It is a staple of mediocre teams, especially in the NHL. The game looks the same on most nights whether they are playing a good team or a bad one. One goal here, one goal there, a mistake or two determining the outcome whether it's the Nashville Predators or Toronto Maple Leafs across the ice, or the Arizona Coyotes or Buffalo Sabres.
There is a simple reason for this. Good teams anticipate an easier night against mediocre ones than they do against the teams they anticipate playing against in May. Bad teams see an opportunity to have a rare successful night against a team only marginally better than they are.
Thursday night, that team was the Buffalo Sabres. With only nine wins all season, the NHL's second-worst team jumped a Flyers team that, once again, is having a problem moving its legs during the first 20 minutes of a game. They address it after every game, vow to do better the next time out, then repeat the process. Whether they are playing a good team, or a bad one.
The Flyers have now lost to the worst team in the NHL (Arizona) and the second-worst (Buffalo).
For the Flyers, their most confident player in Thursday's 4-2 loss again played between the pipes. Brian Elliott's highlight-reel performance over the first two period was the lone reason the Flyers were not digging out of an indifferent hole when the third-period began, the cherry-on-the-top being a spinning, back-to-the-net, back-to-back save combo that denied Evander Kane and Marco Scandella in the second period.
Sabres goaltender Robin Lehtera, who played well when the Flyers eked out a 2-1 home victory nine days ago, also played well, denying Travis Sanheim twice late in the second period, that had the rookie talking to his glove. But the only reason the Flyers even had a chance to steal a pair of points entering the third was Elliott. And if you need the goaltender that you signed over the summer to share the load until one of your prospects arrives, well, that's an indicator of mediocrity unto itself.
It's still up in the air whether the Flyers are truly the playoff team their general manager Ron Hextall projects them to be, or just another NHL team placing too much value on its young talent to progress accurately into their potential. Remember, we once thought Scotty Upshall and R.J. Umberger were going to be stars. Matt Read sure seemed to be a find after that first NHL season. It's great to have young talent. It's even better when you're right about how talented that young talented is.
If Sean Couturier has taught us nothing else this season, he has taught how dangerous it is to judge a player too soon. Even one in his seventh NHL season. Couturier turned 25 the other day. As a point of reference, the young Phillies outfield that finished last season – Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins – are all within a year of Couturier's age.
What the Flyers general manager won't say, is what the general manager of the Phillies, Matt Klentak said in his first few seasons, what Sam Hinkie got himself in so much trouble saying. The Flyers are a team still in the oven, regardless of whether they sneak into the playoffs or don't this April. Either way, it's not a referendum on the rebuild, or even the coach assigned to coach it.