Flyers
Despite a strong start, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals outlasted the Flyers to even up the season series at one win apiece. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It was nice to hear cheers again, but I can’t say the same for the jeers. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 3-1, to the Washington Capitals, in front of 3,023 fans at the Wells Fargo Center. While the world is making progress, it seems like the Flyers are taking a step back, as they dropped consecutive games in regulation for the first time in 2021.

For the first time in 362 days, fans returned to the Wells Fargo Center to watch a Flyers game. Just reading that sentence probably put a smile on your face. As the Flyers learned the hard way Tuesday in Pittsburgh, fans can provide the extra boost that makes the difference between victory and defeat. And no one can create that difference quite like Philly fans. It’s been a long year for all of us, and while the tough times aren’t over yet, this is just another wonderful sign of progress towards the return of the things we love.

Speaking of things we love, the Flyers certainly had an extra boost to begin this game. Philadelphia started the game by outshooting Washington 10-1, drawing a penalty, and even getting on the scoresheet. Sean Couturier pitched the puck around Dmitry Orlov to send Joel Farabee and James van Riemsdyk on a 2-on-1. Farabee, who entered the night the most recent Flyer to score in a home game with fans, picked up where he left off, beating Samsonov five-hole for the opening strike. The roar of the crowd was the aural equivalent to this iconic scene, as the Wells Fargo Center came to life for the first time in far too long.

Fun fact: this is actually the second time I’ve referenced Notre Dame football in an FFR.

However, the tables turned quickly in the second. It’s no secret that the Flyers have a brutal March schedule due to last month’s COVID outbreak, and this game might be the peak of it. Playing for the sixth time in nine days (Washington played just four times in the same span), the Flyers started to stutter. The breakout and turnover issues that plagued the team early in the season started to resurface, and Carter Hart began facing an onslaught.

Hart held tall through most of it, giving the Flyers a chance to right the ship. They nearly did, with Konecny just missing on a deflection coming off a 3-on-1 rush. Travis Sanheim hit the crossbar seconds later. Yet the lead stayed 1-0 until the last five minutes of the frame, when Washington would deliver a devastating gut punch.

It actually wasn’t Alex Ovechkin’s goal that stings the mot, although it certainly didn’t help. Ovi scored two goals in the teams’ first meeting and was buzzing all night. His backdoor goal off a beautiful T.J. Oshie pass after Travis Sanheim fell down (he may have been tripped accidentally by NAK) felt inevitable. What didn’t was his countryman Dmitry Orlov one-timing another cross-ice feed, this one from John Carlson, with just 15.8 seconds separating the Flyers from intermission. A total dagger to Hart and the heart, which would stand up as the game-winner.

Before the Flyers could even gather themselves to deliver their best pushback, the Capitals took the initiative and doubled the lead. A nightmare defensive breakdown stemmed from a big hit by Chara, which caused JVR to try to retaliate. Play carried on, leaving Nick Jensen (JVR’s man) with about the distance of the Grand Canyon separating him from the nearest defender. Give anyone, even a guy who hadn’t scored in his 108 games as a Capital, this much space, and they’re going to make you pay. 3-1 Caps.

Flyers

Whatever pushback the Flyers could muster seemed like no match for Ilya Samsonov. Making his first career start against the Flyers (and just his second start since returning from the COVID list), the Russian net-minder was fantastic, stopping 36 of 37. Samsonov out-dueled Carter Hart in a meeting of two of the NHL’s top young goaltenders, dealing the Flyers another tough loss.

What a difference a week can make, especially in this shortened season. Seven days ago the Flyers pulled off back-to-back shutouts and seemed to have turned a corner. That feeling dissipated slightly after losing the first of three straight to the Penguins but returned in full force on Thursday’s epic comeback win. It really seemed the Flyers were finally healthy, and unsurprisingly playing their best hockey of the season. One of the NHL’s worst possession teams through a month and a half was turning into a play-driving juggernaut. The process was improving, and there was reason to think their record would follow suit.

So far, not exactly. While the Flyers certainly haven’t played terribly in their last two games (they registered 35+ shots on goal tonight for the sixth time in seven contests), it also feels like they’re not at top gear, either. The three-game stretch in Pittsburgh (especially the rubber match) and tonight’s game were a chance for the Flyers to create a cushion in the standings and work towards solidifying a playoff spot. Instead, they’ve lost their spot (hopefully not for long). And they’ve failed to build off Thursday’s potential turning point win, which was a problem that plagued them throughout the 2018-19 season. I really don’t want to go through that nightmare again.

Two straight losses don’t mean the sky is falling. But there is less time than ever to get things back on track. The Flyers aren’t far off from doing so, but with the Islanders, Capitals, Penguins, and Bruins currently standing in their way of a playoff spot, taking that next step won’t be easy. It feels like the emerging contender narrative that defined the team a year ago is starting to be forgotten about. The Flyers have to do whatever it takes to bring it back.

Check out the second edition of Vendetta’s monthly NHL power rankings! Myself, Emma Brown, and Gavin Daly give our thoughts on every NHL team as we near the season’s halfway point.

Lindies

I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a while: Tuesday’s game against the Sabres is officially a must-win. Buffalo has lost seven straight (six straight in regulation), scoring just 11 goals. The Flyers absolutely steamrolled them last weekend in consecutive 3-0 wins. With consecutive games against the Caps to follow, the Flyers need to snag the low-hanging fruit. The Sabres have already dominated one game in Philly this year; the Flyers can’t afford a relapse right now.

Michael Raffl did suffer an injury yesterday, explaining his low ice-time. Raffl missed tonight’s contest and is day-to-day with a hand injury. Connor Bunnaman returned in his place.

Phil Myers returned from his upper-body injury tonight, and Erik Gustafsson played after being healthy scratched the last four games. I was surprised Prosser jumped him in the rotation yesterday, since I thought Gustafsson had been playing well before heading to the press box. Tonight, his pair with Justin Braun was the only Flyers’ one to finish with a 50-plus% of 5-on-5 Expected Goals, and Gustafsson was the only defender who was on the ice for more Flyers shot attempts than Washington tries.

Alex Ovechkin has now scored the second-most goals on the road in NHL history.

Nick Jensen’s goal was his first since October 11, 2018, when he scored two goals for Detroit against Toronto. It’s not surprising he snapped his drought against the Flyers, just that it didn’t happen sooner.

This was the Flyers’ first loss on the second half of a back-to-back; they’d won their first three games in these scenarios. They still have seven left (including two in March), so hopefully tonight’s result becomes an anomaly in hindsight.

Philadelphia is just 8-4-2 when scoring the first goal of the game; that’s a stat that has to improve, one-hundred percent.

Speaking of things that need to improve: Philadelphia’s power-play. I didn’t think they were terrible tonight, but if they score on that early first-period look or on their man advantage early in the second, it’s likely they take over this game. At least the team knows it needs to be better.

On the other hand, at least the PK was a perfect 1/1. Baby steps there for the league’s 28th ranked unit. Although maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise; the Caps power-play is a gaudy 44.8% at home, but is just 3/32 (9.4%) on the road. Hopefully, it keeps getting lower as Washington’s next two road games (Thursday and Saturday) are in Philly.

The “goalie interference” penalty Travis Konecny received for literally just skating in front of Ilya Samsonov late in the first has to be one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen. I bit my tongue through some sketchy calls (or lack thereof) in the Pittsburgh series, but come on. This is how you know the referee messed up.

With eleven goals each, Auston Matthews, Logan Couture, Tyler Toffoli, and Joel Farabee lead the NHL in 5-on-5 goals. Only one of Farabee’s 19 career goals has come on the man advantage.

Nolan Patrick had another solid game tonight in my eyes. In the first, Patrick drew an early penalty driving the net (with the puck nearly going in off his skate in the process) after coming inches away from scoring on a jam play. Then he pressured John Carlson into a hasty clear that turned into a puck-over-the-glass penalty early in the 2nd. The advanced stats back it up; Patrick’s line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek was the only Flyers line with a positive Corsi and Expected Goals% at 5-on-5. Yes, he hasn’t scored in 15 straight games, but I swear, he’s getting closer.

This is the first time the Flyers have lost consecutive regular-season games in regulation since December 31-January 4, 2020 (@ LA, VGK, and ARI). It was a great run while it lasted; now let’s start a longer one.

The Flyers may have lost this game, but the biggest win of all tonight belongs to the fans who got to salute Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick. When both scored on opening night, Alain Vigneault said the only disappointing thing was there weren’t any fans there to cheer them on. Thankfully that’s changed. Gotta love these two kids.

3 Stars

3rd: T.J. Oshie – 2 Assists (11, 12)

2nd: Joel Farabee – Goal (11), 4 Shots

1st: Dmitry Orlov – Goal (2), 3 Hits

Next

WSH – 2/9 vs. NJ (7-11-2, L5)

PHI – 2/9 vs. BUF (6-14-3, L6)

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick