Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 42: DAL 3, PHI 1 – Streaking
Gutsy yet gutted. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 3-1, to the Dallas Stars, in an ugly but hard-fought game; one that went right down to the wire. Neither team was particularly exciting, but the game was fairly evenly played. And the scoreboard reflected that until review confirmed Joel Peterson snuck a one-timer off Carter Hart’s shoulder and off the back bar for the eventual game-winner with just 3:25 left in regulation. The night started with one streak — Keith Yandle tying Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games played — and ended with a far gloomier one: the 2021-22 Flyers etching themselves into the team’s record books with a twelfth straight game outside the win column.
There are lots of teams that go on massive losing streaks; even a few that go on more than one in the same season, a category the Flyers know all too well. Losing in sports is never fun; the Flyers’ body language when leaving the ice and in their tones in post-game press conferences after turning in another commendable effort but disappointing result attests to that. “The last thing I wanna do is sit here and say it’s ok we lost a hockey game,” Mike Yeo emphasized in the wake of the latest shell-shocking loss.
The good news is that there is one thing in sports that is worse than losing. The bad news is that depending on your view, the Flyers are at best either rapidly approaching or at worst have long arrived at that state: apathy.
There are three types of losing streaks in hockey, at least when you’re talking about ones as long as the Flyers’ current skid. Some streaks rile up players and fans, where you can feel the blood boiling during every interview and in every comments section. They usually come from teams with high expectations whose season isn’t totally lost but is trending towards desolation. Often they end in a big move on some sort of major decision; usually a head coach or/and GM firing. The Flyers already went through one of these this season. So did the Canucks. The Oilers are going through one right now (yes, they beat Calgary on Saturday, but it takes more than one win to officially escape one of these). They’re fairly common, but that doesn’t ease the sting when your team’s in the middle of one.
Other skids are accepted by fans because it’s part of a rebuild. Think Detroit in past years under the Yzerplan. Arizona starting this season (and 2017-18) 0-10-1. The Sabres’ legendary 2014-15 tank job meant to secure consensus No. 1 pick Connor McDavid (narrator: they did not secure Connor McDavid). Most fanbases are willing to accept a rebuild, especially if you’re upfront about it with them. They understand building a championship team isn’t easy, and are often willing if not eager to begin a tear-down. It’s easy to distract fans of these teams with highlights of prospects that they’re fawning over and loading up a franchise mode in the latest NHL video game where they’ve used said prospects to turn the team into a dynasty five years down the line. These streaks are also fairly common.
It’s the third type of streak that organizations really need to be wary of. When these streaks happen, fans don’t rage and pout on forums or sports talk shows. They don’t have any immediate futures to be excited about it. So they do the one thing sports fans never want to or should have to do: shrug. It’s not that they’re mad, frustrated, confused, or unimpressed; they’re just disappointed. They acknowledge that their team’s season is over, even though no team’s season truly is this early in the season; heck, even the last-place Canadiens would almost assuredly make the playoffs if they win out (they would finish at 105 points in that scenario).
They aren’t optimistic about the future, because not only is the most likely path to winning isn’t a long one, it’s also a difficult one to navigate. It’s usually teams coming out of retools that find themselves in this state; the scars of prospects that flopped and perpetually being “two years away from being two years away”. For some fans — mostly newer ones, but maybe even a few die-hards — it will be enough to move on or at least extinguish a flame that will never burn quite as brightly as it once did, even if the team eventually returns to relevance.
It’s the third type of streak that the Flyers now find themselves in. It’s not even that the Flyers are playing poorly anymore. In their first six games of the losing streak, the Flyers held a dismal 46.4% expected goals rate. In the last four, it’s up to a solid 50.7%. Yeo has gone from generally being critical of the team’s performance to commending their efforts; in five of their last six contests (except Saturday’s debacle), he’s praised the Flyers’ team play, compete level, or/and energy. The Flyers’ lately dismal special teams didn’t even play a factor Monday; not a single penalty was called on either side. Except for Saturday, goaltending has mostly been solid as well; and Carter Hart delivered an excellent performance, topped with a highlight reel save on Miro Heiskanen to preserve a 1-1 tie in the third.
And it still wasn’t enough in the end. There’s almost no way a team that, on the whole, has played as well as the Flyers have in their last six games. But combine small sample sizes with the six largely embarrassing losses that preceded it and the growing gap in the standings that resulted from the team’s first double-digit losing streak this season, it’s easy to see how things have spiraled. The Flyers look like, as Claude Giroux said after Saturday’s loss, a team that feels they have to play a perfect game to win. Any team gripping their sticks that tightly is probably going to struggle.
The Flyers weren’t robbed of victory they were in some of their recent games when they were racking up 60% expected goals marks and holding leads in the back half of the third period. Dallas held the Flyers to just seven shots in the first period; including only two in the first eleven and a half minutes. “There were times we didn’t execute well enough, whether it was off the rush or in the offensive zone, some things we can do a little different, bit better,” Yeo said when reflecting on the whole game.
It’s not that the team wasn’t generating chances early; they just couldn’t hit the net. Only 7 of the Flyers’ 15 first-period shot attempts (46.7%) required a save from Jake Oettinger, compared to 21 of 32 (65.6%) the rest of the way. When the Flyers did hit the net, they proved incapable of beating the Stars goaltender clean; their lone goal coming off an Ivan Provorov cross-ice pass that deflected in off Dallas’ John Klingberg.
Some of that is bad luck. But it’s also a testament to the quality of players the Flyers are icing (and the roles that they’re playing in) as a result of their ten injuries, eight of which belong to forwards. “Guys like G are forced to take on heavier match-ups, more d-zone face-offs,” Yeo detailed. “(We’re) asking young kids to play in hard matchups. Usually, young guys would come in and play with vets. We’re asking a lot of everybody.”
It showed on Monday. After losing Wade Allison for at least the next two weeks (which thankfully only include three games for the Flyers), the team moved Nick Seeler to left-wing because their only reinforcements, Connor Bunnaman and Linus Sandin, had played each of the last two days with the Phantoms. Zack MacEwen did play after suffering a late injury, but was announced as not 100% before the game and didn’t look 100% on the ice either. The Flyers’ most dangerous line was the Max Willman-Morgan Frost-Gerry Mayhew trio, which has combined for 9 goals in 93 NHL career games. Just a glance at the Flyers’ lineup card makes it easy to understand why the team struggled to finish.
But as Yeo said, “there is a certain reality to it,” that reality being one where the Flyers aren’t going to have the personnel to turn good or even great efforts to wins on a consistent basis for a while. Maybe that’s until Allison, Hayes, and Farabee return to give the team some semblance of its planned roster structure in July. Maybe it can’t happen until Ryan Ellis, Sean Couturier, and others return to truly boost the team to full strength. The 2021-22 Flyers better hope it isn’t that after Yeo acknowledged neither has a set time-table nor is currently skating. Or maybe it’s years from now when a few (or more) years of a rebuild full of the second type of losing streak from above finally return the Flyers to the league’s elite.
But it’s basically impossible to see it happening anytime soon. And unless you’re an extreme nihilist eager to see how down far the rabbit hole goes, it’s hard to recommend investing meaningful until the players, management, or just the world itself gives you a reason to think that change is on the horizon. It’s not that there’s nowhere to go but up, or even farther down. With the team’s injuries and lowly spot in dead last place of the Metropolitan Division, there’s just nowhere meaningful to go right now at all.
You would expect even the most humble person to be excited about reaching such a prestigious milestone as Yandle. Yet both before and after the game, Yandle emphasized his nature to shy away from the spotlight. “I tried to keep it as normal as possible,” Yandle said when asked about how he prepared for the moment. “It was just kinda, go about my day as normal as possible.”
Yandle did concede some excitement when asked about the salute he received during the first TV timeout. “It wasn’t really something I expected,” Yandle admitted. “Never really thought about it. And I saw the guys cheering for me, standing up, and all the fans — it obviously meant a lot. Your teammates, guys that you play with, guys that they play against, when they congratulate you — it hits home, it means a lot.” Perhaps he’ll be a bit more excited tomorrow night when he should pass Jarvis for good in front of his wide kids, parents, brother, and sister on Long Island.
The losing streak and Yandle’s milestones won’t go down as the only history made on Monday. The Flyers played just their second penalty-free game and first since Nov. 23, 2018.
Unfortunately, this night wasn’t able to be as special as it could have been, with Michael Raffl unable to play in his return to Philadelphia due to an injury suffered in Dallas’ last game. At his peak, Rafffl was the ultimate Swiss army knife for the Flyers; the Austrian played all three forward positions on every line in eight seasons and 470 games in Philadelphia from 2013-2021. He still was able to take the game in from the press box, though. And he also made sure to catch up with his old teammates just like Jake Voracek last Thursday.
To be clear, the Flyers didn’t pick Seeler’s name out of a hat to fill their left-wing vacancy; he’d played there a bit in his college days at Nebraska-Omaha. You could see his defenseman mentality early in the game when he was very passive in the neutral zone. Seeler did make a few nice plays in the early going; however, like with Sam Morin, the Seeler to wing experiment seems likely to last no more than a game.
One player who did stand out in quite a few positive ways was Morgan Frost. No offense to Willman and Mayhew. But they aren’t exactly players who someone dreams of centering; especially a 22-year old trying to find his footing at the NHL level. But Frost found the right balance between passing and pulling the trigger (tied for second on the team; only the main player he was setting up in Mayhew had more) while also playing a strong 200-foot game. That effort included a big hit on Dallas’ Riley Damiani.
“I think that’s a part of my game I need to add to be more effective,” Frost said when asked if he made a concerted effort to be more physical. “Especially when I’m not really putting up points or creating as much offense as I’d like. You gotta be able to impact the game in other ways. That doesn’t mean you have to run around and hit people all game. If I’m using my body, that’s gonna help me hopefully stay in the NHL and just be a better player. When I’m using my body, I’m at my best.”
Ultimately, all Frost cares about is earning the approval of is Mike Yeo, who also liked what he saw. “That’s the best game I’ve seen Frosty play,” said Yeo. “His competitive level — he raised the bar on that. I thought he was very effective. I thought the whole line was.”
3rd: Keith Yandle (PHI) – 964th Consecutive Game Played, Tying All-Time NHL Record
2nd: Roope Hintz (DAL) – Goal (18), Assist (16)
1st: Jacob Peterson (DAL) – Goal (7), 2 Shots, 60% Face-Offs
DAL: 1/25, 7 PM @ NJ (15-20-5, L1)
PHI: 1/25, 7:30 PM @ NYI (14-14-6, L1)
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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick