Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

That week was… not pretty.

Not by a long shot.

The Flyers’ busy week saw them play five games in an eight-day stretch and come out on the winning side of things just once. Overall, the Flyers went 1-3-1 last week with a 2-1 overtime loss in Columbus, a disheartening 4-1 defeat in Buffalo, a wild 5-4 shootout win over visiting Vancouver, an ugly 6-3 loss in Boston and an even uglier 5-0 loss in Washington.

There’s a lot to digest in this week’s Flyers Weekly Observations, and, needless to say, not much of it is good.

Where to even begin?

• Let’s start with Shayne Gostisbehere’s benching on Saturday afternoon in Boston, the second healthy scratch of the season for last season’s runner up to the Calder Trophy. Let’s face it, the 23-year-old defenseman has not played great this season. He’s struggled mightily defensively and he’s had a miserable time hitting the net in the offensive zone, among other warts in his game. He’s obviously not alone. After all, this 3-8-3 skid is rooted in shoddy defensive play in all zones. But he has not played well. We all know offense is Gostisbehere’s strength, but he’s got just four goals and 15 assists in 46 games. And he’s sporting a minus-17 after Sunday's loss. Dave Hakstol is obviously not happy with his young defenseman’s game and figured the best course of action would be to let Gostisbehere sit down, observe and clear his head. And I get that thought process. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But I’m of the belief it’s best to let a young player play through his struggles. Gostisbehere’s going to have to get used to doing that because this will not be the only time in his career he will struggle. It happens to every player, even the best ones. And it’s even tougher to defend Ghost’s benching with as poorly as Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Manning played in the previous game against Vancouver.

• Speaking of which, those stick penalties Del Zotto and Manning took over and over again in the first period against the Canucks were just careless and put the Flyers into a hole that could have been a lot deeper if not for the play of the penalty kill and Steve Mason. That’s the stuff that can just kill a team, and that’s the stuff that’s also very avoidable.

• One play really stuck out to me during Saturday’s loss to the Bruins in Beantown. The Flyers were down 5-3 early in the third period and attacking in the Bruins' zone when Jake Voracek hit Sean Couturier with a slick cross-ice pass. Couturier had net to shoot at and a chance to cut it to a one-goal game, but instead skated to the side of the net and backhanded the puck into the crowded slot and turned it over. When you’re down two in the third period, you need to shoot there. Even if Tuukka Rask stops it, you never know if there’s going to be a rebound. It was an example of how Couturier needs to be more aggressive offensively on a consistent basis. Especially after he was aggressive against Vancouver with a goal and a post hit after a beautiful offensive rush.

• What was that effort in Buffalo on Tuesday night? Credit the improving Sabres for playing well and earning the win, but the Flyers were just lifeless out there on the ice.

• Let’s chat some about those goalie interference calls that didn’t go the Flyers’ way in Columbus last weekend. Michael Raffl was squeezed into Sergei Bobrovsky and barely made contact with the Jackets’ goalie on the first one. Raffl is entitled to that space just as much as anyone else on the ice. It’s a hockey play, plain and simple. No idea how that one was overturned. Contact was made with Mason’s skate on the second one, but I believe that call was eventually correct as the goal stood. The problem is this: They were two similar plays with limited contact made with the goaltender. The league can’t have one count there and one not. The league is creating itself a very unnecessary grey area with those calls.

• On the NBC national telecast of Sunday’s debacle in Washington, analyst Brian Boucher said something to the effect of the Flyers were in the process of quitting the game after the Caps’ fourth goal, which was scored early in the third period. And it was hard to disagree him with what we all saw. Things can become fragile over these kinds of skids and it just seems recently when one thing goes wrong with for the Flyers, everything comes apart at the seams.

• Brayden Schenn’s stat line so far this season is uneven, literally. He’s got 14 goals on the season, but a league-leading 11 have come on the power play. So that’s 79 percent of Schenn’s goal-scoring coming on the man advantage. That’s obviously great for when the Flyers are on the power play, but with how they’re averaging 1.79 goals per game over this recent 3-8-3 stretch, that could really use it at even strength. That goes for everybody.

• I’m not sure how I feel about the bye week. On one hand, it comes at the right time as the Flyers can rest, recharge and get their heads straight after this awful stretch. On the other hand, it’s no secret this team could REALLY use the practice time right now just to get back to the basics and for the players just to get their footing back underneath themselves. They’ll next be able to practice Friday afternoon.

Coming up this week: Saturday vs. New Jersey (7 p.m./TCN), Sunday at New York Islanders (6 p.m./CSN)

Along with Flyers, Steve Mason at a loss heading into break

Along with Flyers, Steve Mason at a loss heading into break

WASHINGTON — Steve Mason sat on the ground in a quiet, dimly lit hallway of the Verizon Center about 80 minutes before puck drop Sunday.

He whipped a rubber ball against the opposite wall, reflexively catching each return before rapidly firing the next toss.

The goaltender, beleaguered and beaten of late, was all alone, intensely focused and preparing for the Capitals, who had just walloped the Blackhawks, 6-0, two days prior.

But in the grand scheme, Mason was readying for one final start before his team’s five-day bye week, an opportunity to send himself off with a jolt of confidence and refreshed frame of mind.

For two stanzas against the NHL’s hottest club and current leader, he had done that.

“The first two periods, we played excellent road periods,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Didn’t give up much.”

Then came the third period: four goals in five minutes and an early shower for Mason, as the Flyers were all but finished in a 5-0 drubbing (see game story).

Mason, in dire need of something to build on, had crumbled along with his defense. Any good vibes gained were lost, far and deep away, within a flash.

First, it was Marcus Johansson’s blind pass — which didn’t exactly fool Mason — to Justin Williams, who went top shelf for a 2-0 Washington lead just 1:36 into the final frame.

Less than two minutes later, a misplay by Ivan Provorov resulted in a 3-on-2 rush finished off beautifully by a deceptive feed from Alex Ovechkin to Matt Niskanen.

The latter then struck again on a slap shot Mason read clearly but failed to fully glove.

And Williams, after starting it all, provided the punctuation exactly five minutes from his first tally.

In the dressing room postgame, Mason tried to find an answer for the tornado that swept through the third period and wrecked the Flyers into the break an utter mess.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “A complete 180. It’s not how we wanted to come out in the third. We’ve got to be a good third-period team. It wasn’t good.”

Mason recognizes he hasn’t been good, going south simultaneously with the Flyers since the 10-game winning streak — which now seems so long ago (see 10 observations). The 28-year old, in the final year of a three-year contract, is 0-6-2 with a 4.07 goals-against average in his past eight games. He has not recorded a win since Dec. 21 and made just 12 saves on 17 shots against the Capitals following a yanking from his previous outing, as well.

Mason, likely deflated at the moment of the question, stayed positive when asked for his confidence level.

“It’s definitely a tough stretch right now,” Mason said. “Not proud of the way things are going — kind of have to step back here and get away for a few days, which will be good I think at this point in time. Just come back and reset.”

That is what the Flyers will have to do, having permitted a league-most 144 goals. As they’ve lost 11 of their last 14, Mason obviously isn’t the only one searching for answers.

“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. “In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

Which has been often.

“It’s definitely not good,” Mason said. “Since the start of the New Year, it hasn’t been a good start for us. We’re struggling to find that consistency. I think everybody just has to come back from this four-day break here with a fresh mindset, fresh outlook and put this behind us.”

If anyone is welcoming the bye week, it’s likely Mason with open arms.

Flyers enter bye week with 'unacceptable' loss to Capitals as slide continues

Flyers enter bye week with 'unacceptable' loss to Capitals as slide continues

WASHINGTON — They got blitzed.

That second wild-card spot the Flyers have been clinging to for weeks now?

Forget it. It will be gone by the time they get back on the ice again, because the Flyers have a five-day bye week coming this week.

Which might be ideal, given the 5-0 beatdown they suffered Sunday afternoon to the Capitals at Verizon Center (see Instant Replay).

“This was pretty bad,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I don’t know how much worse it can get. It’s a combination of things but I don’t think it’s effort. It’s execution. We have plays there and we're not executing as we have in the past. It’s hurting us.”

The mood?

Frustration? Anger?

“It’s all the above,” Simmonds replied “It’s unacceptable. We got to refocus, reset when we get back. It’s already urgency and desperation. We have that in our minds.”

If you were a tad late getting back to your seat between the second and third period, you missed a smorgasbord of scoring in what was once a very competitive, 1-0 game to that point.

As in four Capitals goals in five minutes that that left the Flyers 0-7-2 in their last nine road games.

“Kinda snowball effect,” Simmonds said. “Come out in the third, and everything kinda bouncing their way, it gets away from us. No excuses. We have to be better, plain and simple.

“It’s unacceptable, but it’s over now. We’ve got to refocus, reset and make sure we’re ready when we come back.”

Since winning 10 straight, the Flyers have gone, 3-8-3 to slip into the great abyss.

“You lose your spot in the standings pretty quickly when other teams are playing well and winning games,” Michael Del Zotto said. “We keep declining.”

General manager Ron Hextall was tip-lipped, but promised he would not overreact.

“You can’t let a little adversity become a lot of adversity,” Hextall warned about what happened in a 1-0 third when things quickly unraveled.

“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden, something happens and things tend to really go wrong. That’s where we have to be better mentally. … Right now, negative energy seems like a landslide.”

After Saturday’s shot festival in Boston, holding the Caps to just three shots through 16 minutes was impressive. Despite five shots on two power plays, the Flyers could not score on backup Philipp Graubauer, which was disconcerting given he’s not starter and defending Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby.

Also concerning was that of the 13 shots that Flyers had that stanza, none came from their top line. Mark Streit led them with three.

Claude Giroux (minus-3), whose game has vanished, didn’t have a shot in the entire game. Coach Dave Hakstol has tried to get him going, changing up his line several times without any effect.

How do you get him and his line going?

“I don’t know,” Giroux said. “I don’t know.”

The Flyers had four power plays early and kept doing nothing with them. So when Washington got its second of the game in the middle stanza, those wasted chances stood out.

Del Zotto inadvertently directed a puck directly onto Andre Burakovsky’s stick and the Caps' forward buried it on Mason.

“Broken play, it went off a guy’s skate and I went to clear it,” Del Zotto said. “It hopped over my stick right into his tape, coming down Broadway. An unfortunate bounce. Seems the way things are going right now.”

It stayed 1-0 through two periods.

The third period onslaught began with a nifty Marcus Johansson backhand pass to Justin Williams, who beat Mason shortside. Then a bouncing puck past Ivan Provorov became a rush with Alex Ovechkin faking a shot, passing to Matt Niskanen, who had a slam dunk to make it 3-0.

Two more goals and Mason departed for Neuvirth.  

"The floodgates opened," Del Zotto said.

Hakstol admitted he should have used his timeout before the game out away from him.

“First two, we played excellent road periods and didn’t give up much,” Hakstol said. “It got away from us in five minutes to start the third period … we didn’t stop their momentum.”

Mason seemed shell-shocked.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “A complete 180. It’s not how we wanted to come out in the third. We’ve got to be a good third-period team. It wasn’t good.

“We’re struggling to find that consistency. I think everybody just has to come back from this four-day break here with a fresh mindset, fresh outlook and put this behind us. It’s not very good.”