November 08, 2023
The Flyers are on their West Coast road trip this week, meaning all 10 p.m. or later starts for the fans watching back home.
Up first were the NHL-worst San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night, who started the season an abysmal 0-10-1 and were outscored 20-3 in their two previous games.
So, of course the Flyers could only muster a single goal against them in a 2-1 loss – their fifth now in the last six games.
I stayed up to watch it. Can't say I really have any good justification for why now, but here are some thoughts on the team coming out of it anyway...
Sean Couturier was ready to rejoin the lineup Tuesday night, and to make way for him, Morgan Frost got pulled back out of it.
And that's mightily curious at this point.
Has Frost been great? No. He's yet to produce a point in the six games he's been afforded so far.
But has he been bad enough to warrant repeated scratchings like this? I'd also argue no.
The first two games of the season against Columbus and then Ottawa, he was ineffective and barely noticeable, so a one-night scratch after those could've easily been conceded as an early wakeup call.
But then Frost just kept sitting, and once he did get back into the lineup for last week's homestand, he truly wasn't all that bad either.
Put on a line with Travis Konecny and Tyson Foerster, Frost was a noticeably active skater who was generating scoring chances. The problem was they just couldn't put any of them away, which has been just as much, if not more, of an issue for Foerster as it would be for Frost.
But despite his struggles finding the back of the net right now – Foerster is still left looking for his first goal after Tuesday night's loss – he has seemingly been given a lot more leeway than Frost to figure it out. Same goes for Noah Cates and Owen Tippett, two other notable young forwards who, production-wise, have been rather quiet of late.
And as far as lineup fit goes, the idea that there isn't any spot for him right now is highly debatable too.
Yeah, Couturier coming back meant another center had to come out, and head coach John Tortorella did say earlier while Frost was sitting the first time that a return to the lineup for him would have to be in an offensive role – so somewhere in the middle six, which is where he was with Konecny and Foerster.
But that role clearly exists and didn't go anywhere.
When Frost was put back in last week, Ryan Poehling sat and Scott Laughton dropped down to the fourth line with Nic Deslauriers and Garnet Hathaway, who each skated with just as much energy as they did before.
There just seems to be an odd disconnect here.
Frost, who is still only 24, went on a decent tear from December on last season, and got re-upped for two more years ahead of this one.
But on a team that, right now, is very much trying to figure things out for the future, Frost just seemingly isn't being afforded a real opportunity to prove that he can be a part of it.
The whole thing's just strange.
The Flyers outshot the Sharks 39-19 and at a glance dominated the possession battle.
First and foremost, give all credit to San Jose goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. He put in a fantastic effort making 38 saves, and was just centimeters away from a shutout if he was maybe just a split-second earlier to the puck that turned into Joel Farabee's goal after review.
But when you step back and think about the majority of the chances the Flyers generated Tuesday night, they were nearly all on shots that either went straight into Blackwood's pads or sailed wide. Too few really made the Sharks sweat.
"We couldn't find a way to finish," Tortorella said postgame. "I thought we had a lot of almost chances, just didn't finish at the net. Territorially, I thought we controlled it, but just didn't get enough quality chances."
And a lack of finish at the net has been a continually building, and highly frustrating, trend of late, just like the power play, which by the way...
The Flyers went 0-for-4 on man advantages Tuesday night against the 28th-ranked penalty kill in the league.
The power play on the whole right now has a success rate of 8.9 percent so far this season, the NHL's second worst.
And going back to the October 28 loss to Anaheim, the unit is 1-for-22.
It's bad, and didn't get any better in San Jose.
"Special teams killed us once again," Sean Couturier said after Tuesday night's loss.
Is it possible to decline penalties?
Here's another trend that's brewing under the radar but is possibly just as concerning: The Flyers are getting pushed around in the faceoff circle.
Against the Kings back here in Philly on Saturday night – a 5-0 loss – L.A. dominated them off the draw, winning 58 percent of them.
Then against the Sharks Tuesday night, they got blown out of the circle again, losing 70 percent of the puck drops.
For the season, the Flyers are collectively winning just 45.6 percent of their faceoffs, which has them tied with Minnesota for 28th in the league.
With a roster that features Couturier, Laughton, and Cates, who each have reputations partially built on being strong in the faceoff circle, that is not a good sign and something to keep an eye on moving forward.
To the Flyers' credit, they did commendably well in bringing energy and skating up to the level of their opponents out of the gate.
Perhaps it was an early season adrenaline rush that had them holding up decently for a bit there, but of late, that same jump in their game seems to have faded a bit.
Maybe it's the grind of the schedule starting to catch up, teams adjusting, not having Carter Hart, all that flubbing in front of the net, or all the above, but either way, it has the Flyers leveling out pretty hard right now.
You could sense halfway through once they fell behind to the Sharks Tuesday night that this one probably wasn't going to go their way, and it didn't.
But at the same time, you have to keep the rebuild in mind and wonder if it's maybe better – or more than likely is – for the long-term.
No one ever said it had to be enjoyable to watch though, and Tuesday night's game definitely wasn't.
Maybe they can regroup a bit though with some downtime before facing Anaheim again on Friday night.
One more point about the larger NHL product before we go.
Last week commissioner Gary Bettman said the league was on pace for a "record attendance rate" this season.
Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL is “running at a record attendance rate for this season.”— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) November 1, 2023
Hoo boy, "a sparsely attended SAP Center" is right. 😬 pic.twitter.com/fISLo8mRAP— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) November 3, 2023
Call me a skeptic, Gary.
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