Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 23: COL 7, PHI 5 – A New Error(a)
If nothing else, the Mike Yeo “era” is off to an entertaining start. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 7-5, to the Colorado Avalanche. The ninth consecutive Flyers loss was certainly different than the previous eight; a new coach, a new number next to their logo on the scoreboard, and yes, new issues (and some old ones) that cost them.
It was hard to muster up the energy to discuss much of the actual Flyers games themselves during this tailspin. Part of that was the increased attention on the fate of Alain Vigneault, part of that is that fans rarely enjoy reading about their own team losing (hence the more long-term focus that’s dominated these articles over the past three weeks). But it was mainly due to the fact the games weren’t that fun. The Flyers infamously didn’t score more than three in any of them; and it wasn’t like they were that exciting in their attempts to do so. Only once during the skid did the Flyers generate more than three expected goals in all situations; loss number seven, the 4-1 defeat at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday.
There will be plenty of time to talk about the Flyers’ long-term fate; it’s obviously far more important than tonight’s outcome. But Mike Yeo’s first game as head coach of an NHL team since November 19, 2018, gave us seven goals in twenty minutes and twelve overall. When I originally started writing FFRs in the 2018-19 season, I mainly copied Steve Dangle’s popular, excellent YouTube Leafs Fan Reaction (LFR)’s style of going goal-by-goal. Now that there’s finally at least some excitement about the thought of doing that, let’s, as Mike Yeo said, “Get to work.”
For the second straight game, the Flyers didn’t get off to a terrible start, moving the puck fairly well after Alex Newhook nearly buried a Nicolas Aubé-Kubel (welcome back!) feed 30 seconds in. A smart pinch by Rasmus Ristolainen kept a dump-in alive at the right boards. That allowed Claude Giroux found the sweet spot between the Avalanche defenders and centers down low and the wingers who blasted out of the zone a bit too early (feels good to be saying that about somebody else’s players for once). Give any player this much space, especially one as talented as Giroux, and they’ll usually make you pay. 1-0 Flyers.
Just a few minutes later, the Flyers went to the power-play, and after a new-look second unit failed to get set up, PP1 actually looked quite dangerous, moving the puck with a purpose. Unfortunately, a swing and a miss by Giroux on the right boards sprung Colorado for a short-handed two-on-one. Logan O’Connor dished a beautiful cross-ice feed for his league-leading 4th shorthanded point, setting up Erik Johnson for Colorado’s sixth shortie of the year, tying Vegas for the league lead.
This goal would fittingly begin an avalanche for the Avalanche; specifically resulting in four goals in less than six minutes, including the next three in just 2:29. The Flyers fell behind on a classic “great chance at one end, goal at the other” moment, with Gabriel Landeskog beating Martin Jones clean on the counter-rush after Ivan Provorov chipped a slot chance wide. Just 15 seconds later, Oskar Lindblom was beaten by and then high-sticked Nathan MacKinnon. The Avs lethal power-play hardly needs any help; but they got some anyway when Alex Newhook’s one-timer from the bumper role deflected off Justin Braun, then skipped off the ice and fluttered over the blocker of a helpless Jones.
There was absolutely no luck involved in Colorado’s next power-play goal, which came just 26 seconds after the Newhook marker. No, it wasn’t a double minor on Lindblom; Giroux found himself in the box for a separate infraction in the blink of an eye. Speaking of the blink of an eye, that’s how fast Cale Makar effortlessly breezed from behind his own net, through the neutral zone, danced around Ivan Provorov, and backed off Jones before shelving the puck short-side for a goal of the year candidate. It was an unstoppable play by an unstoppable talent who has 9 goals in his last 9 and has scored more goals by a defender (10) through 18 games in over 30 years. Number eleven may be more impressive than all of them combined.
At this point, it looked like a second straight laugher and loss number nine were inevitable. In the end, the former kind of happened, and the latter obviously resulted. But inevitable certainly isn’t the right word to describe the Flyers’ effort tonight. Part of it may have been a boost from the “wake-up call” the Flyers received from Vigneault’s dismissal, as Giroux called it pre-game. Part of it may have been the fact that Colorado’s fourth-string goalie Justus Annunen was in the net. But after completely falling apart last night, the Flyers at least offered a fair bit of fight in this contest.
Just like on their first goal, the Flyers bounce back started with a smart read from their second defense pair. This time, it was Travis Sanheim’s turn to join in on the fun (aka the cycle). The new-look top line of Oskar Lindblom, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny turned it into a beautiful below-the-goalline feed by Konecny for Lindblom’s long-awaited first goal of the year. Konecny’s playmaking parade continued wasn’t done; moments later, he found Giroux with a beautiful cross-ice feed for another one-timer, this time on the power-play, to take advantage (rather than be set back) by an offensive zone cross-checking penalty by Aubé-Kubel. Oh, and to also put the Flyers back within one before the end of a wild first period.
Unfortunately, the Flyers weren’t able to settle things down quickly enough in the second period. Nick Seeler made some legitimately nice reads with the puck in the first period but paid dearly for an unnecessary icing early in the second period. This unforced error gave the Avalanche an offensive zone draw, off which Valeri Nichushkin settled down a bouncing puck and put an apparent stoppable shot through Jones (and maybe an inadvertent screen by Seeler as well, which may excuse Jones here) to restore Colorado’s multi-goal lead.
The Avalanche largely shut the Flyers down the rest of the second. The Flyers did have five more shots in the second than in the first; but their inability to maneuver to the high-danger areas was again a storyline. They did test Annunen with a few tricky new front scrambles, and thankfully, didn’t let the issue linger long into the third. Cam Atkinson, who took just four shifts in the second period and reportedly went limping down the tunnel after a couple of painful shot blocks, guided in a magnificent cross-ice feed from his former Boston College teammate Kevin Hayes to bring the Flyers back within one.
But just like in the first period, a lack of discipline proved to be the Flyers’ undoing. Jones did everything he could to hold off an Avalanche barrage with Ivan Provorov in the box. But he was no match for Nazem Kadri’s perfectly placed shot just 8 seconds into what would have been a 20-second 5-on-3 after Justin Braun flubbed two clearing attempts and Patrick Brown’s diving reach came up just short. Adding insult to injury, Keith Yandle’s lunch money was taken from him on a dogged forecheck by Alex Newhook, who set up Tyson Jost for what should technically be the game-winning goal if you ask me; after all, a touchdown beats two safeties (though I guess the Jost goal would be the extra point, so nevermind). A beautiful backhand breakaway finish by Scott Laughton made the final look a little bit more respectable; nothing more, nothing less.
Here’s the good news: the Flyers definitely played with more pep in their step tonight. They reached the four-goal threshold for the first time since October 27. The power-play (at least the top unit) looked better, moving the puck crisply. But it doesn’t matter what good you do if you’re allowing 50 shots a night and being are only picking up 45% of the expected goals share. It’s obviously not fair to write off Yeo entirely; it’s not realistic for him to implement sweeping, successful changes to the Flyers with no practice time during a five games in seven days gauntlet, which he acknowledged post-game.
Alain Vigneault may have been part of the Flyers’ problems this season. But tonight’s game should remind everybody that he’s never been the entirety of it. It’s a good thing Yeo is ready to work — there is so much that needs to be done here.
I’m so mad at myself for not betting my life savings on the over.
Vigneault was seemingly shuffling the lines and parings almost every game lately in an effort to get something going, so I didn’t spend much time going over them. But now with Yeo in charge, it’s worth noting new combinations, since we might see them for a little bit.
|Oskar Lindblom||Sean Couturier||Travis Konecny|
|Morgan Frost||Claude Giroux||James van Riemsdyk|
|Scott Laughton||Kevin Hayes||Cam Atkinson|
|Max Willman||Patrick Brown||Zack MacEwen|
|Ivan Provorov||Justin Braun|
|Travis Sanheim||Rasmus Ristolainen|
|Keith Yandle||Nick Seeler|
Ironically, Yeo’s biggest change is something Alain Vigneault did at the start of his tenure; a reunion of the Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny line that dominated the start of the 2019-20 season. In 177 minutes together, the trio dominated possession-wise, holding 58.39% Corsi For and 54.46% Expected Goals marks. Other than, largely stuff we’ve seen at various points under Vigneault this season, other than maybe Atkinson dropping to the third line (although alongside Hayes, who’s he frequently played with this season).
Mike Green was the last defenseman to score 30 goals in a season, hitting it on the head in 2008-09. Makar won’t shoot 20% forever; his career mark coming into the year was 8.8%. But even accounting for that regression, he’s got a scary good shot at doing just that. I had the chance to see the last Flyers-Avalanche game before tonight (way back on February 1, 2020). My eye was on Nathan MacKinnon the whole night, and he didn’t disappoint. Even a first-time hockey fan could’ve recognized his star power. I hope anyone in attendance tonight took a moment to appreciate Makar’s gifts; not just his goal, but spectacular overall plus (plus he hit the post later on). He and Victor Hedman have shown the Flyers what a premier defenseman looks like the last two nights.
Giroux’s second goal was also his 333rd career power-play point and 879th overall. The former marks ties him with Bobby Clarke for most power-play points in Flyers history. The latter puts him just four behind Bill Barber for the second-most points by a Flyer, trailing only Clarke.
Tonight is the first time the Flyers have allowed 50 shots in a game since March 15, 2019. They blew a 5-2 lead in Toronto to lose 7-6, a defeat that basically killed all hope after the team went 19-5-2 despite horrible underlying numbers following an eight-game losing streak under interim coach Scott Gordon from December 27, 2018-January 8, 2019.
Only three Colorado players — Kurtis MacDermid, Darren Helm, and Aubé-Kubel — didn’t record at least one point tonight. MacDermid was the only Avalanche player who didn’t put a shot on goal tonight.
While the Flyers haven’t played nearly well enough to win, well, any of their last nine games, their goaltending is quietly falling from its lofty early-season perch. The Flyers have allowed more goals than expected (all situations) in six of their last nine games, during which Jones and Carter Hart have recorded a ghastly combined .861 save percentage. Colorado’s second and fifth goals were both stoppable shots (assuming Jones got a look at the latter around Seeler). He was very deep in his net for Kadri’s game-winner, though that’s understandable that given the dire circumstances that usually result from a failed 5-on-3 clearing attempt. The defense has been bad in front of them, but they haven’t been perfect, either; far from it, in fact, especially tonight.
I’m about to start finals for my fall semester of college (Go Irish, Beat Finals!) so I don’t think I’ll have time to do a full write-up on potential long-term coaching candidates for the Flyers before next Wednesday. Instead, I’ll go over a few of the most popular ones (at least that I see floating around) right now.
I get the obsession with Rick Tocchet from casual fans. A beloved former Flyer who has a very positive public reputation are two great boxes to check. But even when his Arizona Coyotes ended their rebuild, they weren’t a particularly great 5-on-5 team (49.12% Expected Goals from 2018-19 to 2020-21, 20th in the NHL) and ranked 27th with 2.64 goals per game (though they were 9th with 2.77 allowed per game). John Tortorella just gives me a bad gut feeling; I don’t know if his abrasive coaching style would be a fit, and the last time a team hired him after firing Vigneault, it didn’t exactly work. You check out my analysis on Tocchet’s time in Arizona and Tortorella’s tenure in Columbus for more information.
As for Yeo, he at least has an outside shot at the full-time gig, but I doubt he’s the coach that can maximize the Flyers’ potential; a truly new voice feels necessary with how poor things are going. Then again, the way the players are performing right now, even prime Scotty Bowman would have a hard time doing that.
3rd: Cale Makar (COL) – Goal (11), 5 Shots, 25:42 TOI (Imagine thinking Erik Johnson played better than this stud tonight; couldn’t be me)
2nd: Claude Giroux (PHI) – 2 Goals (8, 9), 3 Shots, 65% Face-Offs
1st: Erik Johnson (COL) – Goal (3), Assist (6), 3 Shots
COL: 12/8, 7 PM @ NYR (16-4-3, W6)
PHI: 12/8, 7 PM @ NJ (9-9-5, OTL1)
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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick