The Philadelphia Flyers resumed play after the NHL’s extended Christmas break with a four-game road trip on the West Coast. They extended their point streak to seven games with a win over the Seattle Kraken and an overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks in the first two games, but regulation losses to the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks dropped their record to 1-2-1 and left them with only three of a possible eight points against the Pacific Division foes.
Flyers Futile Holiday History
The NHL schedule makers typically send the Flyers on a road trip immediately following the Christmas holiday break to accommodate the Disney On Ice show at the Wells Fargo Center. The annual road trips have been astoundingly bad in recent seasons without a clearly identifiable common factor. The Flyers entered their trip with a 3-20-3 record between the dates of Dec. 26 and Jan. 4 in the respective seasons since 2014-15.
The early results looked promising despite flawed execution in the first two games, but the Flyers ultimately stumbled and finished with an underwhelming final record to show for it. Of their four opponents, only the surprisingly surging Ducks are currently in playoff position. The Flyers currently sit in the midst of a crowded bunch of teams sitting outside of playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference with their immediate sights set on catching the Boston Bruins for the final wild card.
They unfortunately missed Claude Giroux, Ivan Provorov, Carter Hart, Scott Laughton, and several depth pieces with Covid-related absences at different points during the road trip. However, interim coach Mike Yeo accurately pointed out after Tuesday’s game that his team is “not afforded the luxury of being frustrated (or) getting down” because they have an uphill battle in front of them to climb back into playoff position.
Struggling Flyers Blue Line
The Flyers defensemen struggled on the trip. Provorov continued an underwhelming stretch with two defensive lapses that led directly to goals against the Kings on Jan. 1. He missed a game for the first time in his NHL career against the Ducks on Tuesday. He and Justin Braun, a serviceable veteran asked to fill a role above his talent level, haven’t formed a top defensive pair characteristic of a team in playoff contention. They will most likely continue as the team’s top pair once Provorov clears Covid protocol, considering Yeo’s recent admission that there is no timetable for the return of Ryan Ellis.
The third defensive pair is a glaring issue. Keith Yandle is showing an inability to defend competently at this stage in his career. Bill Meltzer revealed that he expects Yandle to stay in the lineup long enough to break the NHL iron man record with 965 consecutive games played. He reached 955 on Tuesday night.
Kevin Connaughton will need to give a stronger effort than he showed on a goal by Brendan Lemieux during the second period of the Kings game. Nick Seeler dropped the gloves at the wrong time in the Sharks game and contributed to a change of momentum in San Jose’s favor, likely trying a little too hard to make an impact after sitting as a healthy scratch for the previous six games. Prospect Cam York made his season debut against the Ducks, the team he grew up rooting for. He handled himself well in over 20 minutes of ice time and showed that he is capable of stepping into a full-time NHL role.
The second pair of Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim has performed well in recent weeks, but the team shouldn’t depend on the skill set of either player to carry the entire unit. Provorov did score two goals on the trip, including an overtime game-winner against the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 29.
Atkinson, Farabee Among Streaking Flyers
The Flyers considered their forward depth to be one of their best roster strengths entering the 2020-21 season when many experts considered them a Stanley Cup contender. However, the demise of Alain Vigneault’s tenure as head coach was partly due to the inconsistency of players that the organization considered primary scorers. They have turned into a team with reputable offensive players performing inconsistently with a “who’s hot and who’s not” rhythm.
Joel Farabee is currently on a hot streak with six goals in his last nine games in the lineup dating back to Nov. 24. He assisted the only goal against the Ducks on Tuesday with a great setup for Cam Atkinson, who has put up points in bunches at different points in the 2021-22 season. The first-year Flyer also had three assists against the Kings.
Travis Konecny has not scored a goal since Nov. 18. He did a better job of generating offensive pressure during the road trip. He finished with two assists, including a great setup on Morgan Frost’s goal against the Sharks. His discipline, however, didn’t help the team. An (albeit questionably called) embellishment penalty and a 10-minute misconduct showed the frustration of the 24-year-old winger.
The Flyers now have Hart back from Covid-19 protocol and in position to carry the load in the crease. They’ve played 11 games under Yeo, who looks likely to hold the job for the remainder of the season. A head coaching change, a long list of Covid-related absences and cancellations, and an unexpected extension of their holiday break made for a chaotic ending to 2021. The Orange and Black will return to Philadelphia for a three-game homestand hoping for normalcy in the NHL schedule.
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Colin Newby is a freelance writer from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten journeymen like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.
Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.