Still a learning curve
Flyers set back part of growing pains in early part of the season
Two consecutive victories didn’t prove anything except that they were just two wins, against a duo of similarly struggling teams. When a good one lined up five across in the neutral zone daring a 3-7 team to beat itself, the Flyers complied.
Three turnovers that turned into three Anaheim goals and a painful 3-2 Philadelphia loss on Tuesday night were only the china that crashed to the floor. The problem is the shelves aren’t yet sturdy enough to support a winning Flyers’ self-image.
Craig Berube told them that they stopped moving their feet, so that’s what they told the media, but the Flyers’ legs slowed because their brains shut down first. The players couldn’t make a read to properly react to the Anaheim trap because they aren’t yet practiced at it in their new system. So after the Flyers’ most free-flowing period of the year, the first, their fragility again began to show.
That shortage of confidence isn’t just reflected in Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds each having just one goal, Brayden Schenn managing a bare two and Claude Giroux remaining goalless. The anxiety shows up in all three zones, and Tuesday night it particularly caught up to the Flyers in their almost total puzzlement at both bluelines. The support – the outlets – vanished, and repeatedly the Flyers had nowhere to go with the puck except to a Duck.
“We talked about getting the puck deep after the second period,” said Craig Berube. “It didn’t happen.”
When it did, rarely was anybody going hard for it. It had been too much work just manipulating through half the neutral zone and was time for a line change. The result was a team sitting back, waiting to lose, which the Flyers eventually did on two turnovers by Vinny Lecavalier -- one just inside the Ducks blueline, the other just inside the Flyers line after Scott Hartnell made a soft play up only to the point.
Lecavalier, a left handed shot playing right wing for virtually the first time in his career, fortunately is not struggling with the change offensively. After the play of Steve Mason, Lecavalier’s ability to still convert is the next most encouraging thing of a discouraging first 11 games.
Keeping his stick on the other side of his body from the wall is catching up to him, though. One can’t blame that on the first giveaway, when Lecavalier had plenty of time to make a better play at the point and shot the puck into a charging Kyle Palmieri, but perhaps on the second it was a factor. But then, even Flyers currently playing the positions they have played their entire lives look out of position when doubt sets in, which it increasingly did during the second period.
The Flyers were taken to school by a team playing its system much better than Berube’s team can these days. While giving Peter Laviolette, an accomplished coach who got the Flyers to within two games of the Stanley Cup, another chance following a truncated and injury-riddled 2013 season was the fair thing to do, it has turned out to be the wrong thing to do after a wasted training camp and an 0-3 start.
The way the Flyers go about their business on the ice had to change and they are in the process of changing it. It doesn’t happen in three weeks and two wins against stressed-out Rangers and Islanders teams were just four valuable points, that’s all, not a sign that anything had turned.
“I thought we were past that,” said Berube about the third periods, but he thought wrong. When the Flyers are better practiced at what they are trying to do, when decisions can come without brains frying in the process, they will start to win more third periods and second and first periods, too.
Whether a rookie NHL coach is the right one for the Flyers will be judged by how they are playing in February and March, not at the end of October and probably not even November. In the meantime, fortunately, the division seems not overwhelming, and neither, as Anthony SanFilippo pointed out this week on this website, is the schedule over the next month. As long as the Flyers goaltending continues to give them a chance almost every night, they will keep themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Not that they couldn’t use another scorer, and one upgrade on the backline, but in this capped world, most of the teams with which they are competing need the same things. People who advise their organizations for a living, whose opinions I respect, do not think Paul Holmgren put together a bad team. So mostly what the Flyers need is more time.