The Flyers continue to struggle defensively and last night’s loss shows that the troubles aren’t going away any time soon. The Flyers are 4-9-1 in their last 14 games and in 13 of those games, have let up three or more goals. The Flyers have let up 65 goals this month – just one less than their record of 66 given up back in 1993. However, despite their struggles, The Flyers sit in sixth place with 34 points, three points behind the Boston Bruins.
The Flyers need to right the ship and quickly as the Rangers come into the Wells Fargo Center for a second game on Saturday. The Rangers entered last night just two points behind the Flyers for fifth place. Prior to last night’s loss, the Rangers provided a 9-0 beatdown on the Orange and Black. If you thought the Flyers would respond as I did, we were sadly mistaken. The Rangers jumped out to a 6-0 lead before the game was halfway over. The final score was another 8-3 drubbing, with New York having now scored 17 goals in two games versus the Flyers.
Flyers Struggles: Failed Clearings and Turnovers
Flyers Warriors’ head coach, and former two-time NHL All-star, Brad Marsh, once told us that if we can’t clear our own zone, then we can’t score or win games. That is as true and as simple as you can explain the game of Hockey. The Flyers seem to be suffering that issue at the moment.
The team has been creating their own problems. The defensive struggles, most notably the turnovers, have been a focal point of the slide. The defense is having a difficult time clearing the zone. Either a faulty system, lack of support/ communication, or just overall incompetence has the Flyers looking like a men’s league team. There are times where the defense is in a solid position, however, they seem to be getting outworked by the opposing forwards or simply puck watching.
Are issues system-related or are the players not good enough?
During the Devils game, the above goal was summed up perfectly by Flyers’ Color Analyst, Keith Jones. Jonsey stated that the Flyers need to be yelling at Phil Myers as to where to make the play, as he is facing the boards. Either they are making the wrong call, or Myers is just careless here. By looking at the positioning, It’s my opinion that either Gustafsson is calling for or Couturier is telling Myers that is where to send the puck. Regardless, the Devils player comes hauling into the boards to cause the turnover. The Flyers are completely out of position for the tap-in goal as Gustaffson can’t get back into the play, and Coots started skating towards the blue line.
On the last Sticks Up High podcast, former Flyers analyst, Colby Cohen joined me. Cohen feels that the Flyers defense is struggling due to the fact that they are getting caught puck watching. He explained that the loss of Matt Niskanen has really hurt the blue line. Cohen equated the loss as significant as losing Sean Couturier for the offense.
Sam Morin got his first start at defense this season for the Flyers and played a solid and tough game. He played just over 12 minutes and was a -1 with two hits and nine penalty minutes. He wasn’t on the ice for any of the Rangers’ goals. Morin played well enough to get another start. He stayed in solid defensive positioning for the most part and when he got caught or beat, he recovered quickly.
Morin showed a toughness the Flyers have been lacking when he stood up for his teammates. When Julien Gauthier was punching Hayes in the head, Morin had none of it. He looked like he belonged and played with grit claiming that he wants to stay. I don’t see how Alain Vigneault takes him out of the lineup.
Another positive from last night’s Rangers’ game is that the team never quit. They continued to skate and create chances.
Also, the referees were horrible. They contributed directly, or assisted, on three of the Rangers’ goals. They botched two non-calls. Ryan Strome cross-checked Couturier twice on a penalty kill. They also missed a delay of game on Buchnevich. Both misses were immediately followed by two Rangers’ goals. The second being by the guy who should have been in the penalty box. The third penalty being the above-mentioned penalty on Morin.
Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes, and Sean Couturier scored and continued to play hard. The fourth line of Scott Laughton, Nic Aube-Kubel, and Michael Raffl played with high energy and created a lot of chances. Phil Myers looked a lot better and was active all night jumping up on the offense, taking five shots. Myers also had two hits to go with his shots.
Chuck Fletcher took to the media the other day to address the fans. He admitted that signing Erik Gustafsson to replace Nisky has not worked out. He also stated that he is actively making calls to fix the makeup of his team. The only issue is that it appears nobody is ready to make that deal. The end result could be that the Flyers stand firm and address the issues in the off-season. The top names being floated around as potential targets are Mattias Ekholm and David Savard. The expansion draft also muddies the waters for the Flyers roster. In short, I’m not going to hold my breath that a trade for a top D-man will happen.
Regardless of the above play, and who is to blame for the goal, the Flyers need to fix their defensive issues and fast. They are currently outside the playoff picture and Boston has three games in hand on the Flyers. Look for the Flyers to play with a sense of urgency Saturday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre