FFR2 Gm 31: PHI 1, COL 3 - Down 2 Wings and a Prayer
Pavel Francouz: randomly generated name from the 2026 NHL draft in a video game franchise, or random backup goalie that just dominated the Flyers? Trick question: it's probably both!
The Philadelphia Flyers lose, predictably so, for the second time in their last three games, 3-1 to the first 20-win team in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche.
This was going to be a tough game for the Flyers to win regardless of what roster they iced. The Avs are one of the deadliest teams in the NHL this year and nearly impossible to contain. Playing in Denver not only means the Flyers don't get last line change, giving a strategic to edge to the Avalanche; it means higher elevation, which can drain players as the game goes on.
But add on the fact that the Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny, both tied for the team lead in goals with eleven, were out, as was defenseman Phil Myers (see below for specifics) made this daunting challenge close to impossible. Yes, the Avs didn't have rookie sensation Cale Makar, another important blueliner in Erik Johnson, or their starting goalie Philip Grubauer dressed for this game. But that shouldn't diminish how difficult the Flyers situation is with five players who would be in their ideal lineup on the shelf.
As a result, Chris Stewart returned to the lineup for the first time since November 16, and David Kase was called up from the Phantoms. Kase, the younger brother of Ducks forward Ondrej Kase, was a 5th round pick of the Flyers in 2015 and had 6 points in 21 AHL games this season (he had 23 in 40 AHL games last year). He's a 5'11'' left winger that plays bigger than his size and is good at distributing the puck. His NHL debut was solid, as Kase avoided any big mistakes while creating a couple chances, notably setting up Braun for a one-timer in the slot.
But the Flyers as a whole got off to a terrible start in this game. The Flyers haven't generally played well in first periods all season, but this game was exceptionally bad. Colorado lead the expected goals battle 1.14-0.15 and had a 5-on-5 Corsi of nearly 72%. Colorado generated 5 high-danger chances in the 1st period alone; the Flyers had seven the ENTIRE game at 5-on-5. And of course, Matt Calvert scored on a rebound off the post to give the Avs a lead they wouldn't lose.
The Flyers made an excellent push in the second period, holding Colorado shotless in the first eight minutes and outshooting the Avs 17-5 in the frame. Suddenly, their forecheck was lively, their passes were crisp, and their cycles were lengthy and created dangerous chances. Once again, the Flyers found a way to flip their quality of play on its head. Most nights, that's been good enough to win. But Pavel Francouz, starting in place of the injured Grubauer, was outstanding. He wasn't very technically sound by my eyes, but at the end of the day, Francouz made at least a half dozen great saves and kept the Avs not only in the game, but in the lead.
Francouz's counterpart in the other crease wasn't bad, either. After some great pressure from the Flyers, the Avs' most deadly line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri, and Mikko Rantanen created an odd-man rush. Landeskog riffled a perfect cross-ice pass to Rantanen, putting the puck right in his wheelhouse for a one-timer that seemed destined for the top corner.
UNTIL CARTER HART DOVE ACROSS AND OH MY GOSH WHAT A SAVE!!!!!
The Flyers 21-year old franchise goalie (man does that feel good to say) with a save of the year candidate (his second one of the season) to keep the game 1-0. If you watch the replay, you can tell Hart knows where the puck's going, and somehow gets enough of a push from his right to his left to reach out and rob Rantanen. It's simply amazing, and man is it nice to have a goalie like that on OUR side for once.
Rantanen would get the last laugh, scoring on a cross-crease just a few minutes later and would score again on another great feed from below the goal-line early in the 3rd. The Flyers play dipped from domination to decent in the final stanza, and only avoided a shutout because of a nifty backhander from Claude Giroux when the game was basically out of reach.
The Flyers played decently when you consider all the forces acting against them in this game, and on a different night where Pavel Francouz actually looks like a backup, maybe the Flyers win this game. It's an understandable loss, and the Flyers shouldn't leave Denver with their heads down.
But it just so frustrating that this team ended Saturday fifth in the NHL and on fire, and despite doing nothing wrong, have dropped five spots in the NHL standings and are suddenly faced with a plague of injuries. After Saturday's game, they were one point back of the Islanders for 2nd in the Metro. Now, they've fallen into a wild card spot.
For all the good that has come so far this year, the same "when is this gonna fall apart" feeling that has plagued every good stretch of Flyers play over the last five or so seasons. Experience has trained us, especially younger fans like myself, to expect the world to come crashing down. The only thing worse than those collapses is the dreadful anticipation of them. I'm hopeful this loss doesn't turn into a skid, despite a difficult road back-to-back in Minnesota and Winnipeg on the docket. But with how close practically the entire conference is to the Flyers in the standings, I hate to say it, but I still need to see a little bit more from this team before I can fully believe in them.
As promised, here's a recap of all of the Flyers injured players:
Nolan Patrick: migraine disorder, remains week-to-week, traveled with the team on the road trip
Travis Konecny: concussion, out indefinitely, did not make the road trip
Oskar Lindblom: upper-body injury, missed practice Monday (maintenance day), no timetable released
Phil Myers: back spasms, left Saturday's game and Monday's practice early, could be back as early as next game on Saturday
Michael Raffl: out for about 3 more weeks with a broken finger
I thought Mikhail Vorobyev looked flat in his first game after being called up on Saturday, but his oft-criticized lack of effort was thankfully missing on Wednesday. Misha played fairly well, making some smart reads with the puck and some good defensive plays without it. Maybe it's just something about Colorado; after all, that's where Vorobyev scored his 1st NHL goal last year.
On the other hand, the Laughton-Hayes-Farabee line that has been great lately had to act as the 2nd line with the Flyers injuries and didn't fair well. They were on the ice for all three goals against and the line as a whole had a 28.64% Expected Goals For. Robert Hagg also looked pretty bad, failing to move the puck effectively, and he was caught napping on the first two Avalanche goals.
Philly fans always travel well, but there were probably thousands of Flyers fans at Pepsi Center Wednesday night. For all the talk of decreasing attendance at the Wells Fargo Center, this team still has a great fanbase, and if they continue to win, that problem will begin to disappear.
Though the result Wednesday wasn't optimal, it's important to remember the Flyers are still a team on the rise. They had eleven fewer points at this time last year; that's a huge increase for just a year's difference.
1st - Mikko Rantanen (COL) - 2 Goals
2nd - Pavel Francouz (COL) - .970 SV% (32/33), 1 GA on 1.6 xGA
3rd - Nathan MacKinnon (COL) - Assist
PHI - 12/14 @ MIN (14-12-5, OTL1)
COL - 12/13 vs. NJ (9-16-5, L2)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com