The Flyers didn’t have enough answers for the Ducks skaters in the first period, then didn’t have any answers for John Gibson in the final two frames. The result is their third consecutive defeat to conclude another disappointing holiday road trip. (Ashley Landis/AP)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 33: PHI 1, ANA 4 – Terring At The Seams

Flyers After Dark for the 2021-22 season officially goes out on a dark note. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 4-1, to the Anaheim Ducks, though really all it took was John Gibson and Troy Terry to beat them. The latter recorded his first carer NHL hat-trick, including a goal-of-the-year candidate that turned Travis Sanheim into a turnstile. The former stopped 28 of 29 shots, preventing the Flyers from gaining any momentum despite controlling play in the final two periods. As a result, Philadelphia has lost consecutive games for the first time since the final game of their ten-game losing streak on December 8 and dropped below hockey .500 for the first time since December 19.

It wasn’t too long ago the Flyers and Ducks were in a similar spot, at least standings-wise. Across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, the Flyers racked up 98 and 82 points, respectively. Anaheim had 98 and 80 in those two years. Expectations were much different for the clubs back then, though; the Flyers were seen as a team on the rise just happy to make the 2018 playoffs (although quite frustrated with a poor start to 2018-19, which of course led to the firing of Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol shortly later). Anaheim, meanwhile, was at the tail end of their core’s competitive window following a stretch of six straight playoff appearances, peaking at Western Conference Final appearances in 2015 and 2017.

In that sense, they were probably more similar to the 2013-2015 Flyers, who couldn’t maintain the success of a run of five straight playoff appearances from 2008-2012 with two Conference Finals trips of their own (and of course reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2010). Both teams had a crucial decision to make with the future of their roster building. They could go all-in with whatever picks and prospects they had leftover to extend their window. They could have opted for a full-out rebuild, shipping off several veterans from that window to restock their farm system. Instead, both ventured down the third path; the difficult to execute but the happy medium of rebuilding on the fly.

Despite missing the playoffs in three straight seasons (2019-2021), the Ducks passed up opportunities to trade veterans like Josh Manson, Rickard Rakell, Cam Fowler, Ryan Getzlaf, and others. The only pieces of note they dealt were forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie and defenseman Brandon Montour; none of whom have gone on to be impact players away from Anaheim. Likewise, the mid-2010s Flyers held on to players like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds throughout their primes. Both teams had three top-eleven picks, two of which were top-seven, one of which was top-three. Other trades helped them accumulate more young prospects.

The 2021-22 Ducks are at a pretty similar stage that the 2017-18 Flyers stood out. This year’s Anaheim team is young but flawed, exciting but sometimes sloppy. Plenty of long-tenured veterans still remain; but they’re also starting to infuse a new guard into the lineup. They’re a fun team to watch with some great young talents that make some mistakes and probably won’t have much of a chance against one of their conference’s powerhouses in the first round; assuming they make it all. These Ducks are better defensively than those Flyers, but those Flyers had some proven high-end forward talents than they do. No disrespect to Terry, Trevor Zegras, and friends, but the 17-18 Flyers had two players finish above a point-per-game (including Claude Giroux eclipsing the century mark) and Sean Couturier was runner-up for the Selke while also scoring 76 points.

John Gibson is far and away a better goaltender than 2017-18 Brian Elliott, but other than that, they’re fairly similar, at least for broad-strokes purposes. We didn’t know exactly how good the Flyers were going to be four years after the 2017-18 club was handled by the Penguins in Round 1 (just a couple of days after the Sharks swept the Ducks in what’s currently Anaheim’s most recent playoff appearance). But just about everybody expected it would be a lot better than they currently are. Philadelphia certainly wasn’t supposed to be beaten by teams at the beginning of their retool when theirs was supposed to have been long completed by now.

Yes, the Flyers were dealt quite the blow when finding out Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov were unavailable for Tuesday’s game due to COVID; a Flyers team without those two is really up against it, not to mention their other absences. But it’s not like this is a Flyers exclusive problem, of course; Anaheim was without their captain Getzlaf as well, not to mention budding star Zegras was also out due to COVID. And it’s not like the Flyers played poorly, either; at least after a rough first 18 minutes that left them in an early hole (this time 2-0) for the second straight game, with the team never seemingly getting their head above water.

Only a couple of players — Cam Atkinson, James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny, Rasmus Ristolainen, and of course Cam York, who was not just playing in his first meaningful NHL game but was also playing against his hometown team — had their skating legs out of the gate. It was a lethargic game on both sides in a lethargic Honda Center in the middle of a Flyers season that hasn’t exactly been exciting. Part of that is a natural effect of missing a couple of your best players. Most Flyers fans probably expected them to lose this game; from COVID absences to the end of a West Coast road trip and playing a solid Ducks team. Not to mention just general pessimism. And the Flyers never really did enough to significantly change their minds; even when they were peppering Gibson with chances during some dangerous offensive surges in the second and third.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. The Flyers finished the game with a near 60% expected goals mark at 5-on-5, including nearly 70% of the share in the final two periods. Konecny and van Riemsdyk were all over the ice, but couldn’t convert on any of the great chances they earned. The Ducks only created four high-danger chances at 5-on-5 over the final two periods (for reference, they had five in the first period alone). But their power-play provided a key insurance marker. Carter Hart was solid in his return to the Flyers crease, but John Gibson was better. A different team could stomach a “solid process, bad result” loss; this Flyers one, which desperately needs points not just to stay in the playoff race but avoid another tailspin, one that would essentially guarantee to miss the playoffs.

The Flyers were supposed to be so much better than they were on this road trip, yet another post-Christmas swing the team has bombed (they haven’t finished above .500 by points percentage on it since 2013-14). It’s a cautionary tale for these young Ducks; the horizon can seem so bright one day and then become so dark in the blink of an eye. And for Philadelphia, it’s a reminder of back when hope was prevalent even when the on-ice NHL product disappointed. This was supposed to be their time. Instead, it belongs to other teams, the Ducks included. And with another defeat tonight, the Flyers are even closer to running out of time before that door officially closes.

Lindies

With Giroux, Provorov, and Sean Couturier out, the Flyers understandably seemed to prioritize simplicity in their offense, at least early. 6 of Philadelphia’s 13 shot attempts (46.2%) came from above the dots, five of which undoubtedly qualified as point shots. By contrast, only 7 of the Flyers’ 28 shot attempts* (25%) in the final two periods came from above the circles. A heavy chunk of the Flyers’ offense was predicated on point shots, most of which at least had traffic in front of John Gibson (including one that was deflected at point-blank range by James van Riemsdyk). For example, Morgan Frost made a play where he blindly threw the puck to the point, not realizing nobody was home. Perhaps he tries to make a play or extend the cycle down-low if he knows Giroux is there to help. Maybe not. But it’s not too hard to connect the (potential) dots.

Here’s a heat map of unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) in the first period (top) compared to the entire game (bottom) As the Flyers started to gain confidence and tightened up a bit defensively, they found themselves getting to the high-danger areas much easier. It’s better to make that adjustment late than never. But the time it took to spring that push forward is part of the reason they lost.

*Excluding a Keith Yandle dump-in from the red line that went in on goal) came from above the circles.

If you’ve never seen a heat map, the darker an area means the more shots a team is taking from that area. This map is the first period only.
And this map is for the entire game.

Tonight’s absence officially marks the end of Ivan Provorov’s iron-man streak. It’s tough to lose such an impressive run due to something out of Provorov’s control; especially because of all of the minor injuries and bruises Provorov has battled through during his career. His 403 consecutive games played is the longest streak ever for a defenseman with the same team to start their career; the previous record was 330, held by then-Ranger Dan Girardi.

Philadelphia is now a stunningly bad 4-17-5 in their last five seasons on their annual post-Christmas Disney on Ice road trip. No matter who’s coaching or playing, whether the team is playing poor or actually good, it seems like the Flyers can’t escape the fate of disappointment in late December and early January.

It’s not like there aren’t any young talents for Flyers fans to be excited about. Cam York is the obvious one; not just because he played tonight, but because he’s widely considered to be the Flyers’ best prospect. It makes sense seeing as no one under 23 in the Flyers organization was drafted higher than York (14th in 2019). Other than the score, everything went right for York tonight. He moved the puck well, avoided any rookie mistakes, and almost scored his first NHL goal on a near-miss backdoor pass from Oskar Lindblom. Mike Yeo called his play “outstanding,” and the numbers back that assertion up; York led the Flyers with a 74.88% expected goals mark. He also registered two shots on goal, three hits, and two shot blocks in 20:20 of ice-time.

Yeo wasn’t initially sure whether or not Carter Hart would start tonight’s game. The Flyers goaltender actually initially had the flu before entering COVID protocol on December 26; Hart said it was actually the former that threw him for a loop. Ultimately, Hart was good to go, and he faired pretty well, especially considering the long layoff. This was Hart’s first game since December 16; just under a three-week lay-off. None of Anaheim’s three goals was Hart’s fault; a deflection, a breakaway, and a cross-seam backdoor pass. Any chance of the Flyers turning things around this season depends on Hart (and Martin Jones) playing very well; Hart certainly didn’t show any signs that his absence knocked his game out of sorts.

For the second straight game, Yeo was extremely aggressive with his goalie-pull. After a unique and more importantly successful decision to pull Martin Jones with 17 minutes left during a 6-on-3 Saturday, which directly led to a goal, Yeo pulled Hart at the beginning of a two-minute 4-on-4 stretch with over four minutes left. The Flyers essentially had a power-play as a result and made good use of their extra attacker. But they couldn’t solve Gibson before Keith Yandle took a penalty that only delayed Anaheim’s eventual empty-netter.

Check out where the Flyers, Ducks, and everybody else ranked in Vendetta’s latest NHL power rankings.

Tonight’s game ends a four-game winning streak against the Ducks, dating back to November 2019. It’s been a streak head-to-head match-up as of late; before that Flyers run, Anaheim had a 9-0-1 streak against the Flyers. Hopefully the Flyers can nip a potential Anaheim run in the bud when they meet again on April 9.

3 Stars

3rd: Cam Fowler (ANA) – 26:07 TOI

2nd: John Gibson (ANA) – .966 SV% (28 Saves/29 Shots), 1 GA on 3.06 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)

1st: Troy Terry (ANA) – Hat-Trick (19, 20, 21), 4 Shots

Next

PHI: 1/6, 7 PM vs. PIT (18-8-5, W8)

ANA: 1/6, 10 PM vs. DET (16-15-3, W1)

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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick