Flyers
This picture is actually from Thursday, but it describes tonight’s game (and the Flyers’ entire 2021 season) so well. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

You can’t win the Stanley Cup in the first period of a game in mid-March, but you can sure lose it then. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 6-1 to the New York Islanders, after surrendering the first four goals of the game within sixteen minutes of the opening puck drop. It feels like Game 7 all over again, except without seven preceding playoff victories to cushion the blow. The 2021 Flyers are an absolute mess, folks, but you probably already knew that. Following up a huge response victory Thursday with a twenty-minute tire-fire all but confirms that.

Philadelphia got a dose of bad luck before the game even started. Just minutes before puck drop, top-line center Sean Couturier was scratched with a lower-body injury. Without Couturier early in the year, the Flyers delivered some of their worst games of the season from a process standpoint. And this one didn’t exactly get off to a shimmering start. The Islanders clearly had the early jump, peppering Carter Hart with a couple of quick shots. After going on the power-play following a Travis Konecny hook, the bad luck continued. Oskar Lindblom blocked a wide-open Oliver Wahlstrom’s shot right to JG Pageau, who tapped it to the yawning cage. Unfortunate, but there’s nothing you could do about that.

But as it has so many times this year, the Flyers let bad luck become bad play. Every team has bounces that go against them, but the Flyers have done a terrible job of dealing with them all season long. Part of the Islanders’ second goal was lucky; a puck popping out of a huge pile-up to the wrong player can happen to any team. But a lot of it was the Flyers just being outworked at the front of the net. Philadelphia couldn’t fish the puck out of the scramble, but Jordan Eberle could. Just like that, the Islanders doubled their lead, getting them within reach of putting the Flyers in a stranglehold.

Allow Nate Prosser to help you with the task, Isles. Just as the Flyers announcers were remarking about the ice being poor, Prosser showed those conditions off in a fine fashion. Well, fine in terms of timing, terrible in terms of what it meant from the Flyers. Prosser coughed a bouncing puck up just inside his own blue-line, giving Casey Cizikas a clear lane to the net. Cizikas went the same spot everyone is shooting on Hart these days — glove side — and beat him on a goal nearly identical to Michael Dal Colle’s strike Thursday night.

It was rough play in the midst of a rough night for Prosser (Shayne Gostisbehere would never), but an even tougher one for Hart, whose struggles (especially glove side) continue. Especially considering that Cizikas isn’t exactly a top-flight sniper (though he had a twenty(!) goal season in 2018-19 — you learn something new every day), Hart has to stop that shot. Especially considering the score.

Can’t say the same about the next Islanders’ goal. That’s right, the Flyers have now given up three-plus goals in three of their last six periods. And it’s that noted sniper Casey Cizikas, lost in coverage by Erik Gustafsson with the same casualness that you and I would lose our keys, blasting a one-timer past a helpless Hart to make to further the rout.

Yeah, that’s enough for me. Coming back from four goals down against the Isles’ impenetrable defensive structure and the impressive Ilya Sorokin is about as likely as picking a perfect bracket. I wasn’t ready to one-hundred percent right them off after Wednesday’s embarrassment, but I might be ready to now. They had a chance to bounce-back Thursday, and while they won the battle, blowing a three-goal lead in the midst of one of their best performances of the season shows they have almost no shot of winning the war. If they couldn’t pull out a convincing win in that game, something they haven’t done in eleven games in March, what game can they do it in?

The fact the Flyers were one of the league’s most dominant teams a year ago seems like a mirage. It’s arguably the biggest year-over-year fall-off; the 2016-17 (Game 7 of the ECF) to 2017-18 (4th worst in the league without their 1st round pick) Ottawa Senators probably have them beat, but I’m not sure anyone else does. Their current level of play is simply unacceptable, and I don’t think they can count on the group they have to turn things around all by themselves.

They’re going to need to make changes; how drastic GM Chuck Fletcher goes is yet to be determined. When he took over in November 2018, bad goaltending and poor defense plagued the team. He brought in Alain Vigneault behind the bench and Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, and Tyler Pitlick to help. It worked for a year, but now Niskanen and Pitlick are gone, and things have fallen apart. But Philly’s current issues are way beyond what one very good right-handed d-man and a solid fourth-liner can fix.

It’s also not something you can fix quickly. The Flyers have just twenty-seven games left in 2021, which is somehow not enough and too many all at the same time. There are twelve until the April 12th trade deadline. Six of those games are against the other non-playoff teams in the East (though two are against the Rangers team that slaughtered them earlier in the week), which could get them back into the race. But it’s going to take a heck of a lot more to reach any semblance of actually good. They’re failing hard, falling fast, and while luck hasn’t always been on their side, they have no one to blame but themselves.

At least Joel Farabee scored tonight. A small light in the midst of a tunnel in darkness.

Lindies

I named this section after Oskar Lindblom when he was diagnosed with cancer in December 2019 because he does stuff like this. With his team down 4-0 and on the verge of folding, Lindblom dropped the gloves with Wahlstrom. If this team is going to do anything good with the season, but can’t or won’t do it for themselves, their coaches, management, or the fans, please do it for Oskar Lindblom. What a special kid he is.

#OskarStrong

Perhaps it’s possible the Flyers could get a little internal defensive help. It would come in the form of prospect Cam York. The 2020-21 Big 10 defenseman of the year and first-team Big 10 all-star is nearly finished his sophomore season with the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan will likely officially receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament tomorrow, but once their season ends, the Flyers 2019 1st round pick can turn pro (if he chooses to) and sign his entry-level contract. He’s not going to fix things single-handedly of course, but at least it would be a treat for us fans. We need one badly right now.

This is the first time the Flyers have allowed four first-period goals on Long Island since February 27, 2007. Only three players from that game (Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter, Braydon Coburn; New York’s Frans Nielsen) are still in the NHL.

The Flyers have given up at least three goals in every single game in March so far. They also haven’t won consecutive games yet this month. Hard to go on a run when you need at least four goals to win every night. For Hart (who handed Josh Bailey the Islanders’ sixth goal with a late turnover up the middle), Brian Elliott (who has a .821 save percentage this month, by the way), and the team defense, it’s simply not good enough. And just plain not good at all.

Philadelphia’s power-play has shockingly been poor in the last three games with Shayne Gostisbehere healthy scratched. Oh-for-eight, plus the first shortie they’ve allowed all year. Ghost’s PP prowess should be enough on its own to get him in the lineup over Prosser — his turnover leading to Anthony Beauvillier’s 5-1 goal was simply not an NHL-caliber play. I know Alain Vigneault is understandably concerned that the pair would be a mess in their own zone, but so is every other pair right now. If you’re going to be a mess defensively, you might as well maximize your offense.

Not only did the Islanders dominate most of this game, but they also got some key players off the schneid. Beauvillier’s tally snapped an eight-game goal-scoring skid. Pageau’s goal broke a nine-game goalless drought. Eberle’s was his first goal in ten. Bailey had just one goal in his last eleven. The fact this team was recently on a nine-game winning streak with those four slumping and Anders Lee going down blows my mind. Barry Trotz for the Jack Adams this year, next year, and every year.

Another reason for that: the Islanders are first in the NHL in first-period goal differential (+15) and third-period differential (+17).

Let’s end this with a feel-good story. It’s for an Islander, but fans of all teams can appreciate it. New York’s Thomas Hickey played in his first NHL game since May 3, 2019. The former 4th overall pick (by LA in 2007) revitalized his career on Long Island and was a regular in their top-six for a while. Since that game, he’s suffered several injuries, including a concussion, and only played in the AHL last year. He registered a two-assist game in his long-awaited NHL return.

3 Stars

3rd: Thomas Hickey – 2 Assists (1, 2)

2nd: Casey Cizikas – 2 Goals (5, 6), 78% Face-offs

1st: Ilya Sorokin – .958 SV% (23 Saves/24 Shots), 1 GA on 1.67 xGA

Next

Yay, a rematch: 3/22, 7 PM – NYI vs. PHI

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick