Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 46: DET 6, PHI 3 – Breaking Point
So much for momentum. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 6-3, to the Detroit Red Wings in their first game post-All-Star break. Technically, the second half already began; the Flyers’ officially passed the 50% threshold of this nightmare season over two weeks ago. But the after the All-Star Game portion unofficially ushers in the stretch run of the season. Of course, to call it a stretch that the Flyers will make things interesting would be a massive understatement; the hole the team has dug themselves into is almost too deep to even see a Wild Card spot, let alone climb to one.
That’s especially true if tonight’s game is any indication as to how the rest of the season will play out. The Flyers have had games where their 5-on-5 play has been worse. They’ve had games where their special teams have been less productive. But Wednesday’s return to the Wells Fargo Center may have been the most incomplete game in a season full of lackluster ones.
The team was simply bulldozed at 5-on-5, to the tune of an ugly 32.88% Corsi and somewhere even worse 31.92% expected goals percentage. Down just one entering the third period, the Flyers lost the all situations expected goals battle in the final frame 1.71-0.26 despite having the only power-play of the period. Overall on the night, the Flyers generated fewer expected goals in 9 minutes of power-play time (0.54) than the Red Wings did in just 3:06 (0.78). Their special teams were, predictably, outscored 1-0, which doesn’t even do justice to how much of a debacle they were; there was an extended moment during the third period, up a man and down just a goal, where the Flyers only had four skaters on the ice. The Red Wings generated a 2-on-1 as a result.
And the team’s one usually consistent saving grace, literally and figuratively, struggled mightily, as Carter Hart allowed a pair of questionable goals from Robby Fabbri and Givani Smith, both of which turned one goal Red Wings deficits in a game that started out as a total shooting gallery (the score was 2-2 after just 6:26 of play) into a game Detroit took command off. Hart admitted to cheating for a pass on the Fabbri goal. As for the Smith goal? “I should’ve saved that,” Hart chuckled. It was a meltdown in just about every area, and the Flyers realized as much.
“You don’t expect perfection coming out of a break – primarily in the execution,” Mike Yeo said post-game. “But I thought (the Red Wings) were certainly more willing to engage in the 1-on-1 battles, block shots, do all the little things that we were doing before the break that we didn’t do tonight.”
“It’s not like one part of our game broke us down tonight,” Yeo also offered. “You can start with 1-on-1 battles, loose puck races — you can move into execution, the structure the detail of our game — we can pinpoint a lot of things. Didn’t seem like we had anyone who could swing the momentum. We’ve started to try and establish what our standards are in certain areas. And tonight we didn’t meet those standards.”
Yeo’s assertion that the team “didn’t (have) anyone who could swing the momentum” was likely more a criticism of the team’s effort; after all, he did place in between two sentences about the team underperforming specifically on Wednesday. But this criticism also applies to the Flyers’ roster. From Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott two weeks ago to Danny Brière in his press conference Wednesday morning after being named Special Assistant to the GM to Yeo on Wednesday, the awareness, or at least forthrightness of the Flyers’ lack of high-end talent, is the highest it’s been during the Claude Giroux era.
Which makes it all the more confusing why the Flyers took the ice Wednesday without Morgan Frost and Cam York, who remained with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms after being sent down alongside Isaac Ratcliffe (who was recalled for the game). Frost and York obviously aren’t the game-breakers Fletcher, Briere, and Yeo are alluding to. But they sure seem like players who can help the Flyers now; and hopefully, be a big part of their future.
Demoting Frost makes a bit more sense; he only has two assists in 14 games since the calendar year changed. And the Flyers got back an obvious stylistic replacement in Derick Brassard from injury Wednesday. But Frost was showing some serious chemistry with Max Willman and Gerry Mayhew (62.57% expected goals together) before the break. And if nothing else, Frost has all but proven to be too good for the AHL; he’s a point-per-game player for a low-scoring Phantoms team this season. The Flyers would probably learn more about Frost by seeing him in the show; even if the circumstances aren’t ideal.
If Frost’s demotion is confusing, York’s is confounding. Perhaps we should have seen it coming; after playing over 20 minutes in six of his first eight games of the season, York only crossed the 18-minute threshold once in his last five contests and did so by just nine seconds. And he had been a bit sloppier with the puck in those games. But his 48.31% expected goals rate is second among Flyers defensemen (trailing only Travis Sanheim, who scored Wednesday). And there appears to be a pretty simple scenario to fixing York’s struggles; keep him away from Keith Yandle at all costs.
|Ice-Time||Corsi For%||Expected Goals%||Goals For%|
|York With Yandle||50:49||41.56%||35.91%||0% (0-3)|
|York Without Yandle||139:21||49.18%||52.53%||55.56% (5-4)|
Granted, there isn’t a great solution to keeping York in the lineup and away from Yandle; with the season so far gone, there’s really no point in Philadelphia being the “bad guys” that end Yandle’s streak. But those are some pretty drastic splits. And if Frost and York aren’t ready for primetime, it seems impossible to justify Isaac Ratcliffe, who’s been much less productive in the AHL and is less heralded of a prospect, staying with the big club.
But even if/when Frost and York return to the Flyers lineup, it won’t solve the main issue. Getting depth players like Brassard and potentially Patrick Brown soon is nice. But it hardly makes the Flyers a more formidable team. With returns for Joel Farabee and Wade Allison still seemingly a bit in the distance, and the same for Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis increasingly likely to not come this season, it’s a problem that will go unaddressed until the summer. It’s why a Flyers team that is known for surging after massive stumbles — before now, each of their last four losing streaks of 8+ games (dating back to 2017-18) were followed by a point streak of at least six games — probably won’t have enough gas in the tank to make a similar run, even if it ultimately would’ve likely been in vain.
The Flyers can be better than they were against Detroit, but probably not on a nightly basis. No matter how much their effort and even their execution improve, their current talent level means Wednesday night likely set a fitting base for what lies ahead in the Flyers’ next three months.
Let’s take a brief moment to appreciate Claude Giroux’s performance in the All-Star Game(s) Saturday. In his 7th ASG (one shy of Bobby Clarke for the franchise record), Giroux scored three goals and an assist to lead the Metropolitan Division to the crown. Since the 3-on-3 ASG format was introduced in 2016, the Flyers are the only team to have two tournament MVPs; Wayne Simmonds also won the award in 2017. Those two and Reggie Leach (1980) are the only three Flyers to win ASG MVP.
Giroux’s performance not only earned him that hardware (plus a share of the $1 million check awarded to the winning team and a new car) but the NHL’s First Star of the Week honor. He’s the first Flyer to be named a star of the week since Travis Konecny in the first week of the 2020-21 season. The last Flyer to win the first star of the week was no other than Giroux himself; all the way back for the week ending Feb. 11, 2018.
While things are looking very bleak for the 2021-22 Flyers, two pieces of the team’s future are at least providing some hope. 2017 5th round pick Noah Cates (brother of Phantoms forward Jackson) scored in Team USA’s 8-0 win over China to kick off their Olympic run. And after scoring just two goals in 15 games last year, 2019 2nd round pick Bobby Brink has exploded for 41 points in 26 games thus far for the University of Denver. He’s tied for the NCAA lead in points. He also leads the nation in assists (32) and points per game (1.58) among qualified players.
There must be something about the NHL schedule makers that makes the idea of Red Wings-Flyers home-and-homes seem as essential as oxygen. Tonight’s game is the front-end of the second home-and-home the two teams have played in the last four seasons. Excluding the wonky 2020-21 schedule, the Flyers have only had one other home-and-home with a team in that span (Feb. 18-20, vs. and at Columbus). Philadelphia swept the first series against Detroit in 2018-19. A repeat is obviously not in the cards.
Of course, any Red Wings regulation regular-season victory in Philadelphia hasn’t been in the cards for a while; over 25 years in fact. Detroit’s last win of that variety came back on January 25, 1997; they were just 1-14-2 between then and tonight. Of course, that excludes a pair of victories in Philly in Games 1 and 2 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final; both in regulation. I think the Red Wings can stomach that trade-off.
Happy birthday to Flyers defenseman Justin Braun, who turned 35 on Thursday!
The Flyers used all their time off to make quite a few new additions to their front office. The headline move, of course, was Brière’s aforementioned promotion. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who given the Fletcher-Scott presser; “(Brière) sat in pretty much every big meeting we’ve had the last two years” the former said then. He even directly alluded to a bigger role that obviously came to fruition. Since retiring from playing in 2015, Brière worked for the ECHL’s Maine Mariners as VP of Operations (June 2017 – March 2021) and President/Governor (March 2021 – February 2022). The former Flyers center was also a finalist for the Montréal Canadiens GM job just a few months ago.
Understandably lost in the shuffle of the James Harden trade were two new additions to the team’s analytics department on Thursday, as the Flyers announced the hirings of Kathryn Yates as Hockey Analyst and Cole Anderson as Lead Data Scientist. Per the team’s official announcement, Yates had previously been the Director of Analytics for the University of Massachusetts men’s hockey team. Anderson has held the same title in other industries such as software and e-commerce, while previously working for NHL data-collector and analytics source Sportlogiciq and the USHL’s Chicago Steel.
To be clear, the intended goal of questioning why Ratcliffe was still with the Flyers over Frost and York wasn’t to rain on the former’s parade. Ratcliffe has looked solid in his young NHL career and was rewarded with his first NHL goal Wednesday on an inadvertent deflection off his leg from a Zack MacEwen shot. At the end of the day, though, they don’t ask how — just how many.
Ratcliffe also joins Jordan Weal in the club of Flyers players to survive a coaches’ challenge on their first NHL goal. It’s a prestigious one as that; infamously blocking Joel Farabee from entry in his second NHL game where he scored three points, only one of which (an assist) occurred on an on-side, legal goal.
2nd: Robby Fabbri (DET) – Goal (13), Assist (11)
1st: Dylan Larkin (DET) – Goal (24), Assist (22), 3 Shots
2/12, 12 PM – PHI vs. DET (21-21-6)
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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick