The Philadelphia Flyers are sinking, and no one is throwing them a life jacket.
Not Tampa Bay, which has two wins over the Flyers during their six-game losing streak.
Not Carolina, which took advantage of a slew of Flyers giveaways and blitzed the Orange and Black 6-3 on Black Friday.
Not New Jersey, which had lost five of its last six games before pulling away from a late 2-2 tie and whipping the Flyers 5-2 on Sunday.
“They capitalized on every mistake we made,” said defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who made two of them that the Devils converted into goals.
“We’re constantly giving up chances after chances every game,” said Ivan Provorov, whose game hasn’t been the same since his new defensive partner, Ryan Ellis, went down with an injury. “Our puck support has got to be way better.”
Among other things.
The Flyers are getting very good goaltending from Carter Hart and Martin Jones, and have been solid on the penalty kill. Other than that, they are a hot mess, playing tentatively and without confidence, rarely getting into the offensive zone with speed on controlled entries.
Comical power play
Their power play — directed by assistant coach Michel Therrien, once a successful head coach in Pittsburgh and Montreal — is comical. It looks disorganized and is 4 for 50 (8%) over the last 16 games, the league’s worst output in that span. The Flyers had as many power-play goals in their first four games (four) as in their last 16 games. Oh, and they have as many power-play goals (two) as shorthanded goals over the last 11 games.
Their forecheck, which was so good earlier in the season, has disappeared, and their puck management has been sloppier than my 3-year-old grandson’s fingernails after spending an afternoon creating things with Play-Doh.
It’s easy to look at the team’s skid and blame it on injuries to Ellis and second-line center Kevin Hayes, who have played a combined six games this season. An injury to center Derick Brassard last week has also hindered the Flyers, who were 8-4-2 after a 2-1 win over Calgary but have since dropped to 8-8-4 and into seventh place in the loaded eight-team Metropolitan Division.
The Injuries have clearly caught up with them, especially the one to Ellis, who could miss another month. That said, almost every team has suffered key injuries and many have managed to stay afloat. Some teams (Tampa Bay, Washington, Florida, and Colorado) have even thrived.
But the Flyers lack the speed and depth of those legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and this losing streak has come at the most inopportune time. The Flyers are in the midst of a stretch from Nov. 23 to Jan. 4 in which they play 13 of 20 games on the road, where they are 4-4-2 on the season.
If they don’t regroup quickly, their playoff chances could be in big-time jeopardy before the season is three months old.
“You’ve got to stick together,” said Scott Laughton, who had a shorthanded goal in the loss in New Jersey. “It’s better this happens in November than late in the year. We’re still in it.”
If the Flyers fall out of playoff contention, general manager Chuck Fletcher needs to make some hard decisions, such as: Is it time to ask captain Claude Giroux to waive his no-movement clause and deal him for, say, a high draft pick and a quality prospect? Giroux, who turns 34 on Jan. 12 and can become an unrestricted free agent in July, is having a good season (7 goals, team-high 17 points in 20 games) and still has plenty left in the tank.
Prior to the March 21 trade deadline, he would be an attractive player for a contender, and the Flyers might be better served to take a page out of the New York Rangers’ book from three-plus years ago. If you’ll recall, the Rangers sent a letter to their fans on Feb. 8, 2018, basically telling them they planned to start all over.
“As we approach the trade deadline later this month and into the summer, we will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character,” the letter said at one point. “This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect.”
The letter said the Rangers had a singular commitment — “ensuring we are building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup.”
Many Rangers veterans have been dealt since the letter was sent, including popular players such as Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello, and the farm system became an organizational strength. The Rangers got younger and added four first-round picks and four second-rounders. The rebuild has worked. The Blueshirts (13-4-3), who host the Flyers on Wednesday, are a Metro contender and have many young players contributing.
Time to get youngerThe Flyers, meanwhile, are getting little from their youth. They have just a combined 15 goals from players 25 or under (seven of them from Joel Farabee), putting them toward the bottom of the Metro in that category. Carolina has the most goals in the division (35) by players 25 or under.
OK, it’s fair to point out that the Flyers aren’t getting enough production from most of their players, regardless of their age. They have gone 15 straight games without scoring more than three goals in a game, a “feat” accomplished just five times in franchise history.
But if you are going to lose and continue to be a mediocre product, doesn’t it make sense to do it with young, fast players who are gaining experience that will make them (hopefully) dynamic down the road?
If Fletcher decides to deal veterans like Giroux (if he agrees to it) and James van Riemsdyk and get younger, he also has to ask himself if coach Alain Vigneault — a man who loves playing veterans — is the right person for this team.
Vigneault is the eighth-winningest coach in NHL history and deeply respected around the league. It should be pointed out, however, that younger players like Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Travis Konecny — just to name three — haven’t taken the next step under Vigneault. The same can be said for since-traded, hotshot prospect Nolan Patrick, though medical issues played a role.
Again, Fletcher has some big decisions to make. He has twice declined one-on-one interview requests in the last week, so he is not tipping his hand. (He may do a group media session Tuesday.)
It is a hand that gets weaker with every loss, a hand that needs to be played right.
Maybe Fletcher sits pat and waits for Hayes, Ellis, Brassard, and promising right winger Wade Allison — another injured player — to return.
Maybe he puts together a package that turns around the franchise — like GM Paul Holmgren did when he smartly acquired potential free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from Nashville in 2007.
Or maybe he deals some veterans, like franchise icon Giroux, and starts a full rebuild.
Hey, it’s working for the Rangers.