Flyers Observations: Perspective on a Miserable Road Trip
When the Flyers concluded play before the holiday break on Dec. 23, the holiday spirit was alive and well. They had just defeated the New York Rangers, 5-1, to head into the break with a 21-11-5 record through 37 games. Just shy of the halfway point of the season, they were up to 21 wins simply replicating that kind of production would easily put them above 95 points and likely into the playoff picture.
That was before the annual post-Christmas trip out West as Disney on Ice takes over Wells Fargo Center.
It was a trip that the Flyers had posted a 2-13-3 in the previous four seasons. But this season was already starting to feel different. The Flyers were playing very competitive hockey. There was rarely a game that they weren’t at least knocking on the door of points. They had even entered the break with a four-game winning streak, an authoritative response to a three-game losing streak on the road the week they all learned of Oskar Lindblom’s Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis. It made that one week feel like more of a one-off than a trend. Even with a road record of 8-9-1 on the season, the Flyers had seen times when they could be just as competitive away from home. Their month of November as a whole was tremendous, so much so that you may not realize they actually had a better record on the road than at home -- 6-2-0 on the road and 4-0-4 at home.
But a 1-4-1 record on the six-game road trip that concluded on Tuesday has certainly changed all narratives. The Flyers are facing an important crossroads as the schedule returns to feature plenty of games at home -- six of the next seven games in fact.
Before providing perspective on the road trip as a whole, here’s how the road trip went from bad to worse in a hurry night by night.
Dec. 28 at San Jose
This was one of the Flyers worst games of the trip and it really was to be expected. The Flyers looked like they were skating in quicksand as the Sharks, who entered the night as the worst team in the West, waiting things out and ultimately put the game away over time.
Many people will forget that this 6-1 final result was a 1-0 deficit after one period. Two goals in the second made it more of an uphill climb, but a quick goal on the power play in the third made it a two-goal game and gave the Flyers a chance again. They gave up another goal a minute later and it was game over. San Jose poured it on and handed the Flyers their first shellacking of the road trip.
Dec. 29 at Anaheim
For as bad as the game in San Jose was, the Flyers had to be ecstatic to come away with an overtime win in Anaheim the next night. This win was far from perfect for the Flyers, but it gave them the chance to put a poor start to the road trip behind them. This was the successful result they needed and perhaps they could turn that into the start of a successful road trip and make the game in San Jose an anomaly. But two nights later…
Dec. 31 at Los Angeles
Much like the Sharks, the Kings entered play on this night as the worst team in the West. And they sure didn’t look like it. This was less a poor goaltending game and more a bunch of poor efforts all around. The Kings swarmed the net. Brian Elliott was left out to dry as he was beat on the power play by a deflection following a quick cycle and a third-chance goal at the side of the net. When the Flyers allowed a shorthanded goal late in the period, it was just icing on the cake.
The game was never really all that competitive despite the 5-3 final. The Flyers scored two goals in garbage time to change the end result from a blowout to a two-goal defeat.
Jan. 2 at Vegas
After getting off to a poor start, the Flyers came out with much better energy and scored first. Perhaps the way they had played in LA sparked them to a turnaround. Then came the four-minute span where the Golden Knights scored three times. That good start was gone.
Travis Konecny scored on a nice move to cut the lead back to one in the first, and if the Flyers could tighten things up, perhaps they could use that as a spark to rally back and find a way to take hold of the game again. Vegas got another quick goal and made it 4-2 before the end of the first. That left no margin for error, so when Cody Glass scored midway through the second, the game felt over. While it was admirable that the Flyers got the game back to within a goal and had a 6-on-3 late in the game with a chance to tie, it should have never reached that point. The regulation loss was deserved, despite the one-goal final score.
Jan. 4 at Arizona
This was the case of the snowball effect in action. The Flyers again came out with a good energy and were largely controlling possession. It just seemed that every chance ended up in the net.
There wasn’t much goaltending could do about the goals allowed to Vegas two nights earlier. Carter Hart was mostly helpless. Two of the first three goals by Arizona could have been stopped. The first one definitely needed to be, a bouncer off the ice that skipped into Hart and leaked through him.
Once the game reached 3-0, you could sense the damage had been done. Even after a better second period with better structure, Arizona scored in the final second of the period to make it 4-0 after two periods. The game was over and the Flyers were looking at another lopsided result.
Jan. 7 at Carolina
For a change, the Flyers got off to a fast start in the scoring department, striking for two quick goals to take a 2-0 lead. That lead was short-lived as Carolina tied the game before the first period was over, then opened up a 4-2 lead early in the second, another example of the snowball effect.
Much like the Arizona game, goaltending left a lot to be desired, but there were also too many mistakes in coverage and poor puck decisions that led to goals against.
In many circumstances, you wouldn’t accept the single point in the standings from this game. It’s the new year and the second half of the season is underway. Divisional games cannot become three-point games at this stage of the season. That said, given the rest of the road trip, point in any form were a welcome sight, even if yet another loss just put the cap on a miserable road trip.
Now for some perspective. In the grand scheme of things, the results of this road trip don’t really mean all that much. Sure, it’s a stretch of five losses in six games and just three standings points in two weeks. That’s not good for sure. But six games doesn’t make the season. It’s just over seven percent of the season schedule. The Flyers have seen longer losing streaks than that and still made the playoffs.
So don’t necessarily go jumping off the bridge just yet thinking everything you saw prior to this is a fluke. This team has the opportunity to make the entire road trip null and void, nothing more than a blip on the radar.
But that is the crossroads they are facing. The rest of January becomes all about establishing an identity.
The Flyers were on their way to establishing a good one. They kept games close and competitive. They weren’t getting pushed around. They were getting timely scoring. They played structured defensive. Their penalty kill was near the top of the league rankings. They were getting great goaltending.
On the road trip, all of that vanished. They couldn’t get the bounces. The defensive structure was non-existent at times. The penalty kill struggled mightily. Goaltending was not bailing the Flyers out for mistakes and becoming more of the issue it was last year and many before that.
The Flyers were flat-out getting man-handled most nights on the road trip. It’s one thing to post a 1-4-1 record while remaining modestly competitive. You can even come out of stretches like that with confidence and optimism -- the knowledge that a few bounces your way and one fewer mistake could make all the difference in turning those losses to wins.
But when there’s this much to fix at one time, it’s hard to keep things from snowballing.
A return home may sound like a way to fix things, but it’s not a cure-all. The Flyers will play their next three games at home, all against teams that are really scoring at will. The Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins combined to score 21 goals in their games on Tuesday alone. The Flyers scored 16 on the entire road trip while allowing 28 during the six games.
There is no quick fix. This team is not going to magically complete a trade for someone who will step in and be the hero or sign someone who can solve the problems. The players on the roster have to determine what this team’s identity will be. The Flyers can solve the problems, get back to the level of play and results they had through most of the first half and be a playoff contender or they can slip into the abyss out of the playoff picture and head toward another long offseason.
A lot will be learned about this team through the rest of this month and it is on them to determine how they are viewed by the rest of the league and the fans.