FFR2 Gm 41: PHI 4, VGK 5 - Drowning
Maybe the sky is falling after all.
I don't even know what to say after this game. I honestly don't want to say anything. I guess the only thing you can say is that the Philadelphia Flyers lose for the third time in their last four games in one of the most heartbreaking game forty-ones in NHL history. They were defeated by the Vegas Golden Knights, the first real hockey team they've played on this road trip, by a final score of 5-4.
There are two ways to look at this game. One is that the Flyers should have been blown out in this game, and maybe you still think that they were despite the final score. After all, the Flyers gave up four first period goals for the second straight game and were trailing by three with less than half of the game remaining. Carter Hart couldn't bail the team out as the defense broke down on multiple occasions in the first 30 minutes, and though they fought valiantly, much of the comeback was driven by score effects, and after all, it was still a comeback that fell short.
But I'm in the other group - the group that is absolutely crushed after this defeat. While the Flyers gave up plenty of quality chances, they also created a ton themselves. 5-4 isn't a traditional score for a goalie duel, but both Carter Hart and Marc-Andre Fleury made some downright spectacular saves, especially in the 3rd period, when both sides were still firing on all cylinders in the offensive zone. It was a heck of a showdown between the Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone and Giroux-Couturier-Voracek lines; both produced two goals at even strength (Couturier also potted an additional goal on the power play) and were dominant on almost every shift.
Regardless of where you stand, it's hard not to be disappointed with the fact the Flyers came out of Vegas pointless. After all, Reilly Smith took a delay of game penalty with 2:46 left. Then, with Hart at the bench, Derek Engelland took a cross-checking penalty, giving the Flyers about 45 seconds of 6-on-3 time. And they couldn't take advantage of it. Fleury and the Vegas PK were great, but there's something to be said about the Flyers stars having the opportunity for a signature moment to kick off 2020 and not being able to seize the moment.
It's even harder to look back on with the game-winning goal being the one goal Hart would like back, a knuckle-puck from rookie Cody Glass from the slot midway through the second. Glass was taken 7th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, five spots ahead of Nolan Patrick. I know it's not Patrick's fault he's not on the ice - migraines are no joke - but man could the Flyers use a player like Glass (or peak Patrick) on their roster right now. I guess when I said there wasn't any dead weight on the Flyers roster, I wasn't expecting to see a fourth line of Andy Andreoff, Mikhail Vorobyev, and Chris Stewart practically have their lunch money stolen by noted school bullies Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and... Jon Merrill, ok how bad can one line be? On second though, don't answer that.
I don't know what the lesson to take from this game is. I usually try hard to find one, even if my main takeaways are negative. They aren't even that for this game; it's more disappointment than anything else. I want this team to be good so badly. And they seem so close to being that. And yet they're holding on to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth right now and are trending the wrong way. News flash, boys - if you can't win on the road, you probably aren't going to the playoffs, let alone going far in them.
It's especially tough when you juxtapose them with a fun, energetic, exciting team like the Golden Knights. I've followed Vegas closely since their first game twenty-seven months ago, and being a casual fan of them has brought me perhaps even more joy than being the die-heart Flyers fan I am. That isn't right. I don't want it to be that way (and make no mistake, there isn't a shred of me that's any less disappointed about this loss because it came against Vegas).
In case you didn't see, the Flyers put up a new hype video on Twitter Thursday afternoon, unveiling their new hashtag: #NoworNever. The video itself was pretty well put together (the background music was nothing short of epic), and the slogan itself isn't bad either: on one condition. The Flyers HAVE to pick now. Pick it for themselves, pick it for their fans, heck, pick it for me, for all I care - whatever it takes, just embrace it. Don't hold anything back. Be the best that you can be. I've seen flashes of not just success, but enjoyment from this team, from the players themselves to be in the stands or (usually) on the couch. But it's all for naught if they pick never.
All I want is for this team to make me happy. Deep down, whether you're just a casual fan or have been following this team since the beginning, that's what you want, too. The Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal, of course, but that's not the only thing that can make this season worth the pain that nights like this bring. Success, however you define it, will make a fun Flyers season attainable. For me, that's doing something I haven't seen them do since I decided to start following them in spring 2014: win a playoff series. To use a term Vegas is familiar with, it's house money from there on out. But there's a long way to go before we have to worry about that.
This game marked the halfway mark of the season. The Flyers are on pace for 98 points, the same number they finished the 2017-18 season with. That year, it was good enough for 3rd in the Metro; that probably won't get them that high this year, but it is still eighth highest in the East. But it won't do the Flyers or us any good to spend the next three months scoreboard watching nonstop. If the Flyers can just be at their best on a consistent basis the final half of the season, it doesn't matter what the rest of the East does - the Flyers WILL be a playoff team.
Most of this core have always been second half players - they know how to handle themselves in a stretch run. They know what works and what doesn't. Alain Vigneault and the rest of the coaching staff knows as well. We have to put our trust in both, that they will do their job, that they will achieve and surpass their goals. They won't always be perfect, but no one else will be, either. They don't have to be anything except the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers. That alone is good enough to make now worth remembering, and prevent never from becoming anything more than motivation to avoid the pitfalls that haunt their past.
*Throws hands in the air* How do you not score on a 6-ON-3 POWER PLAY?
Believe it or not, the Flyers power play (13th) is actually ranked higher than their penalty kill (14th) right now. That has more to do with the PK being in as much a slump as the rest of the team right now. But the PP has been better, because who could've called that putting Claude Giroux on the left would've fixed things? (Hint: that would be me, along with about 95% of Flyers Twitter)
Also, I'm a huge proponent of getting the puck to the bumper - the player standing in the slot in the middle of the PP formation. Right now, it's Sean Couturier, and sure enough G found him for a one-timer that became the Flyers fourth goal.
If you're wondering why of all the negative words out there, I chose drowning for the title - I love Vegas' goal song (Vegas Lights by Panic! at the Disco), and one of the lines in it is "We're swimming with the sharks until we drown." I promise, no swimmers were harmed in the making of this hockey game.
The Los Angeles Kings' Kurtis MacDermid will have a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety for an illegal check to the head of Ivan Provorov on Tuesday. The hit went unpenalized, with MacDermid's only punishment being falling into the Flyers bench and then being literally thrown out of it by Shayne Gostisbehere.
Another pivotal missed moment came in the 1st, when Scott Laughton, with the Flyers trailing 3-1, was awarded a penalty shot. Unfortunately, Fleury stayed with his backhand-forehand move. Laughton is now 0-3 in penalty shot attempts in his career, though in fairness, he's had to face Fleury, Tukka Rask, and Ben Bishop - not exactly the easiest netminders to beat.
Somehow, tonight was Sean Couturier's first career three-point regular season game (though he's had two in the playoffs, one against Fleury).
Speaking of Coots, he and Claude Giroux are among the six Flyers to score ten or more goals this season. That puts the Flyers in a six-way tie for second in the NHL, one behind the Colorado Avalanche. Konecny, Lindblom, van Riemsdyk, and Hayes are the others.
On a much happier note, congratulations to Travis Konecny on being named as the Flyers representative for the 2020 All Star Game in St. Louis! It will be a thrill to watch TK compete against the league's best, especially if he's mic'd up.
Also on Konecny - he scored a beautiful goal late in the 1st period tonight, his first in eight games since returning from his concussion.
The NHL is also holding a last-man in vote, with each division adding one more player to their roster before the ASG. Each team gets a nominee - the Flyers is Claude Giroux (who's currently riding a 5-game point steak), so make sure to vote for G up to 10 times a day in the NHL app or at NHL.com/vote
With the Flyers loss tonight, the only team left undefeated at T-Mobile Arena is... the lowly Detroit Red Wings. Go figure. And props to the Vegas fanbase - that building was electric all night long, and they have an incredible hockey culture there already. Would love to see a game there someday.
1st - Max Pacioretty (VGK) - 2 Goals
2nd - Jon Merrill (VGK) - Goal (as a Forward?), his first since Feb. 3
3rd - Brayden McNabb (VGK) - Huge on the 6-on-3 PK, 25:07 TOI
PHI - 1/4 @ ARI (23-16-4, W2) - I'm calling a Flyers victory in this game
VGK - 1/4 vs. STL (26-10-6, L2)