The Flyers were counting down the days until Monday when, barring any more negative tests, they will finally have everyone out of COVID-19 protocols.
After the Los Angeles Kings snapped their seven-game point streak on Jan. 1, things have gone from bad to worse for the Flyers. The hot streak turned into a cold one — five straight losses — and now the Flyers are trying to keep from going back to where they were in December, facing down a 10-game losing streak.
“We don’t want to get to the point where it’s too little too late,” forward James van Riemsdyk said. “So certainly we’re going to have to start really stringing together some good hockey and some good results.”
During their 10-game skid, the Flyers were feeling the loss of their injured players, including top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis, and centers Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Nate Thompson, and Patrick Brown. While the Flyers now have Hayes and Brown back, they have lost more than they’ve gained.
After testing positive for COVID on Dec. 21, Sean Couturier remained out due to injury. Then they lost Scott Laughton, a lineup staple who can play multiple forward positions, and starting goalie Carter Hart. While they’ve since seen Laughton and Hart return, they’ve also lost to COVID protocols captain Claude Giroux, top-pair defenseman Ivan Provorov, top-line forward Travis Konecny, and second-pair defenseman Travis Sanheim, who has been logging more than 20 minutes a game.
So by the time the Flyers played their rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and faced the San Jose Sharks again on Saturday, they were down four injured players and four players who were in COVID protocols, not including the players who have been injured since the start of the season.
“Obviously some key guys that we’re missing right now,” van Riemsdyk said. “So really important to get those guys back in the lineup, and hopefully, again, we’ve got to start putting together some wins, building some momentum, and going from there.”
Interim coach Mike Yeo isn’t sure that will be enough. Based on their two losses since returning home, the Flyers aren’t just missing bodies and talent, they’re also missing a level of competiveness.
Two games in a row, opponents walked all over the Flyers on their home ice. The 6-2 loss to the Penguins was out of control from the start, but the Flyers managed to gain the advantage over the Sharks despite being outplayed. Seven minutes into the third, they had a two-goal lead, but a minute later, they gave up the first of two unanswered goals that led to their 3-2 overtime loss.
The Flyers have struggled this season when giving up the first goal, and Yeo spoke of their need for resiliency. Against the Sharks, they still couldn’t bounce back after giving up a single goal, despite being the ones with the lead.
“I think that there was some attempt at it [resiliency], but I think a lot of that stuff is habits, too,” Yeo said. “The self-inflicted harm that we’re doing to ourselves is something that we’ve got to get out of our system and something that we’ve got to prevent here.”
Against both opponents, the Flyers struggled to get out of the defensive zone. When they did, they struggled to get out of the neutral zone. And if they finally won the puck in the neutral zone, they either dumped it into the offensive zone or they struggled to maintain control. As a result, the Penguins outshot the Flyers by 12 and the Sharks outshot them by 16.
“You’re not going to win hockey games like that,” Yeo said.
The coach also said he’s looking forward to getting players back. Their experience will help them make smarter decisions, and their skill might help lessen mistakes. Giroux will also play a major role in the faceoff battles.
But missing players was only part of the problem. So when Monday’s practice arrives, Yeo will welcome them back, then turn his focus toward fixing those bad habits in hopes that they’ll be able to turn things around before it’s too late.