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Flyers’ Collapse Began Before Recent Losing Streak

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

What a season it has been for the Philadelphia Flyers.

They entered the 2023-24 campaign as a rebuilding club with almost no expectations, which left the fan base in a perfect position to not be disappointed.

However, from the moment the puck was dropped to open the season, the Flyers not only surprised the hockey world, but they brought about a whole new level of excitement and belief to a fanbase stricken with hardship and turmoil after torturous years under the boot of Paul Holmgren, Ron Hextall, and Chuck Fletcher. The playoffs became more and more of an expectation and near reality than a dream, but it disappeared after a tough stretch of games that started in the middle of February.

While many believe and will point out that the collapse is primarily correlated to their current eight-game losing streak, it goes well beyond that. There are a variety of reasons as to why they crumbled in such horrific fashion but a lot of it can be pinpointed to goaltending, injuries, and special teams.

It’s no secret that the loss of Carter Hart took a toll on the team, on Samuel Ersson – and his subsequent workload – and the fact that they didn’t have a plan B for something they discussed at length during the offseason. Then they lost four regular defensemen in a span of three and a half weeks, including three in about a week and a half, which as we’ve laid witness, has been a near-impossible task to overcome. All the while their power play has remained hapless and their penalty kill fell apart.

Other factors have played their hand as well as the offense completely dried up, several key players suffered through lengthy goals or point droughts at the same time, and the mysterious decline of Sean Couturier made things that much tougher for players like Travis Konecny and Owen Tippett as the team’s offensive leaders.

The elephant in the room might also be John Tortorella. It all depends on what side of the spectrum you’re currently sitting in because there’s a clear divide right now between people who are directly correlating this collapse on his coaching, his attitude, his tough love approach, and absent-minded lineup changes. However, there’s the other side that believes the only reason they were as good as they were was because of his philosophy.

The Flyers have gone 11-18-5 since January 20th, which incidentally was Hart’s final game of the season. They were 25-14-6 prior to their 7-4 drubbing against the Colorado Avalanche but have since seen their strong start disappear. The real collapse probably took place on the 15th of February when they played the Toronto Maple Leafs and came out with the overtime point. They have gone 7-13-5 since while being outscored 103 to 68, have a power play clicking at just 12.5%, and have seen their penalty kill leak with 16 goals against on 68 attempts for a paltry 76.5% success rate.

When you take a look at their season, you can see clear progression from October to February. The Flyers started the season 4-4-1 in the month of October before rattling off records of 7-6-1 and 8-2-3 in the months of November and December, respectively, to give them a 19-12-5 record heading into the New Year. They middled out in January with a 6-7-1 record, which included a five-game winning streak that was immediately followed up with a 5-game losing streak.

They rounded out well in February with a 6-3-1 record, giving them a very stable and secure launch pad heading into the dog days of the regular season, sitting at 31-22-7. They looked a little shaky at times but it didn’t feel like a collapse was coming.

Not only did they play 15 games in the following 30 days in the month of March, but they also had to go through a gauntlet that included two games each against Toronto, Florida, and Boston as well as games against the New York Rangers, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. They limped out of it with a 5-5-3 record but were still in prime position of making the playoffs.

They had the easiest upcoming schedule remaining out of the teams contending for the final playoff positions and with games against Montréal and Chicago upcoming, it was prime time for the Flyers to finally take advantage and give themselves some breathing room.

Unfortunately, that did not happen as they lost both games to a combined score of 9-2. They represented losses three and four of their current eight-game bender as they have also lost to the New York Islanders – a massive swing game for the playoff push – Buffalo, Columbus, and Montréal again. They’ve been outscored 31-12 in these lastbsix games, have a power play running at 0 for their last 15, and a penalty kill that has allowed three goals in their last 10 opportunities. Not to mention the worst team save percentage in the NHL is at a ridiculously low .781.

However, as bad as things are right now, the cracks formed the moment Hart was granted his personal leave of absence. They have since gone 11-17-5 and their remaining goaltenders have stacked up a combined .848 SV% and a grotesque 3.91 GAA.

Cal Petersen appeared in three games with Hart out of the equation and allowed 11 goals against while carrying a save percentage of .831. Felix Sandström then came in after Petersen and went 1-2-0 in 5 games with an .823 SV% while allowing 17 goals. Ivan Fedotov followed suit after having his contract terminated by CKSA Moscow but has allowed 10 goals in three appearances for an .811 SV%. That leaves them with Ersson, who has gone 9-13-4 with a 3.55 GAA and .866 SV%, which is a far cry from the 12-5-3 record he had in the 20 games prior with a .911 SV% and 2.25 GAA, or the 11-2-2 stretch he was enjoying with a .931 SV% and 1.87 GAA.

The Ersson debate is an interesting one because both sides of the coin are correct. He is a rookie goaltender with just 10 games under his belt before this season and he was overworked because the Flyers didn’t have nor did they trust any of their backups. Tuesday night’s blowout was his 29th start in the team’s last 35 games, something that even Hart never had to endure. However, Ersson also failed to make routine stops, he looked extremely shaky, and he was being beaten short side regularly. It was a night and day difference from how his season had progressed in the early stages.

The decline began as soon as Hart was gone because up until then, Ersson was on a roll. He was 11-2-2 in his previous 15 games before Hart left with stunning numbers that made a large portion of the fan base believe he was better than Hart, better equipped in the being the number one, and they felt a lot more comfortable with him in goal. Then he slumped into the All-Star break, going 0-4-0 with 15 goals against on just 83 shots.

Ersson came out of it with three straight wins and stopping 68 of 73 shots, but has since gone 6-9-4 with a 3.68 GAA and .864 SV%. Moreover, he’s 3-6-2 with a 4.59 GAA and .835 SV% since the 9th of March and 0-4-1 with a 5.37 GAA and .787 SV% since the 26th of March.

Neither Fedotov, Sandström, nor Petersen helped alleviate the burden or the pressure, combining for a 3-5-1 record in 13 appearances while allowing 45 goals on 281 shots – an .839 SV% and a GAA hovering around 3.50.

Then you factor in the absences of four regular defensemen in Rasmus Ristolainen, Jamie Drysdale, Nick Seeler, and Sean Walker. As the Flyers do so well when it comes to injuries, they remain radio silent and essentially give out vague details on return timelines. Ristolainen, for example, was always believed to have had a far worse injury than they led on but they only went as far as a 2-3 week timetable – we haven’t heard a word ever since.

As much flack as Ristolainen has taken on since becoming a Flyer, he was having a pretty good season all things considered, and I would like to think he would have fared a lot better down the stretch than Marc Staal, Erik Johnson, and even Egor Zamula. Ristolainen last played on the 10th of February but in his absence, the club has gone 8-13-5.

Drysdale then followed Ristolainen on the injury report after he was forced out of a contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the 25th of February. He wound up missing 16 games, where the Flyers went 6-7-3. Seeler was the next man up after he hurt his foot blocking a shot on the 4th of March against the St. Louis Blues. In his absence, the Flyers went 4-5-2 and really missed his shot blocking and penalty killing prowess.

Then just a couple of days later, the Flyers traded Walker to Colorado, have gone 4-9-3 since, and their penalty kill has really become an Achilles heel as they have only successfully killed 24 of 36 penalties for a whopping 66.7% success rate. With both Seeler and Walker out of the lineup, the Flyers may have gone 4-5-2, but their penalty kill allowed 10 goals on just 28 attempts for a 64% success rate.

Given that these losses included a 6-5 defeat to Boston, a 3-2 overtime defeat to Carolina, a 6-5 overtime loss to New York, and a 4-1 loss to Florida where they thoroughly dominated, it makes you wonder what would have been had their penalty kill not been so leaky.

If that wasn’t enough, the Flyers’ offense completely disappeared outside of Tippett and Konecny. Since the 15th of February, which coincides with Couturier’s first game after being named captain, the Flyers have gone 7-13-5.

Tippett leads the way with 21 points, Konecny has 6 goals and 16 points in 19 games, Scott Laughton has 6 goals and 15 points, Morgan Frost has 4 goals and 15 points, Travis Sanheim has 6 goals and 14 points, Tyson Foerster has 10 goals and 12 points in 22 games, Cam York has 3 goals and 11 points, Joel Farabee has 5 goals and 9 points, Couturier has 0 goals and 3 points in 21 games, and Cam Atkinson has 0 points in 14 games.

Fast forward a little bit to the 9th of March, where the Flyers have since gone 3-9-3. Tippett has 6 goals and 15 points in 15 games, Konecny has 11 points, Frost has 10, Laughton, York, and Garnet Hathaway each have 6, Sanheim, Farabee, Foerster, and Ryan Poehling each have 5, Couturier has just 1 point in 11 games, and Atkinson has 0 in 6 games.

If we want to see how they’ve done recently, we go back to the 24th of March when the 8-game losing streak began. Tippett has 3 goals and 6 points in 8 games, Konecny has 1 goal and 4 points, Hatahway and Cates each have 4 points, Laughton, Sanheim, Poehling have 3 points, while Frost and Foerster have just 2 points apiece.

Individually, it doesn’t look any better when you see how the core players have shaken out.

Tippett is probably the outlier of this group as he has played very well, especially compared to his teammates with 16 goals and 31 points over his last 36 games. Even if you break it off in smaller segments, Tippett has 9 goals and 20 points in his last 24 games and 6 goals and 15 points in his last 14 games. He hit a rough patch with a 9-game stretch where he tallied just 1 goal an 3 points but overall, the youngster has been solid.

Farabee has just 5 goals and 10 points in his last 31 games with a -25 rating. He was without a goal in 10 straight games before last night’s tally and had no points over his prior 8 games. All this after he started out the season with 17 goals and 40 points in 48 games.

Foerster has just 4 goals and 5 points in his last 17 games with a -9 rating. The goals came in bunches for the rookie winger as he has 14 goals and 2 assists in a 33-game stretch, but he has seen his numbers take a stagnant halt with just points in his last 12 contests.

Laughton has had an up-and-down season, especially after a big chunk of the fan base was a little irate when Daniel Brière refused to trade him for a first round pick ahead of the draft.  The veteran started out the season with just 5 goals and 20 points in 52 games before turning back the clock with 12 points in his next 11 games. However, since then he has just 4 goals and 8 points in 20 games with a -11 rating.

Konecny was far and wide the most potent offensive player on the team as he racked up 27 goals and 54 points in 57 games before succumbing to an oblique injury in practice. Right before the injury he was riding a 7-game point streak with 5 goals and 12 points with the Flyers going 5-1-1 in that stretch. Since returning to the lineup he has a modest 11 points in 16 games but carries a -12 rating and has just 1 goal and 4 points during their eight-game losing streak.

Frost has been up and down as well after scoring 6 goals and 19 points in 24 games between mid-December to mid-February, he has since dried up a little with just 4 goals and 14 points in his last 23 games. During the losing streak, Frost has just 1 goal and 1 assist after having produced 8 points in his previous 10 games.

Couturier has probably been the most disappointing of the bunch with just 1 goal and 6 points in his last 30 games while carrying a -24 rating. Going a little further, he has 0 goals and 3 points with a -19 rating in his last 21 games and just 1 assist with a -10 rating in his last 16 games.

Essentially, things fell off for him after being named captain. Not only has he been held without a goal in 21 games, but the team itself has struggled mightily. Couturier has also been made a healthy scratch a few times and has seen his average ice time shrink from 19:59 in his first 41 games to 14:53 in his last 30 games, 13:13 since being named captain, and barely above 10 minutes a night since the 16th of March.

So, while it is very easy to make reference of this eight-game losing streak as they collapse, it formed a lot earlier than we expected.

There is no denying that had they won half of these games, which included two against Montréal and one apiece against Chicago and Columbus, they would most likely be punching their tickets to the postseason in the coming days. Had they just beaten Chicago and Montréal once, they’d be sitting with 87 points and in third place in the division. Had they even just beaten Chicago, they’d be holding onto the final Wild Card spot.

However, almost all of this could have been avoided had their power play not been so abysmal. This is a power play that is about to make NHL history with their third consecutive last-place finish. The Flyers are tied for ninth in the league in power play attempts at 246 but have scored the least with just 31 goals. It’s a power play that is clicking at a 12.6% clip after coming in last place in 2022-23 at 15.5% (35/222) as well as 2021-22 at 12.5% (30 for 239).

Since the 15th of February, the Flyers are 9 for their last 72 (12.5%), since the 2nd of March they are 5-for-51 (9.8%), since the 16th of March they are 3-for-35 (8.6%), and since the 28th of March they have gone 0-for-15. Even going back to the early part of the season, the power play never found a groove.

In a stretch of eight games between the 30th of October and the 15th of November, the Flyers went-0 for-26 on the power play but managed a 4-4-0 record. Then during a 15-game stretch between the 2nd of December and the 4th of January, the Flyers went 3-for-45 but somehow sported a record of 8-3-4. A run that seemed very unsustainable if it were to continue on.

Their best stretch of the season came right after, starting on the 6th of January and going all the way to the 23rd, a span of 10 games where they went 9-for-30 and sported a 6-4-0 record. Since then they’ve gone 11-15-5 and 10-for-94 with the man advantage, which is just 10.6%. You give this team a few power plays goal sprinkled throughout the season and they have at least three or four more wins to their name.

The current losing streak was just the pot finally boiling over. In the seven games prior to Tuesday’s 9-3 loss, the Flyers had terrific analytical numbers. They have a CF% of 58.0 – 2nd-best in the NHL – after outchancing their opposition 436 to 316, they have a FF% of 58.2 where they once again out-chanced the opposition 310 to 223, and had won 52% of their draws. However, their power play was 2-for-21, their penalty kill was 8-for-13, and they were outscored 33-15, which a lot of that has to do with their PDO of 87.5 and a brutal .781 SV% – with the second-worst being Calgary’s .861.

The goaltending combusted, Sanheim and York were seeing upwards of 25 minutes a game since the 1st of March, and the offense couldn’t come up clutch when they needed it the most. The collapse was always going to happen at some point, however the unfortunate part is that it took place with just a few weeks leading into the postseason, which makes it that much more frustrating.

The 2023-24 Flyers should have a lot to be proud of because they truly did shock the hockey world. Every broadcast, every telecast, every nationally televised game, we heard the same song and dance about how they were one of the great stories of the NHL season. Some believed the Flyers would toil at the bottom with Chicago and San Jose but they came out on top for almost five months.

The losses in the blue paint and on the back-end took their toll on the Flyers as they had to rely on the likes of Staal, Johnson, Zamula, Ronnie Attard, and Adam Ginning. They’re not the most inspiring bunch, but it only became even more amplified when their goaltending became the worst in the NHL, barely stopping 83% of the shots fired their way.

Tortorella will have a lot to work on ahead of training camp in the dog days of the summer of 2024, but all eyes will now be firmly set on Daniel Brière and Keith Jones and how they attempt to right the ship.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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