FFR2 Gm 38: PHI 1, SJ 6 - First Is the Worst
The Philadelphia Flyers 2019 post-Christmas road trip starts about as well as the ones before it, with a 6-1 thumping at the hands of the bottom-feeding San Jose Sharks. No, seriously.
Everyone seems to have written off the Sharks this season, and it appears they've done so with good reason. The Sharks lost a lot up front from last season and its come back to bite them. They entered Saturday dead last in the Western Conference, losers of four straight. Peter DeBoer was given the ax behind the bench just a few weeks ago. Their CapFriendly page is ugly to look at. Did I mention they don't have their first round pick this year?
But then a game like tonight happens, and all of that goes away. The Sharks looked like the juggernaut of the first nine seasons of the decade (sans 2014-15). Their passes were crisp, they generated a ton of scoring chances, and were clearly the better team. Martin Jones turned the clock back to 2016 with a vintage performance, allowing just one goal on 2.66 expected goals (per Natural Stat Trick). Even their youth showed up, with Mario Ferraro and Joel Kellman scoring San Jose's first two goals - the first career NHL goal for both. And Timo Meier, one of the more underrated forwards in the NHL, came through big time with his first hat trick. That was more than enough for the Sharks tonight, as it should have been.
What's that, you say? An underperforming goalie stands on his head, TWO rookies score their first career goals, and a loss to a bottom of the standings team playing in the second half of a back-to-back on a post-Christmas California road trip against the Flyers? I, for one, am SHOCKED that-oh who am I kidding, they do this every year. Ok, last year they got the California road trip out of the way in November. But everything else holds true!
Here's the thing. I want to forgive the Flyers for this bad performance; in fact, I probably will. As I mentioned in the New York game, this team is finally starting to return to "fun" status, a term that has been used sporadically at best, infrequently at worst, to describe Flyers hockey for most of this decade. One loss doesn't change that, and if the Flyers bounce back against a Ducks team also struggling this season, then we can probably sweep this game under the rug for good.
But even if that doesn't happen, it still doesn't answer the one question that has surrounded the Flyers for the last several years, at least for me. And I get the impression from social media that a lot of the Flyers fanbase holds this, too.
Why does it always feel like the sky is falling? I know it's only one loss, but it's hard to feel good about it. If the Flyers can't stop the Sharks, who everyone seems to think are bad, including their head coach, who had a private meeting with them before today's game, then who can they beat? How badly is this six-game road trip going to pan out? Will they even be able to recover from the fallout that seems sure to commence?
Fearing all of this after Monday's loss would've been crazy. But suddenly, the Flyers have fallen all the way to fifth in the Metro and are just five points ahead of the Rangers and Lightning for the last playoff spot, and the latter has two games in hand (though they'd jump Florida for a divisional spot before catching the Flyers). So much about this season feels worlds better than what we've experienced in years past. And then you look at the standings, and suddenly all of that good seems to be on the cusp of falling apart.
The Flyers final two contests of 2019 will tell a lot. Playing on the second half of a back-to-back is never easy, but at least the Flyers won't have to travel far to get to Anaheim. From there, it's on LA. Both teams are tied for last in the Western Conference with 36 points, 11 fewer than the Flyers. Everyone has a letdown game from time to time. Good teams don't let them spiral. The back half of this road trip is brutal with games Vegas, Arizona, and Carolina, followed immediately by a home game against Washington. The Flyers need to get points now while they are at their easiest, because holding off the East is a lot harder when it's your door everyone is knocking at for a spot in the coveted playoff picture.
Maybe the sky isn't in free fall, but it's a little less sturdy than it was on the other side of Christmas. It's up to the Flyers to right the ship themselves, because no one else is going to do it for them. Make up for this game while it's easiest to do so. Please don't let us down again, Flyers.
Prior to tonight's game, Andy Andreoff was placed on waivers - he will likely be returned to the Phantoms tomorrow afternoon. Michael Raffl is now eligible to return from LTIR, and Scott Laughton appears ready to go as well. If both are healthy, Mikhail Vorobyev is also likely to head back to Lehigh Valley.
Justin Braun received some nice recognition at the first TV timeout from the home crowd. Braun played 607 games for the Sharks over the course of nine seasons, as well as another 84 in the playoffs.
A scary moment early in the first when Ivan Provorov launched a one-timer that hit Sharks forward Melker Karlsson in the head. Karlsson had to be helped off the ice by his teammates, and didn't return to the game. Hopefully he's ok.
The Sharks always seem to play the Flyers well, especially at SAP Center. San Jose has won four straight overall against the Flyers and twelve of the last fourteen games at the Shark Tank dating back to 1999.
In addition to all the first career goals, Joe Thornton recorded career assist number 1,079 on Marleau's late goal, tying him with Adam Oates for the seventh most of all-time.
The Flyers counter to that illustrious milestone was JVR playing in his 300th game as a Flyer. Not quite as important, but not bad, either.
Ivan Provorov on the power-play has been weird this season. On one hand, analytics say that he hasn't been very effective at creating chances on the man advantage, much like in previous seasons. But he's got six goals on the power play this year, the most of any defenseman in the NHL. The Flyers PP needs some help, that much is for sure. But despite his gaudy numbers, is Provorov the answer, or just a part of the problem?
I've been avoiding this for a while, but now that we're 38 games in, it's time to talk about Carter Hart's home-away splits. Hart has an impressive .947 save percentage, but an awful .845% on the road. He was actually slightly better away from Philly last year (.912% at home, .928% on the road in 18-19), so it's fair to say this may just be a fluke. But regardless, the Flyers need Hart to figure that out. He was far from the reason they lost Saturday, however.
At least the Flyers kept the Sharks ice-cold power-play off the board - San Jose is now just 2 for their last 46 on the man advantage. On the other hand, the Flyers power play has now tallied in four consecutive games.
1st - Timo Meier (SJ) - Hat-Trick
2nd - Mario Ferraro (SJ) - 1st NHL Goal
3rd - Barclay Goodrow (SJ) - 3 Assists
PHI: 12/29 @ ANA (16-18-4, W1)
SJ: 12/31 @ DET (9-27-3, L5)