Quick Hits: November 18, 2019
1) The Flyers had a desperately needed complete off-day on Sunday. The team had played a slate of nine games in 16 nights -- including two separate trips to Ontario, 3-in-4 slates on consecutive weeks and six opponents who are either playoff locks or should be in the playoff chase until the end.
All things considered, it wasn't too bad to come away 5-1-3 from those games. That said, it was disappointing to see the team's performance was in Ottawa on Friday. Tired or not, it was inexcusable to self-destruct in blowing a 3-0 third period lead against the Islanders on Saturday and settle for one point instead of two. Bad line changes wound up costing the Flyers the 3-1 and 3-2 goals -- the first one directly, the latter indirectly due to a too-many-men penalty at just about the worst possible time. Then a failed exit opportunity and a leaky goal tied the game.
The Flyers have seven games remaining this month, and the slate remains challenging although with a few more interspersed nights off. After an 11:30 a.m. practice in Voorhees on Monday, the team will depart for the start of a southern road trip.
Oddly enough in what has been one of the weirdest schedule patterns in recent memory -- one still affected by the trip to Switzerland and Prague, which caused excessive October off-days and then excessive back-to-backs, 3-in-4s and 4-in-6 slates to get caught up in November -- the Flyers will NOT have their typical Sunshine State trip. Normally, the Flyers play both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lighting on the same trip and then start back up northward, with perhaps a stop first in Raleigh to play the Hurricanes. This time around, the Lightning are not part of the docket, which will necessitate a separate one-stop trip to Tampa Bay during the stretch drive in March; the March 12, to be precise.
The Flyers will play the Panthers (10-5-5) in Sunrise on Tuesday, a November rematch with the Hurricanes (12-7-1) in Raleigh on Thursday and then come back home to play the Calgary Flames (10-10-3) in the first Saturday afternoon Wells Fargo Center matinee of the season. Next week will start with the Flyers hosting the Vancouver Canucks (10-6-4) on Monday.
2) It is a fact of life in sports just how quickly a narrative can shift. Just a few days ago after the Flyers gutted out a point against Washington due to a spectacular performance by Carter Hart, the narrative was about how the Flyers were rising to the challenge amid a seven-game point streak (5-0-2). A few days later, after a 2-1 regulation loss in Ottawa that saw the team fail on a four-minute power play late in the third period and then a 4-3 shootout loss amid the blown three-goal lead against the Islanders, the narrative has shifted; rightfully so, to some degree.
First of all, the Flyers ended up having to go beyond regulation four separate times in which they held two-goal or three-goal leads, including three multi-goal third period edges. The process to get to those leads was good; the process of trying to close those games out -- which often largely consisted of overrelying on their goalies to carry the team across the finish line in the third period -- has to get better.
Fatigue may be a factor but it cannot be an excuse. Every team runs into stretches where they are tired from 3-in-4s and their opponents are significantly more rested of late. Top teams still routinely find ways to dig deep and close out games with multi-goal third period leads, and only periodically need to rescue a second point via OT or shootout. Do the latter too often, and you'll eventually start losing a point at a time (not to mention, in intra-conference games, giving a point or two to competitors that can turn every game down the stretch into dogfights).
Depth is a huge part of the reason why top teams seem to manage their busiest schedule segments better than wildcard-type teams often do. Specifically, the ability to roll four lines and make use of all three D pairs in crunch time has a carryover effect in subsequent games.
Compare the last two weekends for the Flyers. The way that the Flyers managed the b2b two weekends back -- being able to roll four lines in the third period in Toronto spilled over into holding Boston to just 10 shots through 40 minutes before the Bruins put on all-out blitz in the third -- was a much better process than the Friday and Saturday games from this past weekend. The team had too many guys who just were not going very well in Ottawa after a dynamic first eight minutes or so, and they ended up having to significantly shorten the bench. On Saturday, despite the Flyers scoring the only goal of the second period, the middle frame onward was Islanders-controlled. Philly was basically trying to muddle through 40 minutes and not just the final 20.
Secondly, it is an absolute must for the Flyers to start getting more diversified scoring than just from Sean Couturier's line. On Saturday, the Couturier 5-on-5 line (two goals) and Couturier driven power play unit (one goal) singlehandedly provided enough goal support to be in position to win. But that's not going to be the case every night. The Flyers actually broke up the normal Couturier line for Saturday in an effort to spread the wealth a bit. Travis Konecny went to Claude Giroux's line and Joel Farabee moved to the Couturier line.
Moving ahead into the remaining 75% or so of the season, it is a must for the Flyers to start getting more production -- not just being in the middle some scoring chances, but converting a higher percentage that end up in the net -- from Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek and Kevin Hayes. Philly is 20 games into this season, basically at the one-quarter mark, and these four players combined have 17 goals. By comparison, Couturier, Oskar Lindblom and Konecny have combined for 23.
Voracek and Giroux each have 13 points to date. In Voracek's case, the player has had a pair of three-point games and a pair of two-point nights, which represent 10 of his 13 points. That's a decent number of multi-point nights, but 13 nights without a point out of 20 games is too many. Same with Giroux, whose only point in the last five games was the Voracek-created third period game-tying power play tally against Washington. Overall, Giroux has had 10 games with at least one point, and 10 without a point.
Hayes may be the Flyers forward who is the most clearly pressing in the offensive zone. He will drag a 10-game pointless streak into Florida. It's not enough for Hayes to only be solid in the defensive zone and hard to take off the puck on the walls and down low in the offensive zone. The Flyers need more point production from him, too, especially with Nolan Patrick remaining out indefinitely.
As for JVR, the player's team-leading 63 shots on goal is fine in terms of putting pucks on net. Over the last several games in particular, he's had his share of bonafide scoring opportunities, but hasn't been able to finish any of them. The Flyers don't necessarily need for JVR to duplicate his career-best 16.2 percent shooting percentage from last season, but they need a lot better than his current 6.3% rate. As a player who generates many of his shots on goal from near or at the net, JVR needs to get his season number into double-digits.
3) On the Flyers website, the latest edition of Therien's Take looks at the keys to having a good mix of personalities and relationships in the locker room. Plenty of fun stories in this one. For more, click here
4) The Flyers did an A+ job for Military Appreciation night on Saturday, with a host of great touches both behind the scenes and during in-game presentations on the big board.
The night included having Melissa Stockwell (two-time Paralympian and former U.S. Army officer) and Medal of Honor recipient and War in Afghanistan veteran Ryan Pitts visit the locker room to announce the starting lineup to the team before the game. Additionally, the Flyers Warriors players received the Flyers players' jerseys from warmups in a shirt-off-the-back ceremony near the locker room right after warmups. Recently retired four-star Army general Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas, a Pennsylvania native, was also on hand.
The public aspects of the night included introducing all of the aforementioned veterans to the Wells Fargo Center crowd, and each received much-deserved ovations. The game-presentation staff also did a great job of creating montages of photos of active-duty and military veterans that were submitted by Flyers fans from across the globe. One of the submitted photos was of 1980s era Flyers equipment manager Kevin Cady, a U.S. coast guard vet and retired police detective, with his two nephews who are now in the service.
5) Speaking of the Flyers Warriors, the team's players joined with Flyers Alumni to participate in the now-annual United Heroes League clinic on Saturday morning. The next day, the Flyers Warriors themselves had a special surprise: Lehigh Valley Phantoms assistant coach Kerry Huffman was a guest instructor at their Sunday morning practice in Pennsauken, under the auspices of head coach and Flyers Alumni Association president Brad Marsh and assistants Rob Baer and Bob "the Hound" Kelly.
6) Speaking of the Phantoms, the team will have a few days to regroup from an undeniably disappointing stretch of the season that has seen the club win only six of 16 games so far (6-5-5) and go winless in the last four games. The team is having issues scoring goals of late, and neither end of special teams have been clicking overall. The Phantoms will try to regroup this week at practice and will hopefully start to get some injured players back in the lineup soon. On Wednesday and again on Friday, the Phantoms host the Charlotte Checkers. On Saturday, the Belleville Senators pay a visit to Allentown.