Flyers’ Past Streakiness Justifies Fletcher’s Patience

The Philadelphia Flyers have lost six consecutive games. They showed a lack of continuity and confidence during an uninspiring 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. They sit in seventh place in the Metropolitan, the deepest division in the NHL. A long list of injuries, most notably to Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes, has prevented them from building toward the goals that general manager Chuck Fletcher envisioned with his offseason roster turnover. 

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The losing streak has intensified the pressure on Fletcher, head coach Alain Vigneault, and the entire organization. The situation in Philadelphia sounds bad, and it is. However, Fletcher indicated on Tuesday that he will not panic. He took accountability for the poor results but also noted the injuries and the “compression of the schedule and the quality of the teams we’re playing” as factors in the losing streak and justification for his hope that they can turn things around. Given the misleading winning and losing streaks of recent Flyers seasons, his patience has merit.

Past Flyers Streaks 

Recent seasons in Philadelphia provide plenty of examples of how NHL teams aren’t always as good or as bad as they look for short periods of time. By all accounts, the 2020-21 season was a disaster for the Flyers. They allowed the most goals in the NHL and limped to a sixth-place finish in their division. However, the poor finish makes it easy to forget that they started the season 11-4-3. They did not develop a consistent all-around game during the early part of the season, and their lack of continuity eventually caught up to them.

Claude Giroux Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 2019-20 season was the most successful Flyers season since 2011-12. They suffered their worst stretch of the season with four straight losses spanning from Dec. 31, 2019-Jan. 7, 2020. Their playoff odds looked shaky in a crowded Eastern Conference race. They caught fire starting with a win on Jan. 8 and hit the COVID pause in March 2020 as the hottest team in the NHL. Following the four-game losing streak, they didn’t lose consecutive games again until the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Toronto bubble.

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A strange anomaly occurred during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons in Philadelphia. The Flyers won 10 consecutive games from Nov. 27-Dec. 14, 2016. They followed up their winning streak by losing seven of eight games and missing the 2017 Playoffs. The following season, they lost 10 consecutive games from Nov. 11-Dec. 2, 2017. They earned points in five of the 10 losses and won six consecutive games following the streak. They earned 17 points in the 16-game stretch and made the postseason in 2018.

The makeup of the 2021-22 team resembles the 2007-08 team, who had to crawl their way back into the playoff picture after a 10-game losing streak in Feb. 2008. They ultimately advanced to the Eastern Conference Final thanks to key offseason acquisitions after finishing with the fewest points in the NHL in 2006-07.

Can the Flyers Recover?

Former Flyers GM Ron Hextall spoke in a manner that infuriated his fan base in November 2017 about his team after their ninth consecutive loss.

“Actually, from the start of the year I’m pretty good with the way our team’s played, pretty good with the way our team’s played the last nine games.”

-Ron Hextall

Hextall did follow up with a point about the need to overcome excuses, and the team soon saved him from his poorly-timed comments. They utilized the positive aspects of their game and turned the season around quickly. 

The Flyers haven’t given many reasons for optimism in recent weeks. After a hot offensive start, they have scored just 26 goals in their last 15 games. Their power play is in the midst of a 3/40 stretch, and they’ve remarkably scored more shorthanded goals than power-play goals during the six-game losing streak. Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic identified their struggles in neutral zone defense, five-on-five metrics, and general confidence following the loss to New Jersey (from The Athletic, Breaking down the Flyers’ six-game losing streak, what isn’t working (and what is): O’Connor’s Observations, 11/29/21). Their Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 39.06 and their expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 37.83 at five-on-five, according to Evolving-Hockey, paint a bleak analytical picture.

Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers
Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Fletcher didn’t attempt to justify his team’s poor performance by blaming their obstacles on Tuesday. He acknowledged the obvious that the team needs to be better. He offered a vote of confidence for “internal improvement” instead of shaking up the roster or changing the coaching staff.   

“You can see when players are frustrated and lack confidence, and you can see when players don’t believe. There’s a big difference. We still believe.”

-Chuck Fletcher

Fletcher’s experience in the NHL has shown him that things can turn north just as quickly as they went south. He spoke about the promising signs that the team showed in their first 10 games of the season and how they can regain those elements of their game. He also mentioned that the team he assembled during the offseason hasn’t hit the ice as a unit and expressed hope that the upcoming return of Hayes will help rejuvenate the team. His roster construction strategy included adding veteran leadership and improving the character of the dressing room to avoid another collapse like the one that happened last season. He will continue to put faith in his group and hope that his strategy pays off. 

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