Another Imperfect 10?: Flyers Halfway to Another of Those Streaks
You could look at any of the professional sports leagues and see how fine a line there is between contending for the playoffs and being among the worst teams in the league. The difference is not only measured in point totals, wins and losses, and overall production of goals or points for vs. against, but also in how consistently you can stay on one side of the line.
One day, you could be like the Philadelphia Flyers were to start the season. You can win three games in a row to start the season, win four of your first five games, win seven of your first 12 and carve out a spot in the playoff picture that starts to make people wonder, is this team going to prove everyone wrong?
The next day though, you can be where the Flyers are right now, mired in a five-game losing streak that is halfway to a mark that has become an identifier of where the franchise currently is.
Twice last season, the Flyers strung together at least 10 straight losses. Ironically, it was exactly one year ago that the Flyers started their first 10-game losing streak, harmlessly enough with a 4-3 shootout loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 18 that felt like a productive point in the standings. That quickly evolved into nine more losses, just one beyond regulation from Nov. 18 through Dec. 8.
If your hope was the Flyers position themselves to be at the top of next year’s draft, then hope is not lost despite the 7-3-2 start to the season. Less than a month ago, the Flyers were tied for the division lead in the Metropolitan Division. Today, they are 11 points behind the division-leading New Jersey Devils. And while a much more manageable margin of three points separates them from a playoff spot, an equally manageable four-point margin is the difference between the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Again, it’s a fine line, because all it takes is a consistent stretch of losing games to find yourself not only out of the playoff picture, but going from looking down on the majority of the league to looking up. It has happened in a hurry for the Flyers, who just 10 days ago had a top-10 points percentage in the league.
But this is about more than just positioning in the standings. It would be one thing if the Flyers had been here all along, or had strung together these losses with more regularity over the first month-plus of the season. To be positioned for another lengthy losing streak is another.
John Tortorella has spoken frequently about the need to carve out an identity for the team. It isn’t all about wins and losses this season, but about establishing what kind of team this is. Tortorella admitted after the latest loss on Thursday that patience is required in this area, because with so many players out with injury, it’s hard to know what kind of team you have.
Many of the players currently injured were also injured during the stretches where the Flyers had losing streaks of this nature a season ago, so in fairness to Tortorella, he’s right. But for a team halfway to its third double-digit losing streak in a calendar year and one loss from a fifth streak of six games or more, creating an identity of the contrary is challenging, injuries or not.
Everyone deals with injuries, and the opposition on Thursday was the perfect example of how to overcome it.
The Boston Bruins entered the season with tons of question marks. For months, it was a question if Patrice Bergeron would be returning or retiring. David Krejci was rumored to be returning, but nothing was set in stone until he officially signed in August, about a month before training camp began. Add in long-term injuries to Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy and there was as much a chance the team could flounder out of the gates and never recover.
Marchand returned after eight games. McAvoy returned after 13 games. The Bruins never missed a beat along the way and have five straight wins and a 15-2-0 record.
That doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen by being a hard-working team on its own. It happens because it is a team built to rely on depth when top players are not available. A perfect example was in Thursday’s meeting with the Flyers. It wasn’t Bergeron, Marchand, and David Pastrnak lighting up the scoresheet. Tomas Nosek broke the ice. Nick Foligno had two assists. So did Pavel Zacha. Those are players that helped the Bruins survive the time without their stars, and now naturally slot into depth roles where they still regularly contribute.
Meanwhile, the Flyers may have lost another of their top-six forwards due to injury with Travis Konecny leaving Thursday’s game late in the second period. Konecny had 10 points over his previous seven games entering Thursday. In the previous eight games, as a team, the Flyers had 17 goals. Konecny was recording a point and directly factoring into the team’s production on 59 percent of their recent scoring.
Take him out of a lineup for any prolonged period along with the likes of Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Cam Atkinson, and Wade Allison up front and you’re left with a forward group that is constantly being elevated to more minutes and responsibilities. The harsh reality is that the Flyers don’t have the depth and talent to compete with other teams in the league when they are this badly battered by injuries. Even in games where they have performed better by the analytic numbers in possession, shot attempts, and scoring chances, they find themselves on the losing end because it all evens out.
Thursday’s game was also an example of that. The Flyers clearly gave the effort that Tortorella wants to see on a nightly basis. For 50 minutes, they hung right in there with the best team in the league and were locked in a one-goal game. They took it as far as they could before the wheels fell off in the end.
That has seemingly been the formula for this current five-game streak. It’s not that the Flyers are playing so poorly, it’s that the talent disparity is catching up, and now the goaltending isn’t able to bail them out like it did early in the season. It has another double-digit streak on the horizon, one that would be their third in a calendar year.
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