Rolling Snake Eyes – What the Latest Loss Means for the Flyers’ Playoff Chances

The NHL rules require teams to open their locker room to the media five minutes after the last player leaves the ice at the conclusion of the game.

The Flyers are usually very good at this. Their media relations guru, Zack Hill, can often be found standing outside the locker room with the timer on his phone running so we all know when it’s going to open up.

So when Zack cracked open the locker room door and the media sauntered in last night, there wasn’t a player in the room.

That’s rare.

Usually there are still some guys undressing. Some guys talking. Some guys waiting to speak to the media.

But last night, it was a ghost town.

And it was for several minutes more, before Wayne Simmonds begrudgingly emerged and gave us 50 seconds of his time.

Let me stop here for a second…. this is not a complaint. I get it. I would probably feel the same way as the players. I wouldn’t want to talk about a 3-2 loss to Vegas in regulation, their sixth loss in seven games, that suddenly has all but eliminated the cushion the Flyers had built with a sensational 37-game run from early December through the end of February.

I wouldn’t want to have to explain what is going wrong. I wouldn’t want to have to justify the team frustration. I wouldn’t want to have to worry about saying something born out of emotion that can be construed the wrong way.

So, from my perspective, if the Flyers just wanted to pass on speaking altogether last night, I would have been OK with it. It may have ruffled some media feathers, but it would have sent one hell of a message.

But, to their credit, they all came and talked. Not long. Nobody really had much to say. But they paraded out – Simmer, Ghost, Coots and G. Even Oskar Lindblom and Petr Mrazek held court.

And to a man they talked about frustration. They talked about having to stop doing this to themselves. They talked about self-inflicted wounds and small mistakes that are hurting them and suddenly making the end of the season more about finding a way to hang on than making the push for first place.

Because even though the Flyers are still within striking distance of first place – they are four points out with 12 games to go, they really have to spend more time paying attention to what’s sneaking up behind them.

Columbus is within two points – and they play each other Thursday. The Devils are three points back – with a game in hand. And Florida, who is not in a playoff spot, is six back with three games in hand.

Actually, the Flyers should feel a brief sense of relief because the Panthers missed an opportunity to close that gap to four points last night, losing on home ice to the lowly Ottawa Senators.

But right now, it’s all about survival.

Before we get into some individual assessments from last night, I wanted to look at the remaining schedules for four teams – the Flyers, Blue Jackets, Devils and Panthers. Three of these teams will get in. The other will not. Odds are still in favor of the Flyers making it, but when you see the schedules next to each other, you will see why lumps are forming in certain throats:

Flyers (12 games remaining)

  • 3/15 vs. Columbus (79 points)
  • 3/17 @ Carolina (71)
  • 3/18 vs. Washington (85)
  • 3/20 @ Detroit (63)
  • 3/22 vs. New York Rangers (69)
  • 3/25 @ Pittsburgh (84)
  • 3/27 @ Dallas (82)
  • 3/28 @ Colorado (80)
  • 4/1 vs. Boston (94)
  • 4/3 @ New York Islanders (70)
  • 4/5 vs. Carolina (71)
  • 4/7 vs. New York Rangers (69)

Avg opponents pts. (per game) remaining: 76.4

Blue Jackets (12 games remaining)

  • 3/15 @ Philadelphia (81)
  • 3/17 vs. Ottawa (59)
  • 3/19 @ Boston (94)
  • 3/20 @New York Rangers (69)
  • 3/22 vs. Florida (75)
  • 3/24 vs. St. Louis (79)
  • 3/27 @ Edmonton (64)
  • 3/29 @ Calgary (78)
  • 3/31 @ Vancouver (59)
  • 4/3 vs. Detroit (63)
  • 4/5 vs. Pittsburgh (84)
  • 4/7 @ Nashville (98)

Avg opponents pts. (per game) remaining: 75.3

Devils (13 games remaining)

  • 3/14 @ Vegas (95)
  • 3/17 @ Los Angeles (81)
  • 3/18 @ Anaheim (80)
  • 3/20 @ San Jose (83)
  • 3/23 @ Pittsburgh (84)
  • 3/24 vs. Tampa Bay (100)
  • 3/27 vs. Carolina (71)
  • 3/29 vs. Pittsburgh (84)
  • 3/31 vs. New York Islanders (70)
  • 4/1 @ Montreal (62)
  • 4/3 vs. New York Rangers (69)
  • 4/5 vs. Toronto (87)
  • 4/7 @ Washington (85)

Avg opponents pts. (per game) remaining: 80.9

Panthers (15 games remaining)

  • 3/15 vs. Boston (94)
  • 3/17 vs. Edmonton (64)
  • 3/19 @ Montreal (62)
  • 3/20 @ Ottawa (59)
  • 3/22 @ Columbus (79)
  • 3/24 vs. Arizona (55)
  • 3/26 @ New York Islanders (70)
  • 3/28 @ Toronto (87)
  • 3/29 @ Ottawa (59)
  • 3/31 @ Boston (94)
  • 4/2 vs. Carolina (71)
  • 4/3 vs. Nashville (98)
  • 4/5 vs. Boston (94)
  • 4/7 vs. Buffalo (56)
  • 4/8 @ Boston (94)

Avg opponents pts. (per game) remaining: 75.7

So, what does all that mean?

The Flyers have the second toughest schedule remaining of the four teams, and the only team that has a tougher schedule (New Jersey) is behind them in the standings – so that’s a positive.

But Columbus has a cakewalk of a schedule and Florida plays a lot of teams on the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum – teams who are terrible and teams who are very good. They also have quirks in their schedule that are unheard of:

  1. They haven’t left the state of Florida in a month.
  2. They have an upcoming stretch of having to play seven out of eight on the road with two separate trips to Canada and both are on back-to-back nights.
  3. They have to play Boston four times, including a makeup game on April 8th while the rest of the teams will have completed their season.

So, the odds still favor the Flyers.

In their final 12 games they play six against playoff contenders and six against non-contenders (I listed Carolina as a non-contender at this point). If they can just go .500 and finish with 93 points, it should be enough to get them into the playoffs. Getting to 93 points means the only way they would miss is Columbus gets 15 of a possible 24 points (probable), New Jersey gets 16 of a possible 26 points (possible, but unlikely) and Florida gets 19 of a possible 30 points (A good chance).

So just play .500 hockey. It’s what they’ve done all year to this point (70 games, 35 wins). It’s enough to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.

However there are some dark clouds that could prevent .500 hockey from being attained – and they all appeared last night:

The goalie

Petr Mrazek had another off night. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between with him. He’s either lights out, or the light never came on.

This goal was a bit unlucky:

But teams do this a lot to Mrazek. I know I sound like a broken record, but if teams keep throwing pucks to the net from sharp angles… and they are going in… then there must be a trend right?

However, the rest of Mrazek’s night was plays like this:

This, by the way, was a clearing play by Vegas, just dumping the puck out of their zone from inside their own blue line.

Questions:

  1. Considering the distance on that puck, how does Mrazek let up that bad a rebound? (another weakness of his).
  2. Why try and play the puck? Just cover it up. He eventually does, after he nearly gives away a goal, but the problem is Mrazek likes to keep the play going instead of freezing a puck. Make the save. Freeze the puck. Live another day.

Still, Mrazek is one win and the Flyers making the playoffs away from that conditional draft pick becoming a 3rd rounder – and by all indications, you now see why Ron Hextall really didn’t want to commit to that third round pick initially.

In other goalie news, Brian Elliott started skating Sunday. I’m betting he comes back a little earlier than expected if the Flyers stay in this funk. Things are so much calmer in the Flyers zone with Elliott than with any other goalie that has played this season.

The Kids

You’ve been clamoring for them Flyers fans – so you have to take the bad with the good – even if it costs you a playoff spot.

Lets start with Travis Sanheim – who has played O.K. in the past two games. And anyone who says he’s been better than O.K. is deluding themselves.

He’s had nice moments. He’s had good chances. Like this:

And a nice setup like this:

But we always knew he had offensive skill.

Defensively though, mistakes are still happening. There was a 3-on-1 last night where he was the only man back. Andrew MacDonald made a poor decision with the puck that led to that, but it was started because Sanheim wasn’t in the right position to begin with.

MacDonald later bailed Sanheim out on a play where Sanheim got caught flat-footed and the Knights blew past him to create an odd-man rush, but MacDonald forced the puck along the wall and kept it out of harm’s way.

Sanheim also ended up on the ice with either Shayne Gostisbehere or Ivan Provorov a couple times after special teams plays and in one instance, lost Erik Haula coming off the wall and cutting to the middle of the ice. A pass for Haula was tipped away by Provorov, but that’s one of the main things the Flyers said he had to work on – not letting his man come off the half wall and into the slot scott-free.

Then, Sanheim took a careless high-sticking penalty in the third period that led to a Vegas goal.

If you care more about Sanheim’s development and learning at this level, then these are growing pains you accept.

But, if you want the Flyers to make the playoffs this season and have a chance to make noise there, these are growing pains you can’t afford to have. Especially in March.

The other guy everyone was clamoring for was Oskar Lindblom.

I like the way Oskar plays. He’s smart. He’s defensively responsible. He’s always around the puck. He creates chances and he has chances himself.

But he’s now played 11 games. Ten of them on the second line – a line that’s supposed to be producing offense – and he’s yet to produce a point.

That makes him no different than say – Michael Raffl. He’s not going to hurt you. He’ll play a smart game. But don’t expect him to score much – if at all to this point.

Again – you asked for it, you’re getting it. And you’re seeing why the Flyers would have preferred more AHL seasoning for these talented rookies.

The Veterans

These guys have no excuse for their mistakes. I don’t understand why they are relied on so frequently. I understand why Dave Hakstol values veteran leadership types in the locker room. I’m a guy who buys into that stuff. There is certainly an off-ice element (or off-court, or off-field) to teams’ successes and failures. Finding good teammates, role models and leadership types is crucial in any team sport, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

That said, I continue to wonder why the hell guys like Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas on defense and Val Filppula at forward are constantly given major minutes in close games in the third period?

These guys aren’t what the coach thinks they are and yet he continues to go to them time after time and mistakes happen time after time.

Even Wayne Simmonds, who scored the tying goal in the third period for the Flyers last night, is so banged up that he can’t be as reliable a third period option on plays in your own zone in tight games as he once was.

Vegas’ game-winner last night resulted in a bad clear by Filppula (the Flyers are terrible in clears and zone exits), a lost 50/50 battle in the corner by both Filppula and Gudas, and Simmonds being caught on the outside of his defensive zone coverage. Here’s the end of the play:

I know you can’t burn out your top line and top defensive pairs and play them the entire third period, but if the same players keep costing you (see Filppula vs. Carolina and Filppula vs. Pittsburgh) then maybe that’s not the guy you should be going with in these important situations with points on the line.

Other stuff

I’ve already written too long today, but I can go on and on about the following:

  1. Sean Couturier has forgotten how to score all the sudden. The Flyers leading goal scorer has now gone 12 games without a goal. He still has six points in that span – mostly setting up Giroux, who remains one of the best players in the league this season. But he isn’t putting the puck in the net and that leads to:
  2. The Flyers have two goals or fewer in seven of the last eight games. They need to find more offense… and they just aren’t getting it from enough people or consistently enough from some players.
  3. The penalty kill is still dreadful. Some writers were asking questions about it last night saying, “It’s been better of late, but tonight…” really? It’s been better of late? The Flyers have given up a power play goal in five of the last six games and opponents are 6-for-19 with the man advantage. That’s a 31.6% efficiency. The league average is 19.8%. No guys, it hasn’t been better lately. Not. At. All.
  4. The power play scored a goal last night – nice shot by Simmonds – but they too are in a prolonged slump. They are 3-for-30 of late (10%). On the season they are 20%. So, that’s part of the scoring problem, too.

 

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