FFR2 Gm 21: PHI 2, FLA 5 - Frosty to the Core
What can you do when your biggest stars shine the smallest?
The Philadelphia Flyers are learning the answer to this question the hard way, falling 5-2 to the Florida Panthers Tuesday night in Sunrise. It's the fourth straight loss for the Flyers (0-2-2), tying a season-long losing streak that happened exactly a month ago.
However, there were a lot more positives to take out of that October slump than this one. Last losing streak, the Flyers were still driving play, winning the shot attempt battle in three of their four defeats. A lack of finish combined with a down spell from Carter Hart plagued the Flyers for a week. The numbers said they were due for a lift, and sure enough, they followed that skid by winning three straight.
Carter Hart wasn't at his best tonight, allowing four goals on eighteen shots before being pulled for the third time in just thirteenth start. Granted, tonight's pull seemed to be more of a wake-up call to the team as a whole rather than an indictment on Hart's play. There were always going to be growing pains for Hart, and while it's fair to expect more than a .895 save percentage, Hart is far from the reason for this slide. And Brian Elliott's been as solid of an understudy as you could hope.
The young players sure aren't it, either. Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom are the Flyers leading scorers and have looked dominant for most of the season. Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim (the Flyers first goal scorer Tuesday) have both had their down moments (Myers wasn't great on the ice tonight and took a dumb high-sticking double minor), but overall have been key cogs to the Flyers defense. Hart has had some incredible nights. Ivan Provorov has darn near returned to form. And Morgan Frost came out and put together a solid NHL debut, topped off by a beautiful deke and backhander top shelf for his first career NHL goal late in the 2nd.
So, the problem isn't the goalies. It isn't the kids. It doesn't seem to be the coaches - the players have spoken very highly of them. Not everything is perfect on that front, but I'll talk about that in just a moment. Even the usual punching bag, the penalty kill, isn't the issue. Which leaves us with one glaring elephant in the room to point the finger at. The core.
The big guns. The highest paid players. The men counted on to lead the Flyers to glory have failed to make an impact. For some, this is a recent development. Others have been dealing with underachieving the whole season. We're 21 games in - this is no longer a slow start. It's officially a concerning slump.
Jake Voracek has looked horrible most nights. He's been a non-factor in the offensive zone, the area where he's supposed to earn his $8.25 million salary in. His frustrating turnovers and occasional ghastly turnovers are tolerable when he's scoring in bunches. But the production hasn't been there. Same to be said for James van Riemsdyk, who scored 3 goals in a 2-game span and has little else to show for the bevy of shots and scoring chances he has created. Kevin Hayes is the only one of the Flyers $22 million third line who does more than score - he's great in the corners and kills penalties. But he just snapped an 10-game scoreless streak Tuesday, which he followed up with an inexcusable turnover that led right to the empty-netter.
Claude Giroux also hasn't been his usual self, but there are reasons for this. One, Giroux has had to play a lot of center with Nolan Patrick and Scott Laughton on the shelf, even though he's much more effective on the wing. With Frost's promotion and Laughton's return approaching, G should be back to left wing for good. The other issue is he's spent most of the year on the right boards on PP1, rather than on his normal left side. This switching sides with Voracek neutralizes G's deadly one-timer, and he hasn't been able to create much with the easier passing lanes down low and ability to settle the puck that should come with playing on his strong side. With the Flyers PP falling fast, Michel Therrien needs to flip G and Voracek to the spots where they've always dominated on the power play ASAP.
Shayne Gostisbehere is slowly starting to look more like his dynamic self, but the production just hasn't been there so far, especially on the power play, where's been constantly shuffled between units. Free from the anchor of Robert Hagg, the Ghost Bear may be the closest Flyer (other than probably G) to breaking out. Sean Couturier continues to be amazing defensively and make his traditional under the radar mark. But a little more offensive would be nice; after consecutive 76-point season, Coots is on pace for just 62 points this year.
All of these players need to improve if the Flyers are going to turn things around. They need to get their confidence back, begin making the highlight reel or even just smart, simple plays we know they are capable of. Enough with all of the dump and chase hockey the Flyers have been playing this season. It worked early, but now the Flyers are struggling mightily offensively, scoring two goals or fewer in regulation in 6 of their last 7 games. It's time for these superstars to let loose and begin to shine. If AV needs to tell them that, or make a tweak in his system, now is the time to do it. But the Flyers need to start playing with the puck more often and focus on getting to to the high-danger areas. They're not doing either enough right now.
It will be interesting to see where the Flyers go if these players do not pick up their play in the next few weeks. This is a huge year for the Flyers, and Chuck Fletcher has already shown with call-ups that he has an itchy trigger finger. The Flyers front office and AV will not let this season go down without a fight. Whether these players will, or if all of them will even get the chance to do the same, remains to be seen.
Morgan Frost is the first Flyer to score in their NHL debut since Jason "3 points in 7 2014 playoff games" Akeson on April 27, 2013.
Travis Sanheim has scored thirteen NHL goals, but somehow five of them (38.5%) have come against the two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Like this sport makes any sense.
After replacing Hart at the halfway mark of regulation, Brian Elliott was solid if not spectacular down the stretch, stopping all seven shots he faced.
The Flyers late push was encouraging to watch, even if it was mostly just a result of score effects with the Flyers down two late. They nearly made it a one-goal game midway through the 3rd, when Tyler Pitlick beat Bobrovsky with a shot but found iron instead of twine.
Aleksander Barkov, former "most underrated player in the NHL" was a force Tuesday, scoring a goal and an assist. After a rough start (0 goals in his first dozen games), Barkov now has seven tallies in his last nine contests.
The Flyers perfect PK performance is impressive in its own right, but especially stellar considering Florida is 4th in the NHL on the power play and had scored a PPG in 9 straight games entering Tuesday.
1st - A. Barkov (FLA) - 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 53.13 CF%, 65.89 xGF%
2nd - B. Connolly (FLA) - 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 54.90 xGF%, +1.85% CF Rel
3rd - M. Frost (PHI) - 1st NHL Goal, 58.62 CF%, 78.78 xGF%
PHI - 11/21 @ CAR (12-7-1, W3)
FLA - 11/21 vs. ANA (10-10-2, L1)
All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 and from Naturalstattrick.com
Photo from Eliot J. Schlechter (Getty Images)