That’s pretty much everything you need to know about the Flyers’ 2021-22 season.
Six players who suited up against the Capitals were not in the lineup the following night because of injury, including the team’s leading scorer, Cam Atkinson, and starting goalie Carter Hart. Additionally, before Wednesday, six players in the lineup had each played less than 10 career NHL games — defenseman Ronnie Attard (six), winger Bobby Brink (one), winger Noah Cates (seven), center Tanner Laczynski (five), defenseman Egor Zamula (three), and goalie Felix Sandström (one).
So, given the relative inexperience of the lineup, the back-to-back, the Rangers’ success this season, and the Flyers’ lack of it, any semblance of progress 24 hours after the disaster in Washington would have resulted in something of a moral victory.
That progress? They tried.
“I think the effort was there,” interim coach Mike Yeo said after the game. “I think the focus was there. I think that the desire for the guys to really step up and win was there. We did some things that weren’t good enough to get the win, but can’t fault the effort.”
But aside from Tuesday’s clunker against the Capitals and the Avalanche’s 6-3 drubbing on March 25, the Flyers rarely have pinned losses on a lack of effort as of late. Sure, the Flyers may have given the game their best effort, creating nearly double the high-danger scoring chances that the Rangers did (13-7), per Natural Stat Trick.
However, through 40 regulation losses in 74 games this season, a feat only pulled off once before in franchise history in 2006-07, the Flyers repeatedly show that their best is not good enough.
“We can’t be a team that just ... we say that we worked hard, and that’s great,” Yeo said. “We have to be able to win games when the other team scores first, too.”
No, the Flyers can’t be that team if they want to instill winning habits before the season’s end, but given the lack of positives to take away from recent games, they are that team. Given the fact that they officially were eliminated from playoff contention seven games ago, perhaps they’ve run out of time to prove that they aren’t that team.
On Wednesday night, the Flyers had their opportunities to shift the momentum their way. One of those moments emerged following a 5-on-3 penalty kill roughly halfway through the first period in which Sandström made six saves and winger Joel Farabee made a critical block on an Artemi Panarin shot.
The Flyers could have, and should have, been able to build off of that. They didn’t.
“Yeah, we probably should,” center Scott Laughton said. “That’s a good question. Seems like we’re getting a little bit two, three minutes lapses where we sit on our heels, and that’s when they kind of take over.”
By the analytics alone, the Flyers had a decent chance at a win over the Rangers. The Flyers played with the puck for the majority of the game, edging the Rangers in shot attempts (45-43), and boasted better shot quality, with 2.3 expected goals to the Rangers’ 1.73, according to Natural Stat Trick.
But none of that matters when the Flyers don’t convert on their scoring chances. Winger Travis Konecny had one of them, which resulted from a tic-tac-toe passing sequence at 4-on-4 in the second period, but he couldn’t score with a backhander on goalie Alexandar Georgiev. He also was involved in a 2-on-1 in the first period with center Kevin Hayes, who opted not to shoot and dropped the puck off for a trailer. His pass ultimately was intercepted by the Rangers to kill the play.
And it certainly doesn’t matter when the Flyers aren’t up to snuff defensively, leaving a player wide-open backdoor for a goal for the second night in a row.
“You can’t try to make the extra play to get the perfect shot,” Yeo said, “to get that Grade A scoring chance. You still have to continue to shoot pucks and go to the net, and I don’t want to say wait for those opportunities but not force those opportunities.”
The Flyers boast the second-worst shooting percentage in the league, capitalizing on just 8.3% of their shots. Only the Los Angeles Kings are worse, but they rank second in shots (2,660). Conversely, the Flyers rank smack-dab in the middle of the league in shots with 2,264.
This season, the Flyers haven’t had the finish from the players they need it from most. Konecny, for example, is shooting more than ever (2.69 shots per game), but he’s posted his worst shooting percentage (6.8%).
After the game, Konecny acknowledged that he’s getting a lot of good shots, but a lot of those shots are coming from the perimeter.
“[The Rangers] capitalized on their opportunities,” Konecny said. “Starting with me, we had plenty of opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on. There’s always things you can clean up on. But I thought we really worked hard and we came back and answered from last night’s bad game.”
In a season full of lows, the Flyers will take the positives where they can get them. But last week, one of the Flyers’ biggest issues was maintaining a lead. This week, they’re laboring to establish one in the first place.
One step forward, another step back. Now, the Flyers have eight games left to try and right a ship that sailed a long time ago.