Flyers Game No. 82 against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center — a 4-2 loss — had everything: a blown lead, a poor second-period performance, a mid-third period comeback to tie the game, and a backbreaking go-ahead goal by an opponent late in the third period.
That’s one heck of a familiar script for the 2021-22 Flyers.
The Flyers played their least popular hits in their final game of the season, unable to maintain a lead or the momentum after scoring the game’s first goal and controlling the pace of play in the first period. While the Flyers took steps to improve their process under interim coach Mike Yeo, they struggled to learn how to close out tight games. Friday night was no different.
“It’s obviously something that’s got to be corrected,” Yeo said after the game. “Winning hockey games and understanding that every play can be the difference in the hockey game.”
Well, it’s not getting corrected this season. Time’s up.
The loss came down to what the Flyers did do and what they didn’t. What they did do: turn the puck over in the offensive zone, which led to the Senators’ two even-strength goals of the night.
One offensive-zone turnover came from veteran center Kevin Hayes along the boards halfway through the second period, as he held on to the puck to try to make a play while outnumbered by two Senators defenders. Ottawa defenseman Erik Brannstrom came up with the puck and dumped it in deep in the Flyers’ zone.
Although defenseman Ivan Provorov beat winger Brady Tkachuk to the puck, Tkachuk pressured Provorov behind the Flyers’ net to create another turnover. Tkachuk found center Josh Norris in the low slot to tie the game, 1-1.
Early in the third period, Flyers center Nate Thompson won a defensive zone faceoff, but winger Zack MacEwen lost the puck after crossing the blue line and turned it over. Shortly after, winger Alex Formenton entered the zone and carried the puck down low, passed back up high to set defenseman Travis Hamonic up for a one-timer to push the Senators ahead, 2-1.
“We have to learn and recognize just how important, how critical those areas are,” Yeo said. “You look at a number of the goals we’ve given up this year, a lot of them, we had the puck on our stick at that particular time.”
And then there’s what the Flyers didn’t do: read what the Senators’ defense gave them when the Flyers were on the attack in the offensive zone. Yeo wanted to see a willingness to “grind a little bit more offensively” instead of showing a tendency to take the puck and try to skate through the opposition.
“Too many times in that second period, we were just trying to skate through when we had no speed and turning pucks over,” Yeo said. “So we’ve got to be willing in those situations to have better speed and support skating to areas that use a little bit more indirect plays with the puck to set up our offensive zone play and we didn’t get enough of that in the second.”
But the Flyers didn’t make Friday night’s game totally predictable. Their 32nd-ranked power play capitalized on two of their three opportunities, once at five-on-four and again at five-on-three, for the first time this season.
The Flyers last scored two power-play goals in a single game on Dec. 10, 2021 in their 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
“The power play’s hot,” Yeo cracked.
Yeo tipped his cap to winger James van Riemsdyk for his skillful between-the-legs, net-front, power-play goal that put the Flyers up, 1-0. But he marveled at the simplicity of winger Owen Tippett’s five-on-three goal, which showcased something that the Flyers haven’t seen much of on the power play this season.
“It’s amazing how many opportunities Tippett’s had lately that haven’t been going in, so I’m glad that he got rewarded with that and I like the mindset, to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “It’s one pass and it’s just a one-timer hard at the net.”
For one last time this season, the Flyers paired blunders with respites of optimism, giving way to the team’s 57th and final loss. Finally, the suffering came to a merciless end.
The Flyers came into the season with something to prove, and they’ll have a whole lot more proving to do in five months time. Is it October yet?