The Flyers are in a bad place right now. Yes, they are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Yes, they are dropping like a stone in the standings. Yes, they are getting boat raced by the Rangers regularly.
But worst of all is that they are in their own heads, waiting for misfortune. Veteran Justin Braun said as much the other day. Fellow defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere echoed it after the Flyers’ latest disaster.
“I mean, we keep saying in the room, you know, when they score a goal, ‘Don’t get down on ourselves,’ but it just keeps happening,” said Gostisbehere, his frustration at a boiling point after Thursday’s 8-3 loss to the Rangers. “I think if you look at any, any of these games the past couple weeks every time [opponents] score a goal, I think they score in the next couple minutes.”
The Rangers scored two goals in 52 seconds midway through the first period and added a third less than five minutes later.
The game before that, New Jersey scored in the final minute of both the first and second periods.
On Monday, the Islanders scored four minutes into the third period to force overtime, where they won it when Joel Farabee handcuffed Gostisbehere with a pass.
Before that, well, you get the point. The Flyers are 4-9-1 in March and have allowed two or more goals in the first period a staggering nine times in 14 games. They have been outscored 23-9 in the first 20 minutes. (corrected)
Hard to win games when all you are doing is skating uphill.
So what’s the solution?
When defensemen put up minus-6 in games, like Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim did in the 9-0 loss at the Rangers on St. Patrick’s Day, the fellows patrolling the blue line quickly become punchlines. Hey, did you hear the governor of Florida is running the Flyers’ defense? Everything’s wide-open.
But look at the tape and the blame is all around. As poor as goaltenders Carter Hart and Brian Elliott have been, the Flyers’ forwards are leaving too much real estate for the opposition to exploit. They’ve got one skate headed north while the play is heading south. The Hall of Fame should start preparing a special exhibit for Mika Zibanejad.
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You get the feeling, as best as feelings can be discerned through Zoom calls, that the defensemen are starting to get weary at being hung out like 1930s laundry.
“Overall, our game as a five-man unit is not at the level it should be,” said Ivan Provorov, who was on the ice for six of the Rangers goals, including three in a row by Zibanejad on the power play. “There’s too much separation between the D and the forwards, not enough support all over the ice. Yeah, I think that’s the biggest problem that’s causing everything.”
The Flyers just finished a stretch of seven games in 11 days. When they weren’t playing, they were resting. They certainly weren’t practicing except for quick morning skates. designed to get the blood flowing.
Attempting to make fixes in the middle of an NHL season without the ability to practice can be like trying to change a tire on the Schuylkill Expressway without pulling over. At least that’s the way it looked these last few weeks with the Flyers.
The Rangers, especially, have killed the Flyers with cross-ice passes to players left wide-open by the Flyers’ inability to either follow the puck or their sloppiness in not tracking an opponent roaming free.
Michael Raffl said these mistakes “can be cut off by the forwards back-checking harder to the middle of the ice and having our sticks in the right places.”
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It’s all about the attention to the finer things, especially when you haven’t had consecutive days off in more than a month. In professional sports, the No. 1 beatitude is “Blessed are the weak of mind, for they will inherit a lottery pick.”
So perhaps it’s a good thing that they get the Rangers on Saturday, even if New York has won these last two games by a very football-like score of 17-3. Only way to beat the bully is to keep fighting him.
“We know what we got to do out there. We’ve all played with each other enough that we could figure it out,” Gostisbehere pleaded. “It’s just straight not good enough right now. We’re letting guys just [expletive] absolutely beat us up in front of the net. It just makes our goaltenders look like absolute [expletive] and it’s just it’s not fair to them. ...
“I mean we’ve got to be better as a team. We gotta be better as a D-corps. It’s just ... It’s just ... We gotta bear down.”