February 26, 2017
PITTSBURGH – In the Heinz Field visitor’s locker room, the frustration in Jake Voracek’s voice was evident. The 27-year-old right winger had made a beautiful power move (in the former home of Jerome Bettis, no less) for goal in the second period, but alas, it wasn’t nearly enough.
The Flyers lost their anticipated Stadium Series matchup with the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-2. There are 21 games left in the Orange and Black’s season, and barring an absolute miracle run down the stretch, that will be it.
“We had good opportunities, but it’s getting old,” Voracek said. “You can play good. As long as you don’t find a way to win, nobody really cares.”
The Flyers aren’t going to use that quote for the video yearbook, but it sums up the 2016-17 season pretty nicely. It also begs the question if they really were ever playing that well in the first place.
Time and again after losses this season (and recently, there have been a whole bunch of those), reporters would hear Flyers players and head coach Dave Hakstol say something along the lines of, “We played a good hockey game” or “We feel like we’re playing good hockey.”
On this night, such sentiments made sense. The Flyers outshot the Penguins 38-29, and from a possession standpoint, it’s hard to make the argument that they didn’t outplay Pittsburgh. And yet the game never felt all that close.
There were a few good reasons for this: The Flyers couldn’t take advantage of all their chances against Pens goaltender Matt Murray, the defense had a couple of costly breakdowns, and Michal Neuvirth let in a couple of bad goals. Just like Voracek said, all of that possession doesn’t really matter if you don’t find a way to win.
“It’s the cliché, you’re gripping your stick too tight,” Voracek said. “I don’t like to use that but the bottom line is if you want to make it to the playoffs, you got to score the goals. We’re not scoring. It’s simple. We get 40 shots every game, we don’t put the puck in the net.”
There certainly is something to that idea of shooting without scoring. According to Sporting Charts, the Flyers' .08 shooting percentage ranks 26th in the NHL. With a team that supposedly has the offensive firepower of Claude Giroux, Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Shayne Gostisbehere, that number isn’t cutting it.
“Obviously we haven't been able to score a whole lot,” Hakstol said. “There's been a lot made of that. And you know what, fairly so. I think that's fair. Yet tonight I look at the opportunities at this time of year, the type of opportunities and the number of opportunities that we generated were pretty reasonable.”
Playing against a Penguins team with a core group of players that this main group of Flyers *owned* not so long ago, the arrow in the rivalry is pointed firmly back in the defending Stanley Cup champs’ direction.
While it certainly hurts, losing the Keystone State rivalry is the least of the Orange and Black’s problems at the moment. The way that the Penguins beat the Flyers in the windy conditions is the same way that everybody else seems to.
“They get bounces,” Gostisbehere said after scoring for the first time in 34 games. “We can always say, ‘Well, it’s lucky,’ but you know, it keeps happening for a reason.”
Per NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman, the Flyers have outshot their opponents in their last eight games and somehow only have a 2-6-0 record to show for it.
“I thought we played a great game, unfortunately, it didn’t go our way,” Simmonds said. “Obviously it wasn’t good enough. I don’t know what to say, guys.”
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann