FFR2 Gm 4: PHI 1, CGY 3 - Just West of Winning
In the wise words of Hannah Montana, "Nobody's perfect." True on both tests about the human body and underwhelming hockey games.
Saturday may have been the Flyers first official defeat of the season, but Tuesday night was the first time the Flyers were clearly outplayed by their opponent. Despite a late comeback bid, the Flyers ultimately fell short, losing in regulation for this time this season by a 3-1 score to the Calgary Flames.
Right off the hop, you could just tell it was gonna be one of "those" games. You know the kind - where the Flyers randomly forget how to make or/and receive an outlet pass for a 20 plus minute span. It didn't take long for the Flames to take advantage. Just over 90 seconds in, Michael Frolik scored on a slot shot as Brian Elliott was tripped up by Justin Braun, who was battling for position in front.
If all of the random missed passes and practically infinite amount of icings weren't enough to send you to sleep, then the Tim Peel House of Penalties probably was. Five penalties were called in a span of just over 9 minutes in the first period (three against Calgary), ranging from obvious tripping and hooking to ticky-tack slashing and holding. Neither power play appeared to be on their game, however, as Elliott recovered to make some good saves (mostly at even strength) to keep the Flyers within one going into the 2nd.
Despite the poor opening performance, the Flyers first three games seemed to foreshadow that improvements were on the way. After all, the Flyers had merely gotten off to solid starts in games one through three, ramping up their play in the second and third periods. They had been in a similar situation against Vancouver, rebounding after a mediocre to dominate the 3rd period.
But that turnaround just made it that much more frustrating when the second period began and all of the Flyers glaring errors from period one remained alive and well. Icings and turnovers ran wild. The Flyers looked as excited to enter the offensive zone as a 5-year old on Halloween walking up the stairs to the dentist's house. Shockingly, the scoreboard eventually changed, and it wasn't in Philly's favor. As a direct result of an incorrect icing call (Scott Laughton was clearly going to win the race), Andrew Mangiapane's high-slot shot deflected off Travis Sanheim and past Elliott, doubling up Calgary's advantage.
Though they led for nearly the whole game, it wasn't like the Flames were completely dominating play. Calgary was having some similar issues with mishandling pucks and just chipping pucks off the boards rather than attacking. But their mistakes weren't nearly as glaring and numerous as Philadelphia's. To their credit, the Flyers generated some chances, notably three straight point blank shots by James van Riemsdyk, a 2-on-1 shot from Oskar Lindblom, and a tip in front from new Flyer Chris Stewart (which is a thing, more on that later). But after 40 minutes, the score remained 2-0.
Alain Vigneault clearly deemed his team's performance unacceptable and changed his lines. The Giroux-Coots-TK line that destroyed worlds in 2017-18 and the solid Provy-Sanheim pairing from the second half last year were reunited. The former group got to work quickly, starting by forcing a turnover in the d-zone and transitioning through center, furthered by Giroux drawing a penalty, and concluded when TK found Matt(y if you're Pierre McGuire) for a one-timer from the slot for a blast past David Rittich for his 1st as a Flyer, cutting the lead in half!
Unfortunately, the rest of the Flyers third period effort was simply unacceptable. Philly recorded five shots over the final 15 minutes is game, which just simply isn't going to get the job done very often. Calgary was the team that got stronger as time progressed, outshooting the Flyers 25-12 over the final two periods, posting a 61.84 Corsi For% overall. And though the Flyers created some chaos in front of the net when Elliott went to bench late, the Flames held down the fort, and Elias Lindholm found the empty net in the dying seconds to secure the Flames win.
This game had to feel like a sigh of relief for Calgary. A loss would've dropped the reigning regular season Western Conference champs to 2-4-1, a legitimately poor beginning. For a team trying to sweep the playoff disappointment that followed under the rug, losing this game would've brought out plenty of critics. Instead, they earned this win (probably by more than two goals) and have some momentum to take ahead going forward.
As for the Flyers, the simple reality is that clunkers happen from time to time. The Tampa Bay Lightning, still a juggernaut despite what happened last April, just lost to the last-place Ottawa Senators. Anything can happen on any given night in this crazy sport. But that doesn't mean there aren't questions to ask. Claude Giroux, JVR, and Jake Voracek have combined for one assist so far. The latter spent the whole game on the third line Tuesday night. And despite a stellar performance from their backup on the first half of a back-to-back, the Flyers fell far short of expectations, and have to face a red-hot Oilers team in difficult circumstances, trying to avoid being swept out of Western Canada.
It's a harsh reminder that the everything the Flyers impressed me (and probably you) with in their first three games don't matter if you can't build on them. Good goaltending can't mask every bad performance. Granted, there are growing pains to be expected as the Flyers get used to AV's system and their new teammates. But a dominant defeat against the first 2019 playoff team they have faced is hardly a good sign. A lot of people will say the Flyers should just burn the tape from this game, but in reality, it's how fast they can learn from this contest that will determine where they go from here.
So, before tonight's game, the Flyers officially sent Andy Welinski down and used his savings to sign Chris Stewart to a 1-year, 1-way deal with a $750,000 AAV. Stewart actually didn't look too bad in his Flyers debut Tuesday, but I don't like the move long-term. He just didn't look like he could keep up in preseason.
As a result of Stewart's debut, Connor Bunnaman was sent to the press box. Bunnaman has struggled so far by both the eye test and the numbers, and could probably be in line for demotion to the AHL. From what Vigneault has said, it sounds like he'll get another chance before that happens, but he's looked overwhelmed at the NHL level so far.
It's hard to call out the specific players who struggled with the puck last night, because the list would literally just be the lineup. But Ghost and Niskanen seemed to have the worst of it, stick-handling in dangerous situations and making errant passes. Kevin Hayes was also pretty bad with turnovers too, though he was still strong winning puck battles in the corners.
Give some credit to Brian Elliott. Neither of the two goals he gave up were his fault (nor was Sean Monahan's goal late in the 1st that was waved off due to a kick). In fact, Elliott was the Flyers best player on Friday, making numerous big saves and keeping the Flyers within striking distance throughout. The only thing I'll say is that he gave up some big rebounds that made me gasp a bit too often.
Another thing that looked good - the PK. Two for two, still aggressive in the defensive zone, and again, carrying the puck up-ice for shorthanded chances. After years in the basement, there's a chance this PK becomes scary good this year.
1st - Michael Frolik (CGY) - 1 Goal
2nd - Brian Elliott (PHI) - .946 SV% (36 Saves/37 Shots)
3rd - David Rittich (CGY) - .955 SV% (21 Saves/22 Shots)
PHI - 10/16 @ McD + Real Deal (5-1-0)
CGY - 10/7 vs. DET (3-3-0)