If any of you out there were able stay awake for the entirety of what NBCSN analyst Mike Mulbury reportedly called “one of the top five worst hockey games he’s ever seen,” you saw the continuation of a trend that has helped drag the Flyers down near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Sure, there are plenty of negative trends attached to the Flyers right now – lack of offense, goonery and culture questions, just to name a few. But the one I’m referring to is just how badly the Orange and Black have been outplayed in the third period this season.
It came back to bite them again Tuesday night in Carolina.
After 56 minutes, 2 seconds of the NHL version of Nyquil, the Flyers finally opened the scoring on a power-play goal (!) by Scott Hartnell (!) and took a 1-0 lead over the Hurricanes. But the Hurricanes struck back with just under a minutes left and their netminder pulled as Jordan Staal redirected a pass past Flyers’ goalie Steve Mason to knot the game.
The Flyers then committed a brutal turnover in overtime that sprung Carolina’s Manny Malholtra on a breakaway and he proceeded to beat Mason with a backhander for the 2-1 Carolina victory.
For those that have followed the Flyers this season, last night’s result should have come as no surprise. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that it could have been expected.
Through 14 games played on the season, the Flyers have been outscored 16-6 in the third period. Those 16 goals scored against are seventh-most in the league and those six goals scored are tied with New Jersey for fewest in the league. All tolled, the Flyers minus-10 third-period goal differential is the worst in the NHL.
There have been four times this season where the Flyers either held a lead or were tied heading into the third period and gave up multiple goals in the period and overtime to lose a game (Oct. 2 vs. Toronto, Oct. 15 vs. Vancouver, Oct. 29 vs. Anaheim and Tuesday night at Carolina).
To further accentuate the Flyers’ struggles in the final stanza, there have been three games where the Flyers trailed by just a single goal heading into the third period with a real chance to still tie or win the game only to give up multiple goals in the third and lose (Oct. 5 at Montreal, Oct 12. at Detroit and Oct. 17 vs. Pittsburgh).
Tuesday’s disappointment in Raleigh, N.C. was the only time Philadelphia managed to extend the game into overtime and gain a point in the standings.
Chew on that for a moment.
A case can be made that the Flyers have had a legitimate chance to earn 14 points in those seven games mentioned above and came out with just one of those 14 points. And that one point came Tuesday at PNC Arena.
That’s 13 points that Flyers have had a legitimate shot at earning that they’ve left just sitting there at the proverbial table through just 14 games this season. Did I expect the Flyers to earn all of those 13 points even if they were playing well? Not at all. But they most definitely should have earned more than just one of those 13 points.
Third-period letdowns happen over the course of an 82-game season. I get that.
But why are they struggling so badly in the third period so often so early in the season?
There are a few reasons.
First, foremost and most glaring is the lack of offense. Six goals in 14 third periods is good for just .43 goals per third period. .43 goals per any period isn’t going to cut it, let alone in the most important period of the game. Good teams will tighten up their defense, especially in the neutral zone, and clog up any open space when they have a lead. For as bad as the Flyers’ offense is at even gaining the offensive zone, that’s basically a death sentence.
For whatever reason, the Flyers have gone into a defensive shell at times in the third period when they’ve had a lead. They take their collective foot off the pedal and sit on whatever the score is whether they try to or not. For example, the Flyers were outshot 16-6 in the third period of the loss to Anaheim and 16-7 in the third period and overtime of last night’s loss at Carolina. Though it worked against the New York Rangers, the success rate of that option isn’t high.
The defensive shell is not the best idea considering this team’s strong point isn’t, you know, defense. To prove that point, one the team’s supposed top defenders, 24-year-old Luke Schenn, has been a healthy scratch the last two games.
It puts unfair pressure on Mason, who has done everything in his power to keep the Flyers in some of these games. For as spectacular as he’s been, he can’t stop everything.
Turnovers are another huge reason the Flyers have struggled in the final period and overtime. The Flyers are in the top 10 in the league with 123 giveaways on the season. But they seem to come at the most in opportune times. In the Pittsburgh game, Braydon Coburn threw a blind pass out in front of his own net, which hung Mason out to dry and led to a Sidney Crosby goal to give the Pens a 3-1 lead with just under 3 minutes to go. Mark Streit’s gaffe last night in overtime was inexplicable. Those are just two examples.
Is it any coincidence the Flyers didn’t turn the puck over in third period – and the entire game, for that matter – last Saturday in New Jersey and held on for a 1-0 win?
The last main reason is attention to detail on the defensive end. So many times this season have the Flyers broken down defensively in the third period to allow other teams to score huge, momentum-shifting goals.
Against Vancouver, Flyers’ defenders focused on the puck carrier behind the cage and left Chris Higgins wide open in front of the net for the slam dunk to tie the game. Against Anaheim, two Flyers went to one Duck created a mini 2-on-1 for Anaheim where Kyle Palmieri cashed in for the game-winner. And then there was Claude Giroux leaving Carolina’s younger Staal in front of the net and allowing Staal to tip the puck past Mason to tie the game on Tuesday night.
The Flyers obviously need to start scoring goals. But unless they start tightening up and playing an all-around game in the third period, scoring goals won’t matter all that much.
Someone please give Mason a hug or bake him some cupcakes or something.