New Jersey Devils. Replicating that effort should give you the desired result, right? Well, that actually means replicating the result.
Instead, the Flyers came out slow and sloppy from the start. They lacked jump. They took an early penalty that gave the Devils momentum. They may have managed to tie the game with a power-play goal, but didn’t turn things any more in their favor.
The Flyers instead repeated a now tired act. Not only did they not have the jump and win the battles, but they dug another hole too deep to climb out of. These games are all about how you start. The Flyers start in Tuesday’s game, certainly a must-win based on the recent stretch and what it’s done to their place in the standings, was pathetic.
2. Building Block
Let’s get to the first-period goal, because it was really no surprise who scored it. As the Flyers managed to get on a puck along the wall and dish it back to the blue line, Ivan Provorov found Jake Voracek with some space. He held it for a moment, then put it to the net. Joel Farabee was there waiting for the rebound and scored a determined goal.
For most of the game, it felt like Joel Farabee was the only player giving you the effort and energy that reflected the importance of this game. He was everywhere. In addition to scoring the first Flyers goal of the game, he nearly set up a shorthanded goal for Sean Couturier that hit the post.
Farabee, at just 21, is now up to a team-leading 14 goals in 30 games played this season. He’s giving you the type of season you build around from a scoring perspective. This is a guy who will be here for years to come and has the potential to reach some serious heights with his scoring ability.
For the Flyers fans that scream about scoring, you can’t look at this current roster and then decide you want to sell the farm for a player that delivers 40 goals a year and depletes you even further when it comes to defense. This team needs a ton of help before they could ever make a move of that nature. But if you want some promise, realize that Farabee is scoring goals every which way and easily on pace for a 40-goal season in a normal 82-game schedule. Go check out the Phantoms and look at the shot Wade Allison has displayed in his first couple of professional games now that he’s healthy.
There’s the scoring of the future for you. Now, you need to build a team that gives you way more than they have now from the defensive side.
3. Late Goals are Killers
Collectively, all four of the Devils goals were brutal defensive breakdowns or turnovers getting in the way again. There wasn’t a single goal where you could point directly to the goaltending and say it was soft.
On two of these goals, the mistakes came in the final minute of a period. Look, Travis Sanheim should not have been in the penalty box in the final minute of the first period with a “holding” penalty that was actually Nick Merkley grabbing the stick of Sanheim and disguising it well. That said, if you get to the end of the period, you’re 34 seconds away from killing the penalty to start the second in a 1-1 game.
Instead, in the dying seconds of the period, three different Flyers touch the puck in a frantic mess to try to get control. Actually, all four Flyers on the PK are involved. Scott Laughton loses a puck battle. Kevin Hayes tries to glove down the puck and drops it into a space where both he and Shayne Gostisbehere go to play it. Gostisbehere bunts it back to the slot where Jesper Bratt is waiting. It actually hits the stick of Justin Braun before getting to Bratt, who makes the pass to Kyle Palmieri for the one-timer and the goal with 5.6 seconds left.
It’s brutal puck management that simply continues on a nightly basis. The Flyers are worried about consistency, but the thing that seems to be most consistent with them is their ability to continue to make these self-inflicted mistakes and get burned by them instantly.
Then go to the last minute of the second. A shot by Yegor Sharangovich, who already made it 3-1 in the period, gets partially blocked by Braun. It rolls into the slot and James van Riemsdyk gets his stick lifted trying to clear, so it rolls through to Sanheim. Sanheim can’t clear either and turns it back over to Sharangovich. It’s at this point that the entire defensive structure breaks down. Three Flyers end up on the same side of the ice, including both defensemen. That puts Braun out of position to take the net-front guy, who is Travis Zajac. A couple of quick passes and the puck is in the net again with 23.4 seconds remaining in the period.
Goals allowed at this stage of the game are killers. You have to finish off periods strong and not make the margin any worse as you come out for the following period. The Flyers had the chance to survive a pretty awful start in a 1-1 tie. They didn’t. They had a chance to keep the margin at two for the inevitable push that comes in the third period. They didn’t and needed three instead.
4. No Urgency
The Flyers allowed the first goal of the game. They allowed two more in the second period after giving up the late goal in the first to make it 2-1 New Jersey, putting themselves in a three-goal hole going to the final period. And throughout the first 40 minutes, it was so obvious how much this team lacks urgency with the season on the line.
Look, as much as nobody wants to hear it in a stretch where the Flyers have been relatively awful, this team still has a chance to make the playoffs. They are two points out of a playoff spot and that margin could have been made up simply by winning this game. And yet, this team sure didn’t play like they have any reason to be involved in the playoff race.
So much for this team isn’t a talent issue. There may be pieces that don’t fit well together or improvements that could certainly be made, but even this current group has given you performances that are deserving of wins and recognize the urgency of the game at a certain point in the schedule.
But the consistency issue comes into play again. This was the 31st game of a 56-game season for the Flyers. They will play four more in the month of March to reach 35, leaving them with 21 to go. Even with 21 left to play, being within five or six points easily keeps you in the playoff race because of the constant divisional play and all the four-point games out there. That said, time is running out. This game in particular was your chance to make a statement that you were turning the corner. But we’ve said that before. We’ve looked at previous games and expressed how it doesn’t feel like it can get worse.
But this effort certainly keeps it going in that direction. There’s no urgency to the game, especially at the start. This is your season on the line. And yet the team continues to come out flat.
5. Once Again, Too Little, Too Late
The Flyers didn’t come out of the gate in the third dominating the play or anything like that, but down by three, when they scored with 8:32 to play, you kind of had the feeling that they would find a way to get it back to a one-goal game just to make it not look so bad by the box score.
Once again, their rally was too little, too late. The Flyers may have scored the only two goals of the third, but they didn’t begin the rally until the final 10 minutes of the period. They didn’t get it going soon enough.
The team mentioned after the game about turning it on until 50 minutes into the game. This team very clearly knows how to flip the switch and get right back into a game against almost anyone. They’ve done this against the Capitals, and now the Devils, in addition to completing comebacks against the Rangers and Penguins.
It’s become such a regular occurrence this season for the Flyers. They dig a hole, then frantically try to get out of it in the dying stages of the game. The longer it continues to happen, the tougher it becomes to not only find a way to win games, but maintain your energy for future games.
It’s a problem that has really defined the Flyers season, especially this month of March, and it continues to be the reason they are falling further behind in the standings.
It felt all too fitting that this game came on the heels of the announcement that Chuck Fletcher would speak to the media on Wednesday. The audible booing at the end of the second period in front of approximately 3,000 fans sure told the story of where this team has come in a year.