Carter Hart did his best, but couldn’t stop David Pastrnak (3 goals) or outduel Tuukka Rask in his return to the Bruins en route to the Flyers’ sixth straight loss. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 36: PHI 2, BOS 3 – TD Garden Of Evil

The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 3-2, to the Boston Bruins, in Tuukka Rask’s first game of the 2021-22 season. Rather than getting a tune-up in the AHL against the Flyers minor-league affiliate, Rask shutdown a late push from the Flyers’ parent club to send them further down the standings while solidifying Boston’s grip on a wild card spot.

If there was anyone out there somehow holding on to optimism about the Flyers, their hope for a desperately needed short-term turn-around centered around two things; health and rest. Yes, the Flyers still don’t have Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis, and probably won’t for a little while. But the Flyers got everyone previously on the COVID list back for tonight’s game. And though Rasmus Ristolainen did join the list Tuesday, he was the only Flyer to miss Thursday’s game due to COVID protocol.

And while much of the Flyers’ 2020-21 tailspin had to do with a lack of off days and practice time (particularly during their March schedule from hell), the Flyers had five off-days as a result of Tuesday’s game surprisingly being cancelled last-minute. The Flyers may have some bad habits, as Mike Yeo lamented after Saturday’s collapse. But at least this season they have legitimate opportunities to fix them.

Unfortunately, that just made it far more damning to see just how broken the Flyers looked out of the gates. Within the game’s first six minutes, the Flyers were outshot 7-0, took two penalties, and surrendered two goals to David Pastrnak. The Flyers failed to matchup Boston’s shot total from that initial burst in the entire first period, generating just one high-danger chance the entire frame. The Flyers particularly struggled in transition, failing to break the puck out of their zone well enough to generate the speed and space to enter the offensive zone, let alone create chances consistently. There was no two ways about it; as a frustrated Mike Yeo said post-game, the Flyers start was simply “not good.”

When the Bruins also took the first six shots on goal of the second period, the Flyers were in danger of being outright run of the building by a team on the second half of a back-to-back. For the third time this season. But shortly after a Zack MacEwen scrap, the Flyers found some life. It’s probably not fair to safe MacEwen’s fight was the main reason the Flyers got back into the game; their play didn’t really pick up until they earned a power-play about four minutes later, which they capitalized on with a Cam Atkinson deflection.

But whether it was the MacEwen scrap or the Atkinson tally, the Flyers, the league’s worst second period team, found an extra pep in their step. It didn’t translate to the numbers; the Flyers surrendered a whopping 17 shots and generated just a 28.5% 5v5 expected goals rate in the second period. But they started spending more time in the offensive zone; they even tied the game off a beautiful entry by Joel Farabee, who scored off a fortitutous bounce on the ensuing two-on-one.

Yet for all of the good the Bruins did, the game-winning goal was more a byproduct of the Flyers beating themselves. Two penalties immediately after the Farabee goal — the second an unnecessary hooking penalty by Max Willman — put the Flyers down two men for just under a minute. The Bruins got the Flyers into scramble mode, and eventually Pastrnak blasted his third of the game past Carter Hart to restore the lead. It not only flipped the momentum of the game, as Yeo acknowledged post-game, but put Boston ahead for good. Philadelphia turned in a solid third period effort; three power-plays (including a 5-on-3 of nearly the same length as Boston’s), plus a post hit for Zack MacEwen and nearly four minutes of consistent pressure with Hart at the bench for an extra attacker. And yet it still wasn’t enough.

It was another night of, at best, inconsistency, and at worst, outright below-average play from the Flyers. “We have spurts here and there,” Yeo said. “(But) we aren’t capable of sustaining momentum, sustaining play. Even when things aren’t necessarily going outstanding, you can’t let things go really bad.” Even though the Flyers never trailed by more than two goals at any point Thursday — hardly an impenetrable deficit, although the Bruins are 15-0-0 when leading by 2+ this season — reading between the lines, it sure seems Yeo and the Flyers thought their overall play dipped below the line separating not great and not acceptable. “Our execution was sloppy,” Travis Sanheim said, reinforcing his coach’s frustration.

At the very least, the Flyers aren’t the sleep-walking zombie they were at the end of Alain Vigneault’s tenure or at times in 2020-21. Their energy level is there; maybe in spurts, yes, but that’s better than it being non-existent. It wasn’t just the MacEwen fight; there were a couple of fairly big scrums throughout. Travis Sanheim yelling at the official for what he thought was interference on Patrice Bergeron seconds before the game-winner. Cam York darted back to prevent a non-impactful empty-netter for Brad Marchand; a player without team or pride, which the Flyers were at one point this season, coasts back and allows Marchand to pour salt in the wound.

And that’s not even including the team’s support of Kevin Hayes, the Dorchester, Mass. native who was playing in Boston for the first time since his brother (and former Bruin) Jimmy suddenly passed away over the summer; he mentioned numerous players and coaches who have helped him deal with his loss, including Vigneault and Michel Therrien. One of the Chuck Fletcher’s goals over the summer was to improve the culture within the Flyers locker room; at the very least, this year’s team seems tighter knit than last season’s.

But that’s ultimately a moot point for a team playing as poorly as the Flyers are right now. Culture is important, but for players, coaches, and general managers, on-ice performance ultimately matters most. Teams that light 20% of their season on fire — as the Flyers essentially have across their ten and six-game losing streaks — aren’t going to be remembered very fondly. And that’s before getting into the baggage of last season. Or the infamous clip wreaking havoc on Flyers Twitter of Bobby Clarke trashing the Ron Hextall era. Or the team’s Cup drought, which is nearing half a century.

It’s curely ironic, but just as the Flyers are becoming closer, they’re also on the verge of being broken up. Tonight’s loss drops the Flyers to 11 points out of a playoff spot; no team that far out on Jan. 13 has made the playoffs under the NHL’s current playoff format (excluding the weird 2020 format). And with the some of the same problems under Vigneault starting to relapse, the switch to Yeo is aging similarly to the Flyers efforts tonight; brief bursts of success (namely the 7-game point streka to end 2021) surrounded by issues far greater than the positives.

ESPN announcer Bob Wischusen said towards the end of the first period the Flyers were stuck in survival mode; in reality, they’re more in full-blown crisis mode. Nearly everything that happened tonight, from the outcome to the team’s play as a whole, only sinks them further into that state.

Lindies

One thing that stood out in post-game interviews, from Yeo to Sanheim to Atkinson, was the team’s effusive praise of Carter Hart. When asked about how the Flyers were able to keep the final score close, Hart’s play was the first reason out of his mouth. Hart and Martin Jones have been one of the only things that have gone right for the Flyers this year, and the team is definitely cognizant of that. “I’ll reiterate what I said last time, we need to help him out a little more,” Cam Atkinson said.

In a fairly unsurprising outcome, Claude Giroux was named to his seventh all-star game early Thursday evening. It puts Giroux in even more impressive company, especially considering he’s now played in three of the last four all-star games (there was no ASG in 2021, and Travis Konecny represented the Flyers as well). For now, he’s the only Flyer going, but that could change; Cam Atkinson is the Flyers’ nomination for the final spot on the Metropolitan Division team. One of his opponents for that last spot? The man he was traded for, Jakub Voracek.

While it’s a bummer Giroux (and several other Flyers) won’t be able to represent their countries in the Olympics this year, that doesn’t mean the Flyers organization is excluded from the Games; Team USA officially chose prospect Noach Cates and Phantoms goalie Pat Nagle for their team on Thursday.

Since the 2016-17 season, no player has scored more goals against the Flyers than David Pastrnak’s 17. Tonight is his third hat-trick against the Flyers, all of which have come since the start of 2021; one in Philadelphia, one at Lake Tahoe, and of course tonight’s one in Boston. The Bruins had a hat-trick last night from Brad Marchand; it’s the first time since 1982 the Bruins have had hat-tricks on consecutive days. Not a surprise that Marchand and Pastrnak are also tied for most goals in 2022 as a result. That’s even with the Perfection Line is currently split up.

Incredibly, this is the third time in their last four games the Flyers have allowed a hat-trick; Pastrnak tonight, San Jose’s Tomáš Hertl on Saturday, and Anaheim’s Troy Terry two games before that. Oh, and in the one game in between that they didn’t allow a hat-trick, two Penguins (Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust) scored twice. An opposing player has scored multiple goals against the Flyers in every game they’ve played in 2022.

I… I don’t even know what to say about this one.

The Flyers generated just 1.03 expected goals at 5-on-5 for the entire game (per Natural Stat Trick); their second lowest total of the season. No surprise considering Boston allows the fewest expected goals per 60 at 5-on-5 this season.

There couldn’t have been a better team for Rask to return against than the Flyers; he’s an incredible 20-2-4 against the Flyers in his career. Rask’s career .929 save percentage against Philadelphia is the 6th best against the Flyers since Rask debuted in 2008-09 (min. 10 games played).

Finally, don’t let tonight’s outcome overshadow the significance of the moment for Kevin Hayes and his family. Perhaps no player in the NHL has dealt with more adversity than Hayes over the last eight months; from losing his brother to undergoing multiple surgeries and very clearly not being at 100% this season, Hayes is going through more now than many of us have ever gone through in our lives. Hayes gave an emotional interview with ESPN’s Emily Kaplan before the game; make sure to check it out.

3 Stars

3rd: Cam Atkinson (PHI) – Goal (15), Assist (13), 4 Shots, 20:21 TOI

2nd: Tuukka Rask (BOS) – .926 SV% (25 Saves/27 Shots), 2 GA on 2.29 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)

1st: David Pastrnak (BOS) – 3 Goals (14, 15, 16), 8 Shots

Next

PHI: 1/15, 7 PM vs. NYR (23-10-4, L1)

BOS: 1/15, 1 PM vs. NSH (24-11-2, W5)

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