The short-handed Flyers couldn’t keep up with the red-hot Penguins, who jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and never left the driver’s seat en route to their tenth straight victory and Philadelphia’s fourth consecutive defeat. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 34: PIT 6, PHI 2 – Pitt Of Despair

The Rust (at home) is real. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 6-2, to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first home game in 18 days. The Battle of Pennsylvania featured two teams going in opposite directions, both from a health and performance standpoint. The Penguins are slowly recovering from a bevy of early-season injuries and positive COVID tests (they aren’t at full health yet, but are much healthier than they were at times early on) and won for the tenth straight time tonight. On the other side, the Flyers not only lost their fourth straight game (third in a row in regulation) but didn’t stand a chance with their top-three defensemen and three of their top four forwards absent due to injuries or COVID after Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny became the latest Flyers to enter COVID Protocol on Wednesday.

The Flyers actually started Thursday’s game relatively strong, staying with the Penguins for the game’s first five minutes or so. But the dam broke on a failed clearing effort during a Pittsburgh power-play just after the first media timeout, with Bryan Rust scoring into an empty net on the ensuing defensive breakdown. Things completely unraveled after that; Pittsburgh’s skill advantage over the short-handed Flyers was emphasized during a 4-on-4 sequence just a few minutes later, with a bit of a fluky bounce to the slot leading to Rust’s second goal of the night. Just 81 seconds later, replay showed Jake Guentzel’s near-goal on a backdoor feed was a goal after all; Carter Hart’s desperation lunge brought his glove behind the goal-line, rendering his apparent save moot.

With the Penguins on the second half of a back-to-back, there was at least a remote path to victory possible if the Flyers could weather the early storm and hang around until fatigue set in for the visitors. The Flyers sort of did that in the second period, allowing just three shots on goal in the first fourteen minutes of the period and cutting the lead to two on a 2-on-1 blast from Cam Atkinson. But it was the Flyers who fell apart in the third, yielding back-to-back breakaway goals to Evan Rodrigues just 90 seconds apart.

For fans who want the Flyers to blow it up and enter a true rebuilding stage for the first time since the early 90s, tonight’s game provided a glimpse into what the NHL product will look like during such a phase. Pittsburgh had the Flyers beat talent-wise on every line and defense pair on paper, and reality didn’t offer anything better. Neither goaltender was outstanding (Tristan Jarry largely because he wasn’t tested much). But Carter Hart wasn’t able to bail out his team’s mistakes (perhaps that might offer hope to those fans that they could keep Hart without him preventing the Flyers from truly bottoming out and still have him around when they return to contention).

That’s not to say those fans are wrong for wanting a rebuild; it’s just a reminder that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, even if those people may stomach a few seasons like this for the chance of a long-term turnaround.

The Flyers didn’t visually look like they lacked effort, but that wasn’t the message Mike Yeo delivered after the game. “In all honesty, we were missing some guys,” he acknowledged. “How do you compensate for that? You up your compete level, you dg in harder to your team game, and you have to show more resilience, heart, whatever you want to say.” The unspoken part of that is that by emphasizing the importance of those principles while also acknowledging the team’s (understandably) poor performance, Yeo didn’t think the team showed enough not just to win, but to earn any satisfaction in defeat. And Yeo made sure that message couldn’t be missed by asserting, “You can determine your own fate, regardless of the circumstances. I didn’t think we did that tonight.”

While circumstances out of their control are playing a significant role, the hard truth is that the Flyers are determining their own fate; it’s just not the one they had in mind. Any goodwill earned back during the team’s seven-game point streak to end 2021 has evaporated thanks to three straight regulation defeats to start 2022, during which the Flyers have been outscored 16-5. The Flyers’ underlying numbers don’t look too bad on the surface; just a tick below break-even, in fact. But after adjusting for score and venue (more important than most games considering the Flyers were down multiple goals for nearly 50 minutes), and the Flyers’ Corsi and Expected Goals shares drop into the 42% range; a figure that’s much more in line with what the Flyers have been putting out lately.

Remember all of the people saying the Flyers still had strides to make to prove that run was real? Well, they haven’t made them, and they could only delay the inevitable declining results for so long with that anchor. A second prolonged losing streak in 2021-22 would all but destroy any faint hope of the Flyers reaching the playoffs. They’re technically only four points back of a spot; but they’ve played significantly fewer games than the team holding that last spot, the Bruins. Boston is on pace to rack up roughly 98 points this season; Philadelphia is on track for just 77, which would be their fewest since finishing dead last with 56 in 2006-07.

Every time the Flyers have searched for answers in 2021-22, more problems just seem to keep popping up. And unless something gives very soon, nights like Thursday could become a lot more common.

Lindies

Not only were the Flyers not up to snuff this game, they also didn’t get lucky. Philadelphia should have tied the game 1-1 just moments after Rust opened the scoring. But the officials mistakenly blew a loose puck dead just before the Flyers pushed it over the goal-line. It’s actually the second time in the last three years the Flyers have lost a goal that way against Pittsburgh; Philadelphia was the victim of the same mistake on Feb. 11, 2019, as well.

The night (and the Flyers season so far) can’t be summed up any better than in this GIF, the result of Joel Farabee fanning on two one-timers and a pretty easy keep-in opportunity at the blue-line in what has to be the worst shift of his NHL career.

For the second straight game, the Flyers at least received a solid performance in a young defenseman’s season debut. Egor Zamula’s game didn’t pop in the offensive zone as much as Cam York’s performance on Tuesday. But the 21-year old looked solid to my eyes for the most part. He avoided any obvious rookie mistakes while also blocking three shots and finishing with a strong 65.76% expected goals rate (behind only Connor Bunnaman, just as we all predicted).

I also wonder if the Flyers set an NHL record for the largest weight discrepancy on a defense pair; the 177-pound soaking-wet Zamula skated alongside the imposing 221-pound Rasmus Ristolainen Thursday.

In addition to Sanheim and Konecny, the Flyers also didn’t have Gerry Mayhew available Thursday due to an upper-body injury. The Flyers did at least get Derick Brassard back for the first time since Dec. 8 (and just his second game since Nov. 23). Had Mayhew been healthy, it sounds like Brassard wouldn’t have played Thursday; “We don’t the bodies (or) the practices” Yeo said when asked about the change from his previous preference to have Brassard practice with the team before returning to the lineup. Yeo also predicted, “I don’t expect it to be a real difficult transition for him. I think he’ll get in there real quickly and find his game.” Brassard turned that guess into reality on Thursday; he led the Flyers with three individual high-danger chances and three shots on goal and also drew a penalty.

Of course, because the 2021-22 Flyers can have nothing ice, Yeo announced Friday morning that Brassard is doubtful to tonight’s game after re-aggravating his injury.

With their captain Claude Giroux plus two of their three alternate captains (Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov, who only wears an “A” at home), the Flyers have had Kevin Hayes and for the first time in his career Scott Laughton dressing as alternate captains. Hayes had previously only been an alternate captain for road games.

I was higher on the Penguins than any of the other two panelists on our latest monthly NHL power rankings; unfortunately, they’re proving me right.

If you’re looking for some semblance of optimism, the 2019-20 Flyers also lost their first three games after changing calendar years; of course, they never looked back and went 19-6-1 the rest of the regular season. That’s basically the last tie this year’s team can make to that group; they’ll have to earn further comparisons by improving not just their record, but their overall play as well.

3 Stars

3rd: Tristan Jarry (PIT) – .900 SV% (18 Saves/20 Shots), 2 GA on 2.13 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)

2nd: Jake Guentzel (PIT) – 2 Goals (17, 18), 3 Shots

1st: Bryan Rust (PIT) – 2 Goals (8, 9), Assist (11), 4 Shots

Next

PIT: 1/8, 2 PM @ DAL (15-12-2, W2)

PHI: 1/8, 7 PM vs. SJ (18-16-1, W1)

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