NEWARK, N.J. — Against a struggling New Jersey Devils team, the Flyers showed less fight than they did Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, reverting right back to the team they were before Alain Vigneault was fired. Their 3-0 loss to the Devils extended their skid to 10 games.
“I think the biggest thing right now is we’ve got to find a way to get ourselves executing,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s just too difficult of a game.”
The Flyers showed no signs of improvement from previous games with their first-period play. The 20 minutes passed with no goals and few dangerous chances from either team, although the Devils generated more high-risk shots than the Flyers.
The Flyers spent extensive time in the defensive zone, which finally took its toll when the Devils’ 15th shot got past Carter Hart to open the scoring. Six minutes later, the Devils increased the lead to two with a power-play goal.
The Flyers didn’t deflate like previous games, but they also didn’t kick into action. They just kept chugging as they had been before. As a result, the Devils apparently increased the lead to three with two minutes left in the second. The Flyers challenged that New Jersey was offside and won the challenge, which helped them keep the deficit at two going into the third.
With less than an inch to spare, the Flyers escaped a third goal again early in the third. The puck trickled past Hart and came to a stop on the goal line. No Devils were near, so Ivan Provorov snagged it and saved the goal.
Thirty-six seconds later, Travis Sanheim had a good shot from the slot, but Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood made the save as Sanheim was checked into the ice. Sanheim went to the bench and threw his stick down the tunnel.
The Flyers unsuccessfully pulled their goalie shortly after, and the Devils scored an empty-net goal to set the final score.
Offense is the best defense
If the Flyers control the puck, the other team has no chance to score. In a similar vein, if they spend less time on defense, they have more energy to play offense.
The Flyers didn’t execute on offense or defense, which meant each exacerbated the other.
When the Devils had the puck in the Flyers’ defensive zone, they struggled to gain possession. They often lost battles on the boards, and when they did win them, the other Flyers weren’t there to gain possession of the puck. Once the Flyers got out of their own zone, they were often too tired to carry or pursue the puck into the offensive zone to try to get something going.
“I think systematically we’re working on a few things to clean up those areas defensively,” Sanheim said. “Different situations on the ice where maybe we can shut down plays sooner and spend less time on our end. Obviously, if we can do that, we’re going to be a lot better offensively. It’s a work in progress, but obviously, we don’t have a ton of time to do it.”
If the Flyers did manage to take control of the puck, they often turned it right back over with poor passing. That sent them right back on defense, wearing them down again.
“It really all comes down to our puck play,” Yeo said. “The way that we support each other. And then when we have the puck on our stick, making the read. If you’ve got time and space, be ready to skate, move your feet, and obviously find your options.”
The Flyers pulled their goalie with a little more than two minutes to go, but passing once again kept them from getting much going, and it also set up empty-net goal attempts as the Devils knocked the puck away, one of which went in in the final minute.
Special teams revert
The Flyers’ special teams performance Monday against the Avalanche was out of character. After a long scoring drought, the power play scored for its second game in a row. Meanwhile, the penalty kill, which was one of the strongest in the NHL, gave up three power-play goals.
Against the Devils, the Flyers’ power play reverted to its normal tendencies — lots of passing, few shots and opportunities for the opponent to clear.
The penalty kill did not completely revert back to its normal strong play. The first appearance looked more like the unit of past games. The team cleared the puck twice and allowed just one shot on goal. But with 20 seconds left on the clock of the second power play, Ty Smith took a shot from the point, and Dawson Mercer tipped it in. However, on the third, they limited chances and gained control of the puck multiple times.
“I thought our penalty kill did a good job,” Hart said. “Obviously, they got the one there on the redirect in front. Tough break, but you’ve got to look at the big picture, and I think our PK has improved from last year.”
With Derick Brassard back for the first time in two weeks, Yeo decided to place him on the fourth line. He liked what he saw from the line combinations he rolled out against the Avalanche and wanted the top three lines to build on that.
Those lines didn’t hold long. As the game went on, the Flyers presented more and more combinations, beyond the usual shifts that occur after power plays and penalty kills. Brassard played up on the third line in Morgan Frost’s place with Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk and later with Scott Laughton and Cam Atkinson.
“Later in the game, we weren’t generating much,” Yeo said. “[Brassard] and Cam have had a lot of chemistry together, so we thought maybe we’d try to generate something there.”
From there, the lines shifted constantly. Kevin Hayes played with Frost and van Riemsdyk. Giroux moved up to the first line with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny. And so on. It was an in-game example of how the season has gone, with the Flyers constantly shuffling forwards along the lines in search of a spark.
The Flyers fly to Las Vegas to prepare for their Friday night game against the Vegas Golden Knights. It will be their fourth game in six days as well as the start of a back-to-back.