Flyers
The Capitals are standing strong while the Flyers are still trying to figure out why everything seems to be going wrong. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
A mood.

One of these days the entire article is just going to be a Tweet like this. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 5-4, to the Washington Capitals, dropping consecutive games for the second time in eight days. Philly is a pitiful 1-4-0 in their last five games, and this loss should drop them to a sub-50% chance at the playoffs by most statistical models. Not great, folks.

The start of this game was a bit surprising, considering this is the third meeting between these teams in seven days. Claude Giroux nearly tipped in the opening goal in the first minute. Washington’s third line got Elliott on the seat of his pants on a net-mouth scramble, but couldn’t put the puck home. It didn’t feel like either side had a great feel for each other for about the first five minutes or so.

However, Washington quickly found their structure, while the Flyers continued to struggle. Turnovers, a major issue in Thursday’s defeat, reared their ugly head again. Brian Elliott stopped a relatively routine shot from Jakub Vrana but lost control of the rebound. As he went to cover, Daniel Sprong hustled to the loose puck and poked it off Elliott’s shoulder, ramping off his back and over the goal-line.

Second goal, same as the first; a little uglier and a whole lot worse. It started with Shayne Gostisbehere playing the puck into his own end from the neutral zone, resulting in a turnover. It wasn’t the first time that type of play happened to Philadelphia tonight. This time, it ended up in the back of the net, as Elliott couldn’t squeeze Nick Jensen’s point shot. Carl Hagelin backhanded the rebound through Elliott’s 5-hole, giving Washington a 2-0 edge.

The Flyers looked like they were getting back into the game early in the second. For once, it was Washington turning the puck over in their own slot, and James van Riemsdyk buried a fadeaway wrist shot. Joel Farabee nearly tied it, but an incredible outstretched save by Ilya Samsonov kept the game tied. And on the ensuing offensive zone face-off, the Flyers gave a goal right back in less than two minutes for the twelfth time in 2021. Nick Jensen blocked a shot, won the loose puck race at center, and got Brian Elliott of his angle. It was enough to give the Caps their two-goal lead back, and also give Elliott the boot from the game.

Elliott clearly didn’t have his A-game, but part of Alain Vigneault’s decision to make the switch was hope that it would spark his team. Mission accomplished. Just 2:42 after Jensen’s goal, Philly’s third line gave the Capitals more problems. Well, kind of the third line. Nolan Patrick took Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s place on that line mid-game, a decision that would pay major dividends. The Caps coughed another puck in the high-slot. The deceptive Jake Voracek sold pass but made the pass, and ripping a one-timer past Ilya Samsonov to break an eighteen-game pointless drought was Nolan Patrick himself.

Yet the Flyers couldn’t hang around long enough. Claude Giroux gave the Flyers a chance to tie the game by drawing a penalty on Nic Dowd, but Travis Sanheim took one of his own for a hold. After keeping in two Justin Braun clearing attempts, Alex Ovechkin snapped a sizzler past Carter Hart from his office, climbing closer to Phil Esposito for 6th all-time in goals with a deflating strike. The Flyers actually dominated the second period at 5-on-5 (68.29% Corsi, 78.81 xG%). Coming out of even thanks to that Ovechkin goal proved too tough of a pill to swallow.

Rather than make a big third-period push like they did Thursday, the Flyers came out of the locker room flat. They never grabbed control of the game and were burnt when Nic Dowd deflected a rather innocent Garnet Hathaway shot that trickled through Hart. Surely the Caps would cruise to victory with this three-goal lead, right?

Wait, hold on, the fight has been found. For the second straight game, the Flyers turned a blowout into a nail-bitter. Shayne Gostisbehere found twine with a power-play wrist shot through traffic. Giroux buried an incredible Voracek feed with the goalie pulled. Travis Konecny just missed another great 6-on-5 chance. The Flyers pressued like there was no tomorrow. But the Caps held on, time ran out, and Philadelphia dropped another crucial contest.

Just like last week’s three-game series, the Flyers wasted a prime opportunity this week. The Flyers played three straight games against the Penguins last week, but only won one. Three games in a week against the Caps, all at home, netted a total goose-egg. Tuesday’s comeback win over Buffalo feels like an aberration more than anything else.

Today seemed like a golden opportunity to jump up in the standings. The Rangers handed the Bruins their sixth loss in their last eleven games. New Jersey held a late lead on the Islanders, only for New York to come storming back. This shortened season doesn’t allow you to make the playoffs if you miss too many opportunities. That’s two huge ones gone by the wayside for the Flyers, back-to-back.

Right now the Flyers are in the middle of an old-fashioned crisis of confidence. Every turnover seems to end up in the back of the net. Every time they score, it’s only a matter of time before they give it right back. They can’t find stable goaltending. The special teams came back to Earth after a brief surge. The lines seem wonky. They’ve been out-chanced at 5-on-5 in five of their last six periods, and it’s starting to feel like they’re back to the Dave Hakstol method of relying too heavily on point shots (though that’s an issue isolated to the last two games).

Solutions are hard to find. It feels like the bad times are snowballing. Somehow this skid is coming at the end of a twelve-game stretch where the Flyers outshot opponents 391-322. In those dozen post-COVID-forced-break games, they’re 5-6-1. They were outshot 431-308 in their first thirteen games, yet somehow went 8-3-2. Their PDO (team shooting + save percentage) is 12th overall this season at 101%. But it’s 26th in the league in their last 10 games at a ghastly 96.2%. They’re not getting lucky, but they also can’t seem to make much of their own. It’s a bad combination for a team that should be morphing into a contender based on their underlying improvements. Instead, they’re starting to slip.

With Thursday’s game to mark the halfway point of the season (there are two more before it), time is running out. The Flyers desperately need to forge an identity, a swagger; if nothing else, a lack of tolerance for sound losses like this one. Or else defeats like this will become the new, disappointing norm. That obviously can’t happen if the Flyers hope to turn their once-promising season around.

This is about our only Flyers article not written by myself. For the record, Hart was fine in relief, and there’s a decent chance he’ll start Monday, so hopefully that extra practice makes perfect (though I’d just take a win at this point).

Lindies

Bit of a surprise to see Robert Hagg and Erik Gustafsson sit for tonight’s game. Phil Myers (unsurprisingly) and Nate Prosser (surprisingly) both re-entered the line-up. Go figure Hagg gets benched after the one time I write nice things about him.

Patrick’s goal is his first since January 27, and first in front of Flyers fans since February 16, 2019. Patrick wasn’t been terrible during that extended slump, but the Flyers could really use a breakout for him.

It was a good sign to see Lars Eller return to the Caps’ lineup after missing Thursday’s game due to personal reasons. However, the return was short-lived, as Eller left after just three shifts with a lower-body injury.

Let’s talk a little about Claude Giroux’s usage since hockey Twitter can’t seem to get enough of it. Giroux is 33, and with the Flyers having an incredibly busy schedule in March, I get the idea of trying a little load management. But at some point, you just have to worry about winning games, and I don’t think keeping Giroux on the third line (he was seventh in ice-time among PHI forwards tonight) and second power-play unit is the best way to go about doing that. You’d usually ride your captain more than ever during a slump like this. Hopefully, his late goal gives the coaching staff a wake-up call.

I thought Tom Wilson was the most annoying Capital to face, and he probably is. But Garnet Hathaway is a very close second. Hathaway took unnecessary liberties with Couturier and Giroux all night, then of course he tallies two assists. I’m not a “Flyers desperately need more toughness” kind of fan, but I would’ve liked to see someone make Hathaway answer the bell for his actions.

I hate to be all doom and gloom so, uh… Travis Sanheim played well! His pinch led to Patrick’s goal, got the secondary assist on G’s, and looked sharp all night. Sean Couturier now has a point in all but one full game he’s played in this season, so that’s good, too.

On Friday morning, the Flyers activated forward Wade Allison from season-opening IR and assigned him to the Phantoms. He’s been MIA since the beginning of the season due to ankle surgery. Allison, a 2nd round pick in 2016, is a solid prospect who could have an NHL impact at some point. He’s just a first-year pro (signing his ELC about a year ago), so it’s good he’s getting some playing time.

Alex Ovechkin has officially passed Jaromir Jagr for second all-time with 5,639 shots on goal. Only Ray Bourque (6,209) has ever taken more. He’s killed the Flyers over the years, but you’ve got to respect him. There’s no denying Ovi is an absolute legend.

3 Stars

3rd: James van Riemsdyk – Goal (12), 5 Shots, 20:34 TOI

2nd: Nic Dowd – Goal (6), 3 Shots, 3 Blocks

1st: Alex Ovechkin – Goal (10), 4 Shots, 20:20 TOI

Next

WSH – 3/15 @ BUF (6-16-4, L2)

PHI – 3/15, 7 PM @ NYR (11-12-3, W1)

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