Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Our recap of Tuesday's underwhelming performance by the Flyers in Winnipeg.

Their Tragic Number is now 13, meaning the number of points either lost by the Flyers or accrued by the second wild card -- Toronto -- that totals 13 will eliminate the Flyers from the playoffs.

Sean Couturier said it best prior to the road trip: Unless the Flyers won in Winnipeg, then anything positive they achieved in coming from behind to beat Carolina was wasted.

And it was.  

If you watched the telecast with John Boruk, Alfonso Morganti and myself, you already know how I feel about the loss.

But for those of you who are gluttons for further punishment, here's 10 Things I think, I think, as Bill Lyon used to say:

1. A couple players gave everything they had to make a difference in this game. Radko Gudas had eight of the Flyers' 17 hits. Michael Del Zotto had five strong shots from the point, two of which were almost goals. Shayne Gostisbehere had four shots, two of which almost gave them a goal.

2. The Jets had five injured defensemen out of their lineup, which meant the Flyers' forwards should have been attacking them at the net. Again, the only offense generated for 50 minutes was from the point and not down low, where the Jets were vulnerable.

3. Valterri Filppula matched up against Patrick Laine and held him -- with help from Steve Mason -- to no points, a task in itself. Laine generated five shots and two prime scoring chances that Mason took care of.

4. Jets rookie defenseman Julian Melchiori had played just eight NHL games and had a total of four shots. He had three in the first period alone Tuesday and tied Laine with a team-high five for the game. He was more determined to make something happen than most of the Flyers. That should embarrass coach Dave Hakstol, who insisted the Flyers come out strong. They didn't.

5. Winnipeg moved up and down the ice well in transition. They came into the zone with speed and spread their attack out. Blake Wheeler's goal that made it 2-1 in the third period was the result of the Jets' precise puck movement from Mathieu Perreault to Mark Scheifele to Wheeler that demonstrated nothing moves faster on the ice than the speed of the puck. Wheeler got the puck with a wide-open look inside the right circle. The Flyers didn't have a single play during the game that mimicked that rush.

6. Although the Flyers' penalty kill units gave up a 10th goal in their last 24 chances, they shut down the Jets' the final four power plays of the game, including the four-minute double-minor to Ivan Provorov in the second period. The PK got no help from the power play (0 for 3).

7. Mason had four saves during the Jets' four-minute power play, which should have given the Flyers some momentum for the remainder of the second period and into the third. He also had a terrific stick save on Laine in the slot after the PP that left the rookie so angry he was jamming his stick violently into the ground on the Jets' bench.

8. Following up on that, why were the Flyers hesitant in the third period, tied 1-1, while the Jets peppered Mason at the outset? Where's that sense of desperation Hakstol's team should have shown? This is precisely what happened in Boston a few weeks ago. Game tied going into the third and instead of playing for two points they absolutely had to have, the Flyers were playing to get the game into overtime and earn at least one. That strategy failed spectacularly in Boston when the Bruins won the game in the final 5.6 seconds of regulation and failed again Tuesday.

9. Hakstol talked about effort and determination, yet the numbers say otherwise. With 13:34 left in regulation, the Flyers had just two shots in the period. Two! In the final seven minutes of the game, their sense of urgency finally kicked in when they kept the puck in Winnipeg's zone to the end and even scored shorthanded. That again raises this question: Where was that urgency at the period's start when it was 1-1 and not 3-1?

10. Finally, the Flyers had three power plays in this defeat. During their second power play, trailing 2-1, Winnipeg's lowly PK unit generated two shorthanded chances and cleared the zone four times. On the Flyers' final power play -- they trailed 3-1 at that point -- Hakstol pulled Mason to create a 6-on-4. The Flyers generated several scoring chances. They have scored three times this season under that scenario. Young goalie Michael Hutchinson, who had a 4.06 goals against average head-to-head against the Flyers, had a couple of terrific saves, including one on Wayne Simmonds in the slot. Where was that pressure on Hutchinson earlier in the period? Or earlier in the game?

Flyers begin crucial road trip with wild-card hopes in jeopardy

Flyers begin crucial road trip with wild-card hopes in jeopardy

From five teams to three teams.
 
That's how many clubs the Flyers now need to leap frog over to put themselves into the second wild card spot after Sunday night's huge win over the Hurricanes (see story).
 
Even though they are just five points out, because they have just one head-to-head game against a team ahead of them, the odds remain daunting as they begin a four-game road trip Tuesday night in Winnipeg.
 
"We've given ourselves a chance," Jakub Voracek said. "We got to get some points and hope for other teams to lose some games."
 
That said, if the Flyers can harness the emotion, the positive energy and strong play from Sunday's 4-3 overtime win against Carolina, perhaps they can do the unexpected and win out their final 11 games.
 
They will need at least nine wins to grab that wild card.
 
"We have to, we have no choice," said goalie Steve Mason, who will be in net Tuesday in Winnipeg. "This trip will probably determine the outcome of the season. Just based on this trip, there's very little room to make up ground. Four tough tests and it would be ideal to come away with four victories.
 
"Everybody understands the position we're in and what it's going to take in order to come out on top. We have to find that consistency. That is the biggest thing right now."
 
Toronto has 12 games left with 79 points. The Flyers blew their chance at a four-point game against them when they lost 4-2 on March 9 in Canada.
 
The Islanders have 11 games left with 78 points. The Flyers have one game left with them. Tampa Bay has 77 points and the Flyers have no games left with the Lightning. Three of the Flyers toughest games down the stretch come during this trip.
 
The two games against Columbus between now and the end both require wins.
 
"A big win last night but we have to forget about it and think about tomorrow night," Sean Couturier said. "Another big game. We have to win.
 
"If we lose, what we did yesterday is probably worth nothing. We've got to get streaky here and get going a little bit."
 
There was a ton of positive energy in the Flyers dressing room after Sunday's game. Same thing today at practice after their team photo at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
"It's coming off a good win," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a pretty strong group in here, mentally. Guys have showed up with a great mind frame all along. 
 
"We talked a little bit about the entire trip. Four games, that's an easy segment. Most importantly, look at the Winnipeg game."
 
If the Flyers win 10 of their final 11, they'll finish with 94 points. The Maple Leafs have a half-dozen tough games left, including facing Columbus twice, Pittsburgh and Nashville. They also face Tampa Bay which hurts the Flyers because someone -- maybe both teams -- will earn points.
 
The Isles? Just five tough games left on their schedule, including the meeting here against the Flyers on March 30.
 
What has to happen? Toronto, Tampa Bay and the Isles need to go on a losing skid with the Flyers nearly winning out.
 
"Nobody knows," Hakstol said. "We don't have a whole lot of margin, that's for sure. I won't worry about the next 11. You can't start looking that far down the road right now. We've got to be very ready to play a hockey game tomorrow night."

Are Flyers just underachievers? GM Ron Hextall doesn't think so

Are Flyers just underachievers? GM Ron Hextall doesn't think so

To look at the Flyers and where they are in the playoff picture -- only three players are plus this season -- it seems safe to say this team has underachieved under Dave Hakstol.

They're not a great hockey club. They're not as skilled or as deep as Chicago or Pittsburgh or Washington.

Only a few players have had good or very good seasons, and they're minus players as well -- Wayne Simmonds, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

So on the eve of a four-game road trip that should tip the wild card one way or the other, how does general manager Ron Hextall square up with that assessment?

"I don't know if that's fair to say," Hextall said on Monday after the Flyers' team photo session at the Wells Fargo Center.

"Did we underachieve last night [against Carolina]? No. We're sitting there at 2-2 and we're outshooting them 2-1 and outplaying them, out-chancing them. Dominating the game essentially. A little bit of a microcosm the way our year has gone so far.

"So last night we scored more goals. Why don't we score more goals? Tough question to answer. We're getting to the net, our net-front presence is good. We're getting there for rebounds, we're doing a lot of the things we should do.

"There are some nights when it seems like it is puck luck. You can look at the whole year and say it's puck luck. We're focused again now on the stretch run and doing our part. We need a lot of help here but we're focused on doing our part."

Hakstol didn't get much offseason help. The Flyers' only two free-agent signings among AHL/NHL players were Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon. Gordon is now a Phantom.

Weise? He has four goals and eight points. Two goals in his last three games since coming back after being a healthy scratch for six games.

"When you sign guys, we signed Dale Weise, I assume that is what you are talking about, to a four-year deal," Hextall said. "If you are evaluating right now, you say, 'It hasn't exactly been ... he hasn't put up the type of numbers we hope.'

"He's playing pretty well lately. He is certainly a better player than he has shown over the course of the year. At the time, we added depth to our lineup. We expect 12 to 15 goals and he is nowhere near that. So, in a nutshell, we know Dale can play better."

Could Hextall have done something to help Hakstol earlier rather than waiting until the NHL trade deadline to acquire Valtteri Filppula?

Essentially, the only moves Hakstol has been able to make this season involve shifting personnel around in the lineup.

"Yeah, that's the game today," Hextall said. "We're in a cap world. There's 30 teams. There's not a lot of players, players sitting out there that are going to come in at a low number. That's the game today and that is why I believe in building an organization through draft and development and bring your players up.

"Have your depth players be your young players. You get two or three injuries, your young players come up and fill in and hopefully, you don't lose anything and that is the direction we are headed. That is where we are right now. The Taylor Leiers of the world. If a defenseman, God forbid, gets hurt, we have our young guys coming up."

As things now stand, the Flyers won't have anyone coming up for these final 11 games. Hextall wants to see how his young Phantoms do in the AHL playoffs. He wants to evaluate them there, not here.

"It's very important to let your kids develop in a winning atmosphere," Hextall said. "It's important. The other side of that is you want your kids to have a big chunk of the pie and that's how it is in Allentown. We've got a good team, but there's quite a few kids down there with a big chunk of the pie.

"They're playing regular shifts, power play, penalty kill. That's important. You don't want to overload too much with veterans so that the kids get pushed down and don't get in roles. There's that fine line with handing it to them and making them earn it.

"Scotty (Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon) has done a great job down there and they've really hit it well with the kids being a big part of it and still being a competitive team. The Phantoms are in a good spot."

Hextall was asked about his own self-evaluation of the job he's done as GM.

"I let other people talk about stuff like that," Hextall replied. "At the end of the year, I'll sit down and look at everybody, including myself. If I'm not evaluating myself, I'm not doing a very good job."

Since club chairman Ed Snider's death, there is no Comcast executive with a broad hockey background to oversee Hextall.

Snider was notorious for calling or -- in later years -- texting his GMs during games, after games, in the middle of the night, to rant or inquire about what he liked and didn't like about his team.

There is no one like that within the organization, even allowing for Comcast president Dave Scott.

"It's not a lot different," Hextall said. "Mr. Snider, he was very understanding with where we were and where we were headed. He asked great questions.

"I talk to Homer (club president Paul Holmgren) on a regular basis and I talk to [Scott] on a fairly regular basis and we all know where we're headed. We're not very excited about the spot we're in right now but going to keep battling and do what we can do on our part.

"I can tell you that [Scott] is very into it. He watches all the games, sends texts after the game, whatever. He's latched onto it. He's engaged. We meet on an every other week basis and talk about the team. He's been great.

"Obviously, Mr. Snider had 50 years of experience and [Scott] doesn't have that. But [Scott's] a very sharp guy and he's doing a good job."

Loose pucks
It was unclear whether Nick Cousins was making the trip. He did not practice. He took a high hit during the Pittsburgh game and remains under concussion watch.