The Philadelphia Flyers haven’t hit rock bottom yet because things could still get worse


The Flyers need to lose one more before they officially end up with their third ten-game losing streak in the past two seasons.

But let’s be honest — this game essentially doubled as two losses.

Consider it the spiritual ten-gamer, and not just because the chances of this club going onto Long Island in the second game of a back-to-back and taking down New York feel infinitesimal at this point.

After all, the Black Friday game in Philadelphia is an important one. It’s a Flyers tradition, a game that the organization requests from the league on a yearly basis. Some families in the area go to this one every year; tickets are given as birthday gifts, sometimes early Christmas gifts. Even this year, with the club on an eight-game skid, the Wells Fargo Center was basically packed — and that surely wasn’t because they were expecting to see a high-quality local hockey team. It’s because seeing an NHL game on Black Friday is part of the culture here in Philadelphia. It means something.

It sure didn’t look like it meant much to the Flyers.

Now, to be fair, they were probably due for a game like this. Even as the losses have piled up, the Flyers haven’t been getting blown out — in fact, the notoriously demanding John Tortorella repeatedly praised the players’ effort in their defeat. The impact of the deluge of injuries, after all, was undeniable: all of Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, James van Riemsdyk, Cam Atkinson and Wade Allison are out up front, leaving the Flyers with an odd mix of veterans in the coach’s doghouse (yep, already), youngsters still trying to figure out the NHL, and waiver claims/quad-A players better suited for the AHL at the forward position. Tortorella has been self-aware enough to realize that his current lineup is going to be hard-pressed to win many hockey games, but he accepted it as long as he perceived that they were ripping their hearts out trying to scratch them out anyway.

This game, on the other hand?

Why not let all 19 words that Tortorella had in response to the first five questions sent his way after the game tell the tale?

John, you guys had energy it seemed like in the first couple minutes (of the game). Where did that go through the end of the second?

No answer.

You guys play again in less than 24 hours, do you hope you can get a better response out of them tomorrow?

I hope so.

Were you more upset with Carter (Hart) when you pulled him (for Felix Sandström in the second period)?

No, it wasn’t Carter. It had nothing to do with Carter.

You’ve talked throughout this skid about liking the effort. Was that in your mind lacking tonight?


The team came out with a better effort in the third period. Why were they able to sustain a little bit more?

Garbage time.

The Flyers rightfully went into this game as the underdog, and a loss was always the most likely result. But they didn’t have to get totally skunked — after all, in only two of their previous eight defeats had they been so far behind that Tortorella didn’t at least pull the goalie in an attempt to come back. They could hang their hat on the fact that they were at least competitive in defeat. It was why this losing streak felt different than the 10-gamer and the franchise-worst 13-gamer from 2021-22.

Still, take a second to digest that. Since November 18 of 2021, the Flyers have played 89 games — after Saturday’s battle with the Islanders, they’ll have played in 90. If they lose yet again — and let’s be honest, they probably will — that means that 33 of their last 90 games have been spent in double-digit losing streaks. That’s 36.6 percent of all of their games!

In short, it’s an embarrassment. And that embarrassment continued on Friday, in more ways than one.

The Flyers allowed three goals to Pittsburgh’s fourth line, completely nullifying the “well, the injuries” excuse, given that it’s not like they simply were out-talented by Sidney Crosby (who in fairness, did get his obligatory goal with time running down in the first period) and Evgeni Malkin. Zack MacEwen — who scored nine points in 75 games last season and cleared waivers just a month ago — was their best skater. The disgusted fans delivered a ‘Fire Fletcher’ chant that was picked up and commented on by a national television broadcast. Their only good period came, as Tortorella himself put it, in garbage time.

It was a game that easily could be described as “rock bottom” for the organization, a high-profile national disgrace of a performance reminding the collective hockey world of just how far the franchise has fallen. But if there’s one thing that the Flyers have proven over the past two seasons and change, it’s that whenever you think they’ve reached a new low, they pick up the shovels and dig that pit even deeper.

Which very well could be in the cards over the coming weeks.

Take a look at their looming schedule. On Saturday, they get the 13-8-0 Islanders in the second game of a back-to-back, a situation the Flyers have yet to turn into a victory this season. Then, they have a rematch with those same Islanders at home on Tuesday, and that’s their most winnable game for a week. Next, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning (three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances and two titles), the New Jersey Devils (fresh off a 13-game winning streak), and the Colorado Avalanche (the defending champs). A home battle against the Capitals is winnable, but if they lose that one, then it’s off to Vegas to face the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that the Flyers could have 16 straight defeats when they face the Arizona Coyotes on December 11. Yikes.

So what can the Flyers do in the interim? Well, for starters, they can’t let this Pittsburgh performance become the new normal — there’s a difference between losing and getting totally humiliated, a distinction the Flyers highlighted on Friday. Perhaps Hart can steal a game sometime in the next week. They’ll eventually get some guys back — Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk could return by the first full week of December, and Scott Laughton’s initial timeline for return didn’t seem too daunting. And maybe, Tortorella can get some teaching in here somewhere, as he explained before puck drop on Friday when asked if he’d coach the first game of this back-to-back differently than normal due to the perceived need to get a win.

“We’re coaching to try to win a game. And again, Charlie, I know we’ve lost a lot,” he acknowledged. “But like I’ve told you before, I am coaching not so much for the game, I’m just coaching periods that run into one another for me. And trying to develop the team. If it’s a different circumstance, maybe a different situation, with a different team, I may think about it differently. But this group here, and where we’re at now? We’re trying to teach. And we have three more periods to teach here.”

That’s good that Tortorella might be able to get some teaching use out of these games. Because as the losses continue to pile up and the Flyers get closer and closer to yet another double-digit skid, the win/loss outcomes are starting to seem like mere formalities.

Assorted observations

  • Tortorella praised Kieffer Bellows’ recent play, noting that he’d led the team in scoring chances against Washington, and stated before the game that he’d be using Bellows in more offensive situations against the Penguins. Bellows was on the second line and the top power-play unit, but given the fact that his linemates at even strength were Morgan Frost (two goals) and MacEwen, that’s not exactly high-end offensive firepower. Still, not like he has many options given the weaknesses upfront at the moment.
  • Kevin Hayes was dropped down to the fourth line with Patrick Brown and Jackson Cates for most of the final two periods. So Tortorella clearly still isn’t very happy with him. His defensive work on the Crosby goal in the middle of the ice wasn’t exactly stellar.
  • Both Nicolas Deslauriers and Nick Seeler dropped the gloves in this one (though for some reason, Seeler only received two minor penalties rather than a fighting major). Didn’t do much to change momentum, though.
  • Tortorella opened the game with Justin Braun on the second pair with Travis Sanheim, but quickly dropped him to the third pair with Seeler and moved Rasmus Ristolainen up. Braun was the goat on Pittsburgh’s first goal, whiffing on a simple D-to-D pass off a neutral zone faceoff win, which led to a quick two-on-one.
  • Carter Hart’s save percentage is now down to 0.915, and while he’s certainly not stealing games like he did in the early going, he’s not getting a ton of help from his skaters. Bummer to see his numbers drop so much even though he’s still making more than his fair share of big saves.
  • Zack MacEwen, somehow, ended up with a penalty shot in this one. Told you he was the team’s most effective skater. (No, he didn’t score on it.)
  • Hayes, however, did light the lamp — but as Tortorella himself noted, it was garbage time.
  • The Flyers actually ended up outshooting the Penguins 30-29 in this one, but don’t be fooled. Pittsburgh had a solid shot attempts edge (60-48) and ran away with the expected-goals margin (3.08-1.53). This very much was the throttling it felt like in real time.
  • Jeff Carter went 14 out of 15 on faceoffs in this one. The old man still has it, at least in the dot.

(Photo of Morgan Frost: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)


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