From afar, the Flyers are a streaky team. Ten games in a row without a victory, six straight wins to follow. Roll in how they teased and tormented their fans with lengthy streaks both good and bad last season, and it's easy to understand how a 4-1 loss Monday to the Los Angeles Kings — a team that still includes a handful of names etched on the Stanley Cup — can hold greater significance than just the two points lost.
"The results would say streaky," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after their winning streak was snapped Monday night. "But we have played good hockey over the whole stretch. Now, it's about getting results, and tonight we've got to look at ourselves and put our finger on a couple things we have to do better and that we are capable of doing better. Turn the page and have a good day of practice tomorrow, and we go right back at it and we continue with this busy stretch.''
To Flyers fans, this is a familiar refrain: We played good enough to win, we just didn't. Just a few mistakes here or there. We'll get them next time, which for the Flyers is a Wednesday home game against Detroit, the last of five in a row.
"It looks like we played a bad game, but we did a lot of good things out there," captain Claude Giroux said after the Kings game.
When pressed, of course, when critical mistakes or junctures are pinpointed — like another bout of poor line changes or another lethargic start at home — there is often a combo platter of admission and denial.
"I thought we came out flat," Sean Couturier said when asked what he thought of the team's start, and indeed they did.
The Flyers officially outshot the Kings, 9-8, in the first period Monday, but it was a period marked by clean passes bouncing off sticks and inaccurate ones borne more from inattentiveness than any forecheck or pressure. Too often, they glided into checks and forechecks, and made sloppy turnovers in dangerous spots on the ice.
Regardless of whether Brian Elliott should have made the save on Alec Martinez's 53-foot one timer from the point for the game's first goal, you can't lose a faceoff as cleanly as Scott Laughton did to Torrey Mitchell.
An ugly line change that hung Robert Hagg out to dry led to a second Kings goal that period, altering the script of the Flyers victories of late, in which they start slow, surrender the first goal, and rally to win a tight defensive contest. For sure, they got one back via a fortuitous bounce on a first-period power play, and had a slew of chances to score later on, but chasing the game against one of the league's bigger teams and better goalies is a tough row to hoe, even at home.
"Yeah, especially that team," said Couturier. "They have a lot of experience. They have won in the past and they know how to win. When you're down early in the game and you can't get back in it early, it gets tougher and tougher. They kind of know how to close games."
That hasn't been the Flyers' M.O. this season. But this modest streak — which followed some unbelievably frustrating finishes during the 10-game winless skid that preceded it — was propelled by protecting one-goal leads late.
As the wins mounted, though, the Flyers' jump at the start of games waned. It was a theme after Thursday's 2-1 victory over Buffalo, and it was a theme after Saturday's win against Dallas. It was an issue as well in last Tuesday's 4-2 victory over Toronto.
"We got kind of chasing from behind a bit, and you try and do a little too much sometimes," said Elliott, who finally came down to earth a bit Monday after being one of the league's three stars over the last two weeks.
He described the Kings as "a good team that turns pucks over and goes the other way, that's what they do."
"They stand up at the blue lines, red line and just wait for you to turn it over, and then they go the other way," he said. "They've done it for a lot of years."
Los Angeles' personality has been forged by former Flyers coach Terry Murray, honed during their two Cup runs by Darryl Sutter, and now tweaked by John Stevens — another former Flyers coach who served as an assistant to both men.
The Flyers are in search of such a reputation, and a coach who can create it. In hiring Dave Hakstol, a college coach, three seasons ago, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall pointed to the culture of consistency he nurtured at North Dakota.
Players embraced and praised the benefits of his even-keeled approach. They still do. Many even sound like him at times, and such was the case Monday. Accentuate the positive. Fix a few things at practice. Work on the little things. It all sounds great until the next buzzer sounds and they're on the wrong end of a one-goal game.