Flyers
No, that score is not a typo. (Pool Photos – USA Today Sports)
I said just two games ago one of these days the entire article was just going to be a Tweet. Today was so close to being one of those days.

When you know, you know. Nine goals against. Seven in the same period. I’m fighting back swear words as I type. The Philadelphia Flyers suffer a humiliating, embarrassing, blowout loss, 9-0 (that’s nine to actual nothing), to the New York Rangers. There are fourth graders who can’t count to the number of goals that filled the Flyers’ net tonight. The fifth-ever St. Patrick’s Day meeting between the two clubs resulted in an unmitigated disaster for the Flyers, whose season is starting to slip away.

Despite a thrilling but sloppy victory Monday night, Alain Vigneault made quite a few line-up changes. Sitting Nicolas Aube-Kubel after a meh game and Nate Prosser after a disastrous one were predictable changes. Giving Oskar Lindblom a rest wasn’t, but I actually don’t hate that move. After a brief resurgence a few weeks ago in Buffalo, Lindblom hasn’t had much jump in his game and skated for less than ten minutes Monday.

However, sitting Shayne Gostisbehere is sketchy at best. Yes, Ghost did not have a very good game Monday, but part of that comes from being saddled with Prosser. Vigneault said he felt Gostisbehere’s defensive game has been trending downward, which isn’t a baseless criticism. However, considering how much of a confidence-driven player Ghost is, a healthy scratch should only be a last resort option. Gostisbehere may be in a bit of a tough spell, but he hasn’t been outright awful like he often was last season.

Erik Gustafsson, Robert Hagg, Connor Bunnaman, and Andy Andreoff returned to the lineup as a result of the scratching. As I said the last time I didn’t agree with Alain Vigneault’s lineup decisions, what’s the worst that can happen? Surely this game can’t be worse than the first four minutes of that one.

It was hard to get a feel for the first five minutes of this game. Chris Kreider got a good early look on a Rangers power-play, but the Flyers PK kept them to only that shot. Philadelphia’s top-line wound up with a couple of A+ chances on broken plays, but Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk couldn’t beat Alexander Georgiev. But a nifty move by Adam Fox at the right point around Andreoff sent the Flyers in scramble mode, allowing Fox to hit Brendan Lemieux for a slam-dunk backdoor.

Yet as the period progressed, things started looking terribly familiar. Philadelphia had their good shifts and made the Rangers sweat occasionally, but just when they started looking strong, a sudden collapse set them back. After winning a d-zone draw, Travis Sanheim’s end-around got caught up along the boards. Phil Myers aggressively stepped into the pile, a high-risk move that wound up having no reward. In fact, it created a 2-on-1 when Ryan Strome emerged with the puck. Strome skated far enough into the middle to make Elliott think, then hit Panarin for a blistering one-timer at the left-circle to double the Rangers’ lead.

Just like in Monday’s second period, it’s what didn’t go in that says just as much as how poorly the team is playing as what did. A total whiff by Claude Giroux gave Alexis Lafreniere a clear path to the net; only a ten-bell save from Brian Elliott kept the rookie from lighting the lamp. A last second-shot by Kappo Kakko tipped Justin Braun’s stick and hit the crossbar, inches away from becoming a virtual dagger. Sloppy defensive zone coverage, missed opportunities offensively (including a practical 3-on-0 and a 2-on-1), and taking the only two penalties of the period defined the Flyers’ opening twenty minutes.

But at least they had a 73.91% Corsi and 61.83% xG at 5-on-5 in the first. Swell.

To be clear, those numbers are good. What isn’t good is surrendering two A+ chances within the first two minutes of the second period. After Ryan Lindgren missed a potential tap-in backdoor, Pavel Buchnevich capitalized on a Phil Myers turnover with a slot snipe to give the Rangers a commanding 3-0 lead. And then Buchnevich bounced a pass of Myers’s skate two minutes later at the front of the net. That stretch felt like rock bottom. Of course, it couldn’t be farther from that. Though not because an epic comeback was in order; the Flyers just had further to fall.

It inevitably got so bad when Jacob Trouba buried a slot one-timer that Elliott received a mercy pull. The first shot Carter Hart faces? A short-handed breakaway for Mika Zibanejad. Turns out he doesn’t suck. Why not add another one of the power-play to prove the point, Mika? How about a natural hat-trick on a give-and-go with Chris Kreider? Literally, DOUBLE your season goal total in ten minutes and ten seconds, why don’t you? It’s not like the Flyers can do anything to stop you.

8-0. EIGHT TO NOTHING. What sport is this?

When Filip Chytil made it 9-0 late in the period, you knew the team had just given up. No back check whatsoever. Befuddled rinkside announcer Brian Boucher simply stated, “I’m speechless.” Join the club, Boosh. Somehow, that’s how the game ended; New York kindly laid off in the third period, likely as a caution to keep MSG’s goal horn from breaking due to overuse. If this was a football game, the Flyers would’ve lost by two scores. I’m kind of disappointed in the Rangers for not hitting double-digits. If you’re going to keep pouring salt on the wound, might as well dump the whole container on.

The 2021 Flyers are not a terrible team, but boy, do they sure play like one often. This is easily the worst defensive Flyers team I’ve ever seen. Not the teams with Andrew MacDonald on the top pair. This one. Right here. Mattias Ekholm can’t save them on his own. Matt Niskanen can’t save them on his own. Prime Nicklas Lidstrom couldn’t save them on his own. While Elliott and Hart haven’t exactly been dynamite, no goalie could’ve withstood tonight’s barrage.

Tonight was the encore to the 6-0 blowout loss at Toronto that chased Ron Hextall from his GM post in November 2018. Just like that 2018-19 team, they follow every potential turning point victory with an embarrassing defeat. That game two-and-a-half years ago confirmed the Flyers needed major changes. To me, this one leads me to believe something far more damning: they’re beyond repair, at least for this season. I would be stunned if things get better in 2021. I know the feeling I had during the darkest days of the 2018-19 season, and it is eerily similar to the pit in my stomach right now. To think this team was a dark horse Cup contender two months ago makes me weep.

Playoff hockey returning to Philadelphia this year is beginning to feel like a pipe dream. If it does become reality, right now it feels like it’s going to take a team ahead of them collapsing to make it happen. This is very likely the most embarrassing regular-season loss in franchise history. The only game I can think of that even challenges it for worst regular-season loss in recent memory is the David Ayres Zamboni-driver turned winning NHL goalie game. At least the Maple Leafs a) only lost that game by three goals and b) lost to an NHL COACHING STAFF and c) ACTUALLY SCORED. Toronto gave up six goals that night. The Flyers gave up seven in a span of 18:01. All hope isn’t totally lost, but I certainly can’t find any on this night: a complete and utter disaster from start to finish.

There are some things you just don’t recover from. This game is awfully close to being one of them. The odds of Chuck Fletcher adding to a team that bled four goals in 6:43 and has a team save percentage that starts with an eight are slim. Several notable players have been healthy scratched throughout the year, yet nothing has improved for more than a game or two. That’s not a good sign, to say the least.

Even though the underlying numbers are improving, the overall process is not. Sorry, Alain, I’ve been on your side of that coin for a while, but this is the final straw. We’re in desperation mode now. As Boucher said during this game, sometimes you need to actually get results to start feeling better; an improved process isn’t enough. He actually wasn’t talking about the Flyers when he said that, but it applies to them all the same.

Is the season totally over? No, of course not. Not with twenty-nine games to go. But the Flyers desperately needed to find good mojo in the hell month of March, featuring four back-to-backs and no string of consecutive days off. It seemed like they were poised to do just that at the end of February. Yet they haven’t registered a single dominant, even decent win this month. Every victory has involved a major collapse at some point and a mad-dash comeback effort. Winning that way isn’t sustainable.

Instead, the only consistency the Flyers found is in failure. Failure to defend, failure to adapt, failure to play playoff level hockey. And guess what? Teams that don’t play at a playoff level don’t get to play in the playoffs. If the Flyers can’t flip the former switch, the playoffs will become like everything else in March: another missed opportunity. Instead of merely letting this one pass them by, the Flyers let themselves get sucker-punched by it in front of a national audience. There is one good thing about this game, however.

It’s over.

Lindies

This is the first time a team has scored nine goals in a game since Vancouver beat Boston 9-2 on February 22, 2020. It’s the Rangers biggest win since March 31, 1986, when they beat the Devils by an identical 9-0 score.

Other than the Flyers line-up changes, the big story-line heading into this game was the Rangers’ coaching staff. Head coach David Quinn and assistants Jacques Martin, David Oliver, and Greg Brown all missed tonight’s game due to COVID protocols. Behind the Blueshirts’ bench were AHL head coach Kris Knoblauch (acting head coach), AHL associate head coach Gord Murphy (acting assistant coach), and associate GM Chris Drury (associate coach). Two of those names should sound familiar; Knoblauch coached the Flyers power-play from 2017-19, and Murphy ran the Flyers defense from 2014-2019. Losing this game to an AHL coaching staff just makes it even more of a slap on the face.

This made me A) sad because the Flyers lost 9-0 B) sad because the Notre Dame dining halls don’t have ice cream.

Adam Fox and Pavel Buchnevich, who missed Monday’s game on the COVID list, combined for three points. Shows you how critical those two are to the Rangers’ success. They’re both underrated and are having tremendous seasons.

Every Ranger except K’Andre Miller, Kappo Kakko, Lindgren, Brendan Smith, and Kevin Rooney had a point tonight.

Zibanejad’s second goal snapped a string of fourteen consecutive unsuccessful Rangers power-plays. His first goal was the first shortie the Flyers have allowed all season. As we found out during his five-goal game last year, Super Saiyan Mika Zibanejad is absolutely unstoppable. A six-point second period, tying Brian Trottier for the NHL record, shows just how high his peak is. If this game is a springboard for what’s been a tough season for him so far, watch out.

Zibanejad isn’t even the first Ranger to score a hat-trick against the Flyers; that was Chris Kreider a few weeks ago in a 4-3 Philadelphia win. Little did we know those were the good days.

The Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers pair were on the ice for each of the Rangers’ first five goals. Obviously an extremely tough night for those two. They have may have great potential, especially together, but they haven’t lived up to it nearly enough in 2021.

Three or more goals against in nine-straight games. Even the days when the team’s best defensemen was Mark Streit weren’t this bad.

After a great start to the season, Brian Elliott has been pulled in back-to-back starts. It seems like Moose’s magic has run out, but to be clear again, tonight was not his fault. The defense let the goalies down, not the other way around.

Unsurprisingly, the Flyers jumbled their lines for the third period, which I think is required by law after giving up seven goals in a period.

https://twitter.com/charlieo_conn/status/1372361757931536393

Bob McKenzie, one of the NHL’s top insiders, gave some updates on the Flyers’ situation with the April 12 trade deadline looming. Obviously, the team needs defensive help, and a prime candidate like Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm would be sweet. But no one player is going to turn around a team playing as bad as this. If the Flyers want help, they’re going to have to earn it as a team. They didn’t do that tonight, to say the least. The only thing a team that gives up nine goals should be buying is a lighter to take care of the game film.

3 Stars

3rd: Alexander Georgiev – 26 Save Shutout on 1.55 xGA

2nd: Pavel Buchnevich – 2 Goals (9, 10), 2 Assists (15, 16)

1st: Any Flyers fan who was enough of a glutton for punishment to sit through this entire monstrosity.

Actually 1st: Mika Zibanejad – 3 Goals (4, 5, 6), 3 Assists (9, 10, 11)

Next

PHI – Oh my gosh, they have to play again tomorrow. 3/18, 7 PM @ NYI (19-7-4, L1)

NYR – 3/19 @ WSH (19-6-4, W6)

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick