A dejected Claude Giroux shook his head slowly and talked in a measured tone Wednesday after the Flyers had lost their fourth straight, a 5-2 decision in Buffalo.
"It's frustrating and we need to wake up," the Flyers captain said.
The Flyers did wake up over the last two periods. Problem was, they were already in a 4-0 hole because of a first period in which they were outhustled by the faster, hungrier Sabres, didn't defend the front of the net, and were slow to loose pucks. It didn't help that goalie Alex Lyon was shaky in his first NHL game of the season.
"We lost battles, didn't make plays, played on our heels," Giroux said of the opening 20 minutes, which set the tone for Buffalo's seventh straight victory, its longest streak since 2012. "And then somehow we decided to wake up and started playing our game … but it was too late. It's unacceptable."
Defenseman Christian Folin agreed.
"We had no emotion whatsoever and came out just straight-out flat," Folin said. "… I don't know if we left our legs in Philadelphia or something, but it shouldn't happen. We have to find a way to start out better. It's hard to battle back in this league when you're down four goals."
The Flyers (9-10-2) will try to play a full 60 minutes when they host another surging team, the New York Rangers, in a matinee Friday. The Rangers (12-8-2) are 9-1-1 since Oct. 30.
During their recent trip out West, the Flyers started a streak in which they scored first in six straight games. They went 5-0-1 in that span. Since then, they have allowed the first goal in four straight — and gone 0-3-1 in those contests.
"We didn't do enough in the first 10 minutes to give our goaltender a chance to get into this hockey game," coach Dave Hakstol said about the latest defeat. "On the flip side, he didn't give us a [big] save early on, either. The two go hand in hand."
With the Flyers facing a 4-0 deficit and five seconds left in the opening period, Scott Laughton was involved in the team's first fight of the season. Laughton lost a decision to Johan Larsson, but he appeared to give the Flyers energy in the second period, when they got goals from Giroux (six shots, three hits) and Wayne Simmonds to cut the deficit to 4-2.
"Trying to start a a spark," Laughton said. 'We're down four and I'm trying to get something going."
The Flyers will now face a surprising Rangers team that has won three in a row and is coming off a 5-0 victory Wednesday over the Islanders. In that win, Filip Chytil, 19, became the first Rangers rookie to score goals in five straight games since the 2005-06 season.
Points-wise, the Rangers are tied for first place with Columbus (which has a game in hand) in the tightly contested Metropolitan Division, while the Flyers have fallen into last place.
If the spiral continues, general manager Ron Hextall will feel pressure to make a major move — whether it's a coaching change or a trade. Joel Quenneville, who won three Stanley Cups while directing Chicago, is available on the coaching market.
Working in Hakstol's favor: While coaching North Dakota and the Flyers, his teams have usually improved significantly in the season's second half.