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The Philadelphia Flyers are playing legitimately good hockey right now. But the collection of players in roles above their weight class has led to consecutive heart-breaking losses against divisional rivals; just what was needed to keep the disappointment coming. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 49: WSH 5, PHI 3 – No Hathaway Home

The Philadelphia Flyers are playing legitimately good hockey right now. But the collection of players in roles above their weight class has led to consecutive heart-breaking losses against divisional rivals; just what was needed to keep the disappointment coming. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 49: WSH 5, PHI 3 – No Hathaway Home

Scott Laughton said it best. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, not because they were destined to, but because the Washington Capitals scored five goals and they only scored three. It isn’t wrong if you feel the former is true, too, because a lot of the evidence of the last month overwhelmingly points to a hockey team that deserves better. Not good. Just better.

The Flyers skated right with the Capitals, outshooting Washington 33-25 and essentially breaking even in expected goals. Their power-play showed some new life. Martin Jones wasn’t perfect, but he’d stopped more goals than expected when Gerry Mayhew, returning from a scary-looking injury Saturday, scored his second goal of the game to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead with just 3:51 remaining. In the relatively important first game of a franchise-record eight-game homestand, the Flyers were on the cusp of giving their home crowd a rare occasion to celebrate.

And then, with no warning, it all unraveled. Of course, one could argue there were warning signs in the team’s rag-tag roster and three-game losing streak coming out of the All-Star break. But every team wins games. The Flyers were winning this game with very little time left, and they weren’t lucky to be doing so based on the first fifty-seven-and-a-half minutes of their play. Teams have shown up for far lesser amounts of hockey games and still found ways to win. Even including the 2021-22 Flyers themselves.

But if there’s been one underrated storyline amidst the Flyers’ massive struggles — tonight’s loss drops them to 7-21-7 since Nov. 15 — it’s how badly their margin for error has been beaten out of them. After the Flyers lost their eleventh straight game in embarrassing fashion to the Sabres on Jan. 22, Claude Giroux said, “I feel like we have to play a perfect game (in order to win).” No team is capable of doing that; certainly not the Flyers’ team in its current state, or even the team at full health, for that manner. A team with that mindset is doomed to fail because when they inevitably make a mistake, even if it’s not a particularly egregious one, it starts a domino effect in their mind that eventually spills into their on-ice play.

After a brief, merciful two-game reprieve, that feeling is starting to come back. For the second straight game, Mike Yeo threw out his depth players immediately after a goal was scored that left the Flyers ahead by one. For the second straight game, the lead dissipated on that shift, with a fluke bounce off the leg of Garnet Hathaway deflecting a John Carlson point-shot past Jones to tie the game. And just when overtime seemed inevitable, an egregious mistake by Ivan Provorov — the type of blind backhand pass up the middle that can’t be made under any circumstances — became a much cleaner, even more, deflating goal from Hathaway with just 1:12 left. Even Washington’s empty netter felt unnecessarily cruel; a wild Carlson clearing attempt that bounced off the glass in the Flyers’ end and somehow angled into the net Jones had just vacated.

“Honestly, I don’t even know what to say right now,” Mike Yeo said. It’s hard to blame him. “In some ways, you’re thinking about the good things that you did and how we can be confident going up against any team knowing that even when we’re short with players when we play our team game the way that we do, we can have success.”

“But we walk away with nothing tonight. And so that’s tough. We’re learning that we have confidence playing our game. Now we have to learn that we have to have confidence finishing the game. We have to learn how to win. And somehow learning how to win is learning how not to lose.” Yeo’s assessment is sound. But making that transition is easier said than done. With the way this Flyers’ season is going, it feels like the only way they’ll learn how not to lose is by process of elimination; exhausting every possible means of collapse and heartbreak until none remain. It honestly may not rank at the top of the worst possible outcomes for the final 33 games of this season. As the ending of nearly every single Flyers game in 2022 has reminded fans, it can always be worse.

In some ways, this game is the perfect loss. The Flyers would need to just about win out to make the playoffs. Even though the team does plan to try and turn things around next season, a higher draft pick (or/and lottery odds) would only make that turn-around easier. But achieving it through the team simply playing terrible would be at best one step forward, one step back, preventing the NHL team from building any momentum heading into next season. It’s difficult to feel it over the disappointment of another frustrating collapse. But the Flyers should be proud of how they played tonight.

And it’s not like this performance was a one-off. Since Jan. 18, the Flyers are 15th in the NHL with a 49.7% expected goals share. Not great, but solid. Certainly deserving of much better than a 2-9-2 record during that span. Unlike earlier in the season, the problem isn’t that the Flyers are playing objectively poorly. But the problem that’s presenting itself now is somehow much more daunting, especially for the rest of this season; they simply aren’t talented enough. Hard work and competitiveness are important, and they can make the difference in some games. But they can only do so much. And a Flyers team filled with players not expected to even sniff the NHL this season just a few months ago are finding that out the hard way.

Injuries are a key catalyst for this situation. But the Flyers can’t entirely blame the variables when they haven’t done themselves many favors. A farm system that ranked first in the NHL five years ago that had “the cupboards lined with talent at every position” and is “in the best position of any NHL team in terms of adding young premium players to their roster” should be able to fill in the gaps better than the Flyers currently are. The Hextall era’s shortcomings in drafting and player development are being laid out for all to see right now; a bit more harshly than they should be, but the point still stands. That once-heralded prospects like German Rubtsov and Matt Strome are barely even options to be called up is a massive failure. The struggles of the ones who are playing fits in the same boat.

Depth made the difference on Thursday. Washington gashed the Flyers’ bottom-pair of Keith Yandle and Kevin Connauton to a jaw-dropping degree (6.64% expected goals mark, 0.51-0.04). The Max Willman-Morgan Frost-Gerry Mayhew trio was so poor at 5-on-5 that Yeo had to break them up. But Washington also won the game because of theirs. Michal Kempný, who has played just eight games this season, filled in due to injuries and scored the game’s opening goal. Washington’s trio of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd, and Hathaway is one of the best fourth-lines in the game. They turned the game on its head in the closing minutes. Ilya Samsonov and Martin Jones both haven’t had sparkling seasons. But the former outplayed the latter as well.

In another world, maybe it would be the Flyers winning this game the same way the Capitals did. After all, Philadelphia came into the year banking on their depth, which looked impressive with the team at full health. The 2021-22 Flyers will never be at full health, and is an important disclaimer. But so are the deeper problems that have played a role in every single loss this season, tonight’s included. Getting back to full health next year will be crucial if the Flyers are to pull-off the quick fix the front office is going for. But to build the successful, model team the Capitals have been for the last fifteen years, solving the latter problem is far more crucial — and even more importantly, something the Flyers can control themselves.

Lindies

Faceoffs usually go fairly unnoticed, so the casual fan probably didn’t realize how dominant Claude Giroux was in the face-off circle Thursday. Of course, even when the Flyers aren’t playing the Penguins, Sidney Crosby still finds a way to one-up the Flyers’ captain.

It’s much of a shock considering he had just two goals in seventeen games before this season. But tonight was indeed Gerry Mayhew’s first multi-goal NHL game. Perhaps even more noteworthy, Mayhew was promoted to the top-line alongside Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson midway through the game; Oskar Lindblom took his place on the third line as a result. Mayhew was actually on the ice with Giroux and Willman when he scored the 3-2 goal (his lone 5-on-5 tally). We’ll have to wait and see if this was a just a one-game switch or something Mike Yeo sticks with.

“He works, and he skates. You can have success in this league if you do those things. He’s got skill to make plays,” said Yeo. Perhaps the biggest thing working in Mayhew’s favor, as Yeo mentioned, is “he’s obviously very confident.” Not many Flyers can say that right now. Yeo said he provided a “good spark” to the top-line, so it’s not out of the question he stays put there on Saturday.

Sometimes you see teams play someone a bit more just before the deadline to try and showcase them to potential suitors. But given the state of the Flyers defense right now, should the Flyers be trying to do the opposite with Martin Jones? Other than maybe the opening goal, when Jones perhaps could’ve done a better job peering around the traffic in front, it’s hard to blame Jones for any of the goals he allowed. Yet the numbers on paper look ugly; a .833 save percentage (20 saves on 24 shots) and four goals allowed on 3.07 expected against (all situations). They’re not indicative of Jones’ performance, which was much closer to fine than actively bad; but teams will be going off those numbers when making their deadline decisions.

For the second straight game, the Flyers gave up a player’s first goal since the 2019-20 season. On Tuesday, it was Chad Ruhwedel; Thursday, Kempný tallied his first since Oct. 25, 2019. Granted, he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. But that hardly erases the sting for the Flyers.

If you really want to read more about Tuesday’s game, I won’t stop you.

The Flyers called up Maxim Sushko from Lehigh Valley for tonight’s game. He served as a healthy scratch, so we’ll have to see if the Flyers continue bringing up Sushko (or other players) as insurance during this homestand, given that they currently only have eighteen healthy skaters in the NHL, or if Sushko will play his first NHL games of 2021-22.

3 Stars

3rd: Carl Hagelin (WSH) – 2 Assists (10, 11)

2nd: Gerry Mayhew (PHI) – 2 Goals (4, 5), 4 Shots

1st: Garnet Hathaway (WSH) – 2 Goals (9, 10), Assist (9), 4 Shots

Next

WSH: 2/24, 7 PM @ NYR (31-13-5, OTL1)

PHI: 2/21, 3 PM vs. CAR (32-11-4, OTL1)

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

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