FFR2 Gm 32: PHI 1, MIN 4 - Everybody Hurts
Is this really how it all falls apart?
With four forwards out of the lineup due to injuries seemingly ranging from head to toe (but that's an exaggeration - after all, they are all upper-body injuries), and after losing two more players in the second period, the Philadelphia Flyers unsurprisingly lose, 4-1, to the red-hot Minnesota Wild.
Professional sports are supposed to be a "no excuses" environment. When somebody gets hurt, there is little time to wallow in pity for them (unless it's something extremely serious, like Oskar Lindblom's case) - just a call for the next man up.
Unfortunately, there are only so many men you can bring up before the on-ice product takes a serious hit. Playing for their teammate Oskar Lindblom, the Flyers appeared to use their newest challenge as motivation. Just 94 seconds in, Morgan Frost made a slick pass to James van Riemsdyk, who finished off a 2-on-1 that gave the Flyers a rare first period lead.
And then the rest of the game happened. There are so many things that went wrong during this game, I don't even know where to begin. The Wild already had the lead before we even got to a commercial break, as the Flyers net-front defense was horrible early and didn't get much better throughout the night. Bang-bang goals past a diving Hart from Zach Parise and Eric Staal gave the Wild a lead they would never lose.
How could they when the Flyers literally could not generate any offense? You didn't advanced analytics to realize that was the Flyers worst offensive performance of the year by a pretty wide margin. The Flyers generated 0.49 (including just 0.02 xGF in the entire second period) expected goals for in all situations on Saturday. Their next lowest total is 1.36 xG, nearly three times higher. They had just eight shots on goal through 40 minutes, and didn't have one through thirteen minutes in the second period. Part of that is Minnesota's excellent defense, and Alex Stalock was great between the pipes. But even for a team short two forwards (three at one point), they could have, maybe even should have, been better.
In a vacuum, tonight's loss isn't the end of the world. But this goes back to what I wrote at the end of the Colorado game. There's always this ominous feeling surrounding the Flyers that things are one small misstep from falling apart, even when the team is doing great. Now they've lost two straight, have SIX forwards injured, and are set to face a tough opponent in Winnipeg on the road in less than 24 hours.
They're probably going to lose on Sunday. They were fifth in the NHL overall one week ago; now, due to circumstances both in and out of their control, they've fallen all the way back to thirteenth. The Flyers are currently the eight seed in the East, just three points clear of the Rangers, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens. Suddenly, the Flyers have gone from rising juggernaut to stunned and slumping, and it's going to take a lot for them to turn things around.
This isn't the end of their season. Far from it, actually. Travis Konecny is skating and if I had to bet, he'll be back next week. Nolan Patrick is skating, on the road trip, and appears to be making some progress. Michael Raffl's broken finger will eventually heal. Maybe Laughton and Pitlick (the two injured Flyers) will be just fine. The Flyers can turn this adversity into a rallying point and make an exciting run towards and maybe even deep into the playoffs.
But that's just not the Philadelphia way, is it? Philly sports are full of close-but-no-cigar and embarrassing moments, and this Flyers season suddenly has the chance to be both. It's so sudden, and so frustrating, too, because it felt like the team was doing everything right and finally turning a corner from the mediocrity of the Hextall regime, only for the Hockey Gods to laugh and banish us back to the middle of the pack, right back where we started this season.
The good news is that if there's a time for the injuries to mount up, this might just be it. After tomorrow's game, the Flyers play their next seven games against six non-playoff teams (Buffalo is the only outlier). Five of those games will be against opposition currently seven or more points out of a playoff spot. This may be an ugly week, and we've all seen one-off bad games turn into bad months too many times before.
But we owe it to this team, no matter who's dressing on any given night, to give them a shot. Let them battle. Let them fight. Let them show us they won't let their season be defined by pain, but instead by dishing it right back out and their opposition. They may have taken a tough hit, but there's still reason to believe that they will be flying at season's end.
I'm changing the name of "Game Notes" until further notice in honor of Oskar Lindblom. It's a fitting name for this part of my recaps, because Lindy has always been great at the little things and plays with great attention to detail, and those are the kind of things I try to capture in this section.
A brief shoutout to every NHL player, team (even you, Penguins), and person that put out support for Oskar Lindblom on social media. The Wild took it one step further with a message on their video board in the 1st period to wish Lindblom well. Very classy.
If you'd like to help out yourself, click this link to buy an #OskarStrong bracelet, with all profits being donated to the Ewings Sarcoma Foundation.
Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg did not play in their game Friday against Vegas due to "personal reasons," likely those of his good friend Oskar Lindblom. The two were teammates on Team Sweden at the 2019 World Championships.
As mentioned, Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton left the game in the 2nd period with undisclosed injuries. Pitlick took a penalty at the end of the 1st and then didn't come out for the 2nd, so we have no idea what's up with him. Laughton appeared to injure himself simply skating up ice, grimacing as he tried to turn into top gear and then just gliding off to the bench. It will be interesting to see what the Flyers lineup looks like tomorrow night.
Props to Joel Farabee for stepping up for Matt Niskanen after he took an ugly leg-on-leg collision with Marcus Foligno. He may gotten filled in, but I'm sure his teammates will appreciate his effort and guts it took to fight Foligno, who outweighs him by 45 pounds.
Lost in the shuffle of disappointment and fallen bodies upfront was a solid game by JVR. Not only did he score the only Flyers goal of the game, but he easily could've had a second if not for an incredible toe save by Alex Stalock. JVR is a guy who will need to step up while the Flyers are shorthanded up front, and he certainly did his part tonight.
This is the first time the Flyers have lost consecutive games in regulation since October 27th-October 29th (at the Islanders, 5-3, and Penguins, 7-1).
From 2011-12 to 2017-18, the Flyers power play ranked fourth in the entire NHL (20.4%). The two constants in that equation? Claude Giroux on the left boards and Jake Voracek on the right. Why you would switch them, especially as the power play continues to sputter (14.1% since November 1, 26th in the NHL), is mind-boggling.
After a poor start to the season (4-9-0 in October), the Wild have quietly turned things around. One reason for that - home-ice advantage. Minnesota played 20 of their first 30 games on the road, a tough task for any team. At home, they're a stellar 9-0-3 in their last 12 games.
One player who doesn't get enough respect in the NHL is Eric Staal. His career looked to be near the end in 2016 after a poor showing with the Rangers, whom acquired him at the trade deadline. He signed a 3-year deal that summer with Minnesota and never looked back. He's got 218 points in 278 games with the Wild, and is just one point shy of the reaching the century mark for his career.
Carter Hart was a bit shaken up after shrugging off a Kevin Fiala shot late in the 3rd, shaking his left shoulder after heading to the bench for an extra attacker. He won't play tomorrow regardless, with it being the second half of a back-to-back and all, but the Flyers can't afford another injury, especially to their starting goalie.
1st - Eric Staal (MIN) - 2 Goals
2nd - Ryan Suter (MIN) - Game-High 25:45 TOI
3rd - Kevin Fiala (MIN) - 1 Goal, 53.57% Corsi, 83.52% xGF
PHI - 12/15 @ WPG (19-11-2, L1)
MIN - 12/15 @ CHI (12-14-6, L2)
*Advanced stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise noted and are from Naturalstattrick.com
**Thumbnail Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images