Just days after San Jose general manager Mike Grier told his players that “. . . what was happening was not acceptable,” the jaws of the Sharks gave the Philadelphia Flyers their most embarrassing loss of the season.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s fears got the best of them when visiting the SAP Center Tuesday night, with Anthony Duclair and William Eklund spurring the NHL’s worst team to their first victory of the season, 2-1. San Jose (1-10-1) thus avoided becoming the initial team in NHL history to lose its first 12 games.
Let’s talk about what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers (5-7-1), and the host of things that went wrong.
Flyers Sunk Themselves
As much as the Sharks deserve credit for staving off the Flyers’ quest for two points, it was the visitors who shot themselves in the foot.
Philadelphia, which lost for the fifth time in the last six games, quickly went down 1-0 early in the first period thanks to a defensive breakdown in the neutral zone.
With Nick Seeler pinched in above the blueline, Mikael Granlund picked out a buccaneering Kevin Labanc to create a 2-on-1, and then Labanc dished the puck across to Duclair, who put on the finishing touches.
The hosts would double their lead late in the second period, as Duclair set William Eklund up for a scorching one-timer that trickled past the screened Sam Ersson. A few minutes later, Joel Farabee would pull the Flyers back within one.
But Philadelphia lacked the guile to pull off any more than that in this one. Noted Flyers apex predator Mackenzie Blackwood – who advanced to 9-2-2 in his career against Philly with the win – stopped 38 out of 39 shots, en route to a .971 save percentage.
The Flyers, who held a 20-shot advantage in shots on goal, are now 0-6-1 when conceding the first goal this season.
Turnovers and lack of momentum
While the Flyers didn’t do a lot when they had the puck, they made things harder on themselves by failing to keep it with any kind of regularity.
Philadelphia failed to cleanly break out on several occasions, and defensemen like Travis Sanheim and Cam York – lauded for their puck skills – were frequently the guilty parties. Whether passes went directly to Sharks or wound up in disadvantageous places that allowed San Jose to easily recover, every other zone exit attempt was destined to fail. F
Compounding that were half-hearted clearing attempts that either bounced right to a Sharks defenseman on the blueline or got stymied along the wall. The 20-shot difference in shots on goal between the two teams might paint a different story, but the hosts were eager to chomp at the bait in the water when given the opportunities.
The rotten power play
Perhaps the story of their season so far, the Flyers’ power play has still looked largely anemic, even against a lesser opponent like the Sharks. Puck movement in the zone was slow at times, and the players slowed themselves down with misplaced passes and a lack of discipline and focus to control those passes.
On most occasions, the Flyers had to settle for shots from the perimeter and failed to generate anything that resembled a high-danger scoring chance. Bobby Brink only had 10:48 of ice time, so while he had opportunities with the man advantage, the 22-year-old never grew into the game and found his legs.
FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON FOR @SanJoseSharks!
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) November 8, 2023
Sean Walker also filled in for York on the second power play unit; perhaps to either limit the latter’s ice time or to get different looks with a right-shot defenseman. Cam Atkinson also rotated down to play the point at times, but with Rasmus Ristolainen out for the foreseeable future, it’ll be slim pickings for head coach John Tortorella and Co. Overall, the Flyers finished 0-4 on the power play, with two opportunities getting cut short by penalties of their own.
Flyers’ fourth line at it again
Albeit at the expense of Morgan Frost, the Flyers’ fourth line has been a force to be reckoned with in the early portion of the season. The trio of Nicolas Deslauriers, Ryan Poehling, and Garnet Hathaway was the one Philly group that played their game the whole night, and Hathaway was nearly rewarded with a breakaway goal thanks to a neat pass from Poehling.
Deslauriers dropped the gloves for the third time this season – tied for most in the entire NHL. With Hathaway and Luke Kunin mixing it up near the benches after a nasty hit on Walker, Deslauriers and Givani Smith eventually emerged from the kerfuffle and went toe-to-toe near center ice. The Flyers’ enforcer handily defeated his partner and escaped that shark attack no worse for wear – sans a small cut to the cheek.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights & News (@HockeyDaily365) November 8, 2023
This was a game where Frost’s creativity was missed. It remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old center will be of use down the road, but it’s become clear there’s no set plan for him at the moment.
As a young team that seeks to grow over the course of the year, the Flyers need to band together to find their game on offense and put together a rebound effort to finish this California road trip. They’ll play the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday, respectively, before playing the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Nov. 15.
Indeed, that is a tall task, but such is life in the NHL.