Maybe it wasn’t their worst effort of the season. It was their worst loss.
There have been some ugly results for the Flyers this year. They fell to Florida in a shootout at home. They dropped a game early to Tampa on the road. They got upended by Toronto -- twice. All of those were bad. But this? As beatings go, this beat them all.
The Flyers were up three goals. They were at home. They were facing their cross-state rival midway through a truncated season. It was a game the coach and the players all agreed they needed to win.
They didn’t win. Penguins 5, Flyers 4 (see game recap).
So, was it the worst loss of the year?
“Yeah,” Claude Giroux allowed. “I mean, when you’re up 4-1, you have to find a way to close a game up. We know they’re a good team offensively. If we give them power plays, they’re going to put it back in our net and that’s what happened.”
The Flyers needed a win on Thursday. They knew it and you knew it. There is no denying the importance or the leftover disappointment after a game like that. Because they had it. It was there for them. Then they gave it away.
There were five goals in the first period alone. The Flyers scored four of them. Jake Voracek registered two by himself, at least one of which was a gross victimization of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. It was an embarrassing start for Fleury, who looked like he wanted to slink out the side door and bury his head in all the snow that never came this week. In what can only be described as a mercy move by Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, Fleury was yanked to start the second period -- probably so he could lick his wounds and stitch together what was left of his pride.
It was a great first period. But, as Peter Laviolette later lamented, “the second period was, really, the opposite of the first period.”
The Penguins scored. Then they scored again. Then they tied the game. The Flyers looked like someone had come along and sucker punched them in the gut. Except it wasn’t a sucker punch. They saw it coming and they still couldn’t stop it.
“Before you know it, it’s 4-4,” Scott Hartnell said. “We just can’t do that. It’s embarrassing to the fans, it’s embarrassing to one another, and we let two points slip away.”
By the third period, Ilya Bryzgalov was out and Brian Boucher was in. It didn’t matter. Penguins winger Chris Kunitz scored 18 seconds into the final frame and that was that. Another game. Another upside-down result for the flailing Flyers.
Boucher said they took their “foot off the gas just a little bit,” but it was more like they stomped on the brakes while going full speed and then everyone went flying through the windshield. It was a grotesque crash.
“It was a big letdown,” Scott Hartnell said. Then he added, “If we play like that, it will be a long summer.”
Hartnell was hinting at what you already know: The season just began -- and yet it’s almost over. They are running out of time.
The Flyers (11-13-1) only have 23 games remaining. They are currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, their smudged noses pressed against the glass looking in at all the other teams ahead of them. Beating Pittsburgh could have acted as a catalyst to propel them through the rest of the year. Instead, you wonder if it will slow their progress.
As only Bryzgalov could put it, over the first half of the season, the Flyers were “not good” (see video). Win one. Lose win. Suffer an injury. Repeat. As treading water goes, the Flyers managed to keep their heads right around surface level despite the skates and pads and heavy expectations weighing them down. They can’t keep that up forever. Either they find a way to buoy themselves or they will be dragged under before long.
That’s where the Flyers are at the moment. Despite the harsh reality, Zac Rinaldo tried to play it cool in the locker room after the game.
“We’re not worried,” Zac Rinaldo insisted.
Then he said it again.
“We’re not worried,” Rinaldo repeated.
Given the circumstances, that is hard to believe. If they aren’t worried, they ought to be.