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Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 40: CBJ 2, PHI 1 – Ten Again

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 40: CBJ 2, PHI 1 – Ten Again

If only it was just deja vu. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 2-1, to the Columbus Blue Jackets, “officially” losing the Cam Atkinson-Jake Voracek trade… but officially losing their tenth consecutive game. For the second time this season. It almost feels impossible to comprehend such a feat for a team that at least seemed likely to be competitive for most of the season. But it is all too real instead.

In many ways, this game mirrored the Flyers’ losing streak as a whole. When the team went on their seven-game point streak at the end of 2021, it was a welcomed departure from their previous ten-game tailspin, but still wasn’t enough to signal they could sustain a push in the right direction. There was at least some regression due if the team couldn’t improve their process before long; just not as much regression as what’s hit them over the last three weeks. The Flyers’ first-period tonight looked like they did at the end of the beginning of this skid, as they struggled to generate chances and made some mistakes. It didn’t cost them on the scoreboard Thursday, the same way the Flyers could have survived a three or four-game losing streak.

Needless to say, the Flyers were not able to stop the bleeding at three or four games. But this isn’t the same Flyers team that lost ten straight games… the first time this season. By the end of the downwards spiral that cost Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien their jobs, the Flyers simply weren’t playing hard (or well) enough. Their compete level was essentially at an all-time low. It felt like the players, many of whose relationships with the coaching staff soured during the tumultuous 2020-21 campaign, couldn’t just see the writing on the wall; they were gratifying it in big block letters themselves.

That isn’t what’s happened during the last ten games. And it isn’t what happened tonight. “I don’t think that motivation is an issue right now,” Mike Yeo said post-game. “Didn’t see any lack of desire, lack of drive.”

The Flyers were the better team tonight, especially in the final two periods when they took the Blue Jackets apart from a territorial standpoint. The Flyers had a 64.3% Corsi and 69.1% Expected Goals share over the final forty minutes. Their twelve high-danger chances were just one short of their season-high. But they couldn’t beat Elvis Merzlikins with any regularity — Philadelphia’s only goal came on a high slot shot from Gerry Mayhew through heavy traffic with just 7:20 remaining after Merzlikins had already turned aside several dangerous chances from players up and down the lineup. Meanwhile, the Flyers watched Oliver Bjorkstrand and Patrik Laine turn pucks the Flyers had the opportunity to clear into pucks they fished out of the back of their net. Despite what Hart described as “a great 3rd period,” the Flyers once again had nothing tangible to show for it.

After Tuesday’s defeat, Yeo spoke about the different paths a team can take when challenged by adversity. There’s the path of fighting through it and coming out tougher and better. Maybe the Flyers will eventually become that team. They certainly look like they want to be. But once again, they are the team further held back by it, unable to overcome another deficit (they’re just 2-17-3 when trailing 1-0) and unable to come up with enough funds to pay the staggeringly high cost to end this losing streak, one that seems to be increasing by the shift.

“I know that this group cares,” Yeo reiterated. “This is not a lack of care. The way that guys were blocking shots, Laughts jumping in for a teammate — we just have to find a way to be a little bit better.” With the way the Flyers have played the last three to four games, Yeo should be right; the Flyers should only need to be a little bit better to at least return to the win column. But one losing streak like this — let alone two — takes a toll on the team’s energy. And coming so close yet ending up so far only adds to the growing dismay.

“It was a tough one for us tonight,” said Cam Atkinson, who was one of the Flyers’ best forwards (3 shots on goal, 3 high-danger chances for) in his first game against the Columbus, who drafted him back in 2008. “We wanted to dig a little deeper, just knowing what was at stake, it’s frustrating. It’s unacceptable.”

“Our bench tonight was pretty deflated,” added Atkinson. “No energy, no pop.”

It’s hard to figure out how that energy and pop can find its way back into the Flyers locker room. The Wells Fargo Center has been lined with empty seats just about every night in 2022 (except for maybe the Penguins game on Jan. 6, but even that had a fairly large contingent of opposing fans). It’s difficult to see that changing anytime this season. Moneypuck.com — the same website that infamously projected the Flyers as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup when the 2019-20 regular season was shut down — gives them just a 0.8% of making the playoffs. Given how much has gone wrong this season, even such a slim figure almost seems too optimistic.

The fans, players, and coaches that remained from Philadelphia’s first ten-game losing streak knew things could get better; they almost had to. There are no such guarantees this time around. The Flyers have hit a rock bottom few teams in NHL history after sunk to. And they’ll have to find a way to keep digging deeper to avoid finding out if it’s even possible for things to get worse than they currently are.

Lindies

This is the first time in Flyers franchise history they have lost ten consecutive games twice in one season. It’s the first time it’s happened to any NHL team since the 2010-11 Colorado Avalanche. Unsurprisingly, no team to lose 10+ games twice in one season has ever made the playoffs.

Tonight’s game will probably be remembered for the history the Flyers made, but it’s worth noting who they honored as well. For the first time since the 2010-11 season, Jakub Voracek arrived at the Wells Fargo Center as a visitor. He was happy to let reporters know he visited the Flyers locker room anyway when he arrived, calling it a good sign he wasn’t kicked out when he entered. Voracek was largely a fan favorite due to his blunt personality and high level of skill during his decade in Philadelphia. He’s also top-ten in several all-time Flyers categories, including games played (727, 10th), assists (427, 5th), points (604, 10th), and power-play assists (162, 5th).

Voracek’s returns almost didn’t happen tonight; he cleared COVID protocol last night and arrived in Philadelphia less than twelve hours before puck drop. But he got here all the same, and it was good to see Voracek receive the recognition he deserves Thursday.

And if you want something to smile about, try thinking about the quotes or/and Tweets Voracek would be dropping if he were a Flyer right now. That should make even the bleakest moments of this season a bit easier to swallow.

Jake Voracek wasn’t the only Flyers legend to return to the Wells Fargo Center. Lou Nolan was back behind the PA mic after a two-game absence due to COVID. His voice was easily the best part of the Flyers’ power-play tonight.

Despite being divisional rivals, this is the first Blue Jackets-Flyers game in exactly twenty-three months. The teams held a home-and-home on Feb. 18 and 20, 2020, with the Flyers winning both games to kick off a nine-game winning streak. Fans might remember the second game for Kevin Hayes breaking out the “championship belt” celebration after scoring the overtime winner. It’s difficult to fathom just how far the Flyers have fallen since the last time they played Columbus.

A lot of areas of the Flyers’ play have regressed over their losing streak, but perhaps none as strikingly obvious as their power-play. Since Dec. 30, the Flyers are just T-25th in the NHL with a 15.4% man advantage. They’ve also allowed two short-handed goals in that span, tied for third-most in the league. And it’s not like they’re getting unlucky; Philadelphia’s 4.6 expected goals for per 60 minutes on the PP are dead last in that span. Entries were a huge problem tonight, especially on the Flyers’ first man-advantage, which came less than 30 seconds in. They got better as the night went on, but still found themselves 0 for 3.

Part of that is due to the key personnel they’re missing; Zack MacEwen turning into Ryan White 2.0 was not exactly in the team’s plans. But even their veteran, slam-dunk PP players haven’t been able to execute well enough. Yeo downplayed concerns of the man-advantage postgame, but it’s easy to understand the frustration; just ask Cam Atkinson. “I think our personnel’s there,” Atkinson said, downplaying the absence of three to four players who would be on the Flyers PP if healthy. “We just have to want the puck, our battle level (has to be better). We got zero momentum (from our power-play).”

Leading the way on the struggle bus for the Flyers tonight was Ivan Provorov, who was at the center of both of Columbus’ goals. The second came off a multi-player board battle that Provorov was involved in, but it was his mistake on the opening goal that was far more egregious. Provorov attempted to pass to Scott Laughton up the left boards, but with Laughton’s back turned to the neutral zone, he had no way of knowing Sean Kuraly had just jumped off the Blue Jackets bench and was immediately able to knock the puck away, keeping the play alive and leading to a 1-on-0 for Bjorkstrand in front of Hart.

Perhaps no one Flyer has been hurt more by the Flyers’ collective injury situation than Provorov, who throughout his career has been great with a true #1 by his side but only ok (for a top-pair defenseman) without one. All due respect to Justin Braun, but the 34-year old isn’t that player these days. Provorov, meanwhile, finished Thursday with a season-high four giveaways and the lowest expected goals mark of any Flyers defenseman.

If nothing else, it was good to see Scott Laughton step in for Oskar Lindblom after he took two big hits from Gavin Bayreuther in the neutral zone; the first was fine, the second was clearly late. One of the darkest moments of the 2020-21 season was when Lindblom, less than a year removed from undergoing cancer treatment, dropped the gloves to try and spark the Flyers after falling behind 4-0 in the 1st period to the Islanders last March. Both Yeo and Hart made sure to mention Laughton’s effort post-game.

It’s truly stunning how far the Flyers have fallen over the last year.

The NHL announced their restricted schedule Wednesday, with six Flyers games set to take place during what would have been the Olympic break. Those include three previously postponed games; vs. WSH on 12/21, @ PIT on 12/23, and vs. CAR on 1/11. Flyers fans will receive a merciful, much-needed one-week reprieve surrounding the All-Star Game from Feb. 2-8. They have just two games from Jan. 27-Feb. 8 as well.

3 Stars

3rd: Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ) – Goal (12)

2nd: Elvis Merzlikins (CBJ) – .971 SV% (33 Saves/34 Shots), 1 GA on 3.21 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)

1st: Boone Jenner (CBJ) – 2 Assists (10, 11), 20:01 TOI

Next

CBJ: 1/21, 7PM vs. PIT (23-10-5, W2)

PHI: 1/22, 1 PM @ BUF (12-20-7, W1)

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