The good: The Flyers don’t have to play the Wild again this season.
The bad: It’s been 156:09 since the Flyers last scored a real-life hockey goal.
Tuesday’s 3-0 loss – a second consecutive shutout defeat for the orange and black – in Minnesota featured a goal just 12 seconds into the game and two empty-netters. Make it back-to-back defeats to the Wild by a combined score of 4-0. The home-and-home set was about as exhilarating as a Saturday night tilt in January between the Flyers and Devils in Newark.
Different day, same story. This team is becoming so predictable. The top and fourth lines will put on a clinic in the offensive zone but if Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek aren’t on the scoresheet, nobody is. The middle-six will look lost most of the game, still searching for any sort of consistency or chemistry. The young blue line has its hiccups but things usually work themselves out by the end of the night. The goaltending is either spectacular or pathetic. No in between.
Rinse and repeat. So what went well on Tuesday? What went wrong? Let’s take a look:
Welcome to Philadelphia. Elliott has allowed just one goal in each of his last two starts while receiving absolutely zero offensive support and took the loss on both occasions. You’re a true Flyers goalie now, Brian. Steve Mason knows just how you feel. Elliott wasn’t as busy in the second half of the home-and-home but managed to keep the Flyers within reach until he was pulled for an extra attacker. He wound up making 17 saves, many that seemed to be high-danger scoring chances. Late in the first period with the Flyers on a penalty kill, Elliott made a quick left pad save on a Matt Dumba blast from the point. He also got a piece of a shot that went off the outside of the post on the same kill. That’s coming up big in a one-goal game. It was more of the same in the third frame. Elliott started it off with a huge blocker stop on a Tyler Ennis breakaway. Then, within the final minutes, he made a helluva point blank stop on a 2-on-1 after a defensive lapse on the backcheck. It’s a shame the Flyers couldn’t rally for him.
Hey, if you can go a few games without hearing Brandon Manning’s name, he’s doing something right. By no means is Manning a flashy player. He’ll score a goal every once and awhile or he’ll make a great pass out of nowhere for a highlight-reel assist. But those are few and far between. Manning is in the lineup for other reasons. He plays tough minutes and can kill penalties. It’s actually a good thing when he goes unnoticed. Think for a second. How many times in the past couple weeks have you said to yourself, “That was a really dumb play by Brandon Manning” or “Where was Brandon Manning on that goal” or “What the hell was Brandon Manning thinking?” It’s because he’s been relatively responsible in his own end and smart with the puck on his stick.He made an excellent play on Ennis early in the first period when it looked like he was toast. He kept his feet moving, battled hard and robbed Ennis of a scoring opportunity. That’s all you can ask a bottom-pair defender to do. Fly under the radar and keep the mistakes at a minimum.
It’s truly amazing that the fourth line of Laughton (two goals, two assists), Taylor Leier (two assists) and Michael Raffl (zero points) has combined for just six points this season. The trio has been absolutely buzzing all year long on the forecheck. They’re just relentless in pursuit of the puck. And Laughton, arguably, has been the most improved player from 2016-17. He’s a big reason why his unit has played so well. In Minnesota, he even contributed one of the game’s top scoring chances. Raffl, behind the net, sent a nice feed to Laughton in the slot for a one-timer but Devan Dubnyk got a piece of his initial blast. Laughton furiously crashed the net and attempted to elevate the rebound from the side of the crease but he couldn’t get enough on it to beat Dubnynk. Laughton, Leier and Raffl are a bit snakebitten at the moment but it hasn’t deterred them from generating high-quality scoring opportunities. It’s only a matter of time before they start converting.
Paging Mr. Train. After a hot start that included six goals and three assists in eight games, Simmonds has gone ice cold. It’s been 10 games since he last found the back of the net on Oct. 21. During that stretch, he has just 15 shots on goal and two assists. The Flyers need him, as well as several other forwards, to step it up and start chipping in offensively. That won’t happen if Simmonds is in the box for a lazy penalty. Against Minnesota on Tuesday, the 29-year-old was whistled for holding late in the first period as the Flyers were attempting to apply pressure on a dump-in. Can’t happen. The team needs him doing what he does best. Punishing defensemen on the forecheck, creating havoc in front and crashing the net hard for rebounds or deflections.
It’s at the point now where Weise is pretty much regularly killing any plays his linemates make for him. Just look at the set up Giroux had for him in the first period on Tuesday. Weise was handcuffed by the pass and nearly fell over himself. Weal also got Weise the puck a few times only to watch the plays die. A major part of the problem is his usage. He’s not a middle-six forward. He’s not a goal scorer. He’s not a play-driver. So let’s promote him to the second line! Yeah, great call, Coach. Sure, Weise did put five shots on target against the Wild. But did any of them feel like they had the slightest chance of going in? If you’re relying on Weise to score goals, you’re in bigger trouble than you think. He’s a checking-line winger at best. Weise looked like exactly that when he had a breakaway in the third period. Woof, that was ugly. And let’s not get started on his play in the defensive zone as of late. There was one shift in the second period when Minnesota sustained nearly two full minutes of attack time and Weise never came close to touching the puck or breaking up a play once. It’s just a struggle to find anything positive about his game.
There’s only one way to say it: Lehtera is completely ineffective. It’s no wonder he played a team-low nine minutes and 53 seconds on Tuesday. It seemed like every time the veteran did take the ice with his linemates Valtteri Filppula and Travis Konecny, the shift consisted of Konecny flying around like a mad man or chasing down the puck while Lehtera and Filppula were two zones behind him. Again, this comes down to usage. If Nolan Patrick were healthy, Lehtera probably wouldn’t even be in the lineup. But here we are. He’s been given a middle-six role and even power-play time. Power-play time? What? It’s not hard to figure out why the second unit is having trouble scoring with Lehtera playing a role on it. He’s not making quick decisions. He’s forcing passes. He’s not getting shots off quick enough or on net. There’s barely any urgency to his game. He hasn’t been strong on the puck. And keeping plays alive? Good luck with that.