Philadelphia Flyers hit rock bottom with three blowout losses in a row

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Flyers have now lost three straight games in embarrassing fashion as they dropped to 4-7 on the heels of a 6-1 blowout loss to the New York Islanders.

It might seem like an overreaction to say that a professional sports team has reached the bottom of the barrel just 10 games into an 82-game season, but I believe that the Philadelphia Flyers have officially reached that point in the 2018 -19 season.

The Flyers lost by a score of 6-1 to the New York Islanders on Saturday, bringing their record to 4-7 and completing an utterly horrid week of hockey which saw them start by losing 5-2 to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday. They followed that effort up by being shutout by the Boston Bruins 3-0 on Thursday night in a gutless effort.

There’s just not much to say about this team right now.

I don’t like to use cliche’s like “The coach has lost the room” or “The players have quit on the coach” too often, but there are times when this is a perfectly acceptable rationale. Based on the last three games alone, one could reasonably argue that one of those scenarios is actively playing out in the Flyers locker room right now.

There are other plausible arguments to be made as well. After all, this team has shown an affinity for long stretches of both good and bad play at different points in the season. In 2015-16, the Flyers won 10 games in a row and then missed the playoffs. Last year, they lost 10 games in a row and made the playoffs. They are a maddeningly inconsistent team, and it could be that they are just off to a rough start.

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The Flyers are also dealing with injuries to players like James van Riemsdyk, and more recently Michael Raffl. Goalie Michal Neuvirth, who is believed to be the ablest goaltender the Flyers have when he’s healthy, only just returned on Saturday.

But those injuries have little to do with why this team is playing so badly right now. And it’s not just that the Flyers are performing poorly. Teams go through stretches of poor play in an 82-game season. If that were the case, it could be expected that the Flyers would turn it around at some point. However, confidence in that happening is eroding rapidly with each embarrassing loss.

The Flyers haven’t just been losing games; they’ve been getting completely pasted by their opponent. The last three games have been non-competitive, and that’s being generous as they’ve been outscored 14-3. One has to wonder what in the world is going on in that locker room because the product that’s being put on the ice each night has been nothing short of pathetic.

While the advanced metrics will show that the Flyers are indeed underperforming, they won’t confirm or deny that either the players have quit on the coach, or that the coach has somehow lost the room. Those are more of the intangible “locker room” things that become popular theories among the fan base and the local media when teams are not producing positive results.

No, those issues are confirmed more by the eye test, and anyone who has spent their time watching this Flyers team might feel hard-pressed to come up with a different reason for why this team looks so unprepared, careless, and ultimately lifeless each night when they hit the ice.

Typically, fans and the media point directly to the coach, and it would be quite difficult at this point to argue that Dave Hakstol deserves to continue coaching this team at this point. For one thing, his system has failed to produce consistent results, and so far this season, the underlying numbers are an indictment on him and his staff. How Hakstol still has a job as this team’s head coach is truly this year’s great Philadelphia sports mystery.

For starters, Hakstol’s system just does not appear to be effective enough to sustain consistent success in the NHL, at least with the Flyers as they are currently constructed. The Flyers employ a low to high system which relies on shots from the defense at the point. Unfortunately, this system has not produced sustained success and moreover, this season, it has been simply ineffective and is a big reason why the Flyers find themselves in a dire situation.

The below tweet from Alexander Appleyard of the Athletic shows the heat maps of the Flyers’ season-long shot attempts since Hakstol has arrived. The 2018-19 numbers are through the first ten games. Each of the four heat maps is clear evidence of Hakstol’s insistence on getting shots from the point, as indicated by the red at the bottom of each map.

Shots from the point are fine and well, but in the current NHL, it’s not an effective way to consistently generate offense. Teams that emphasize speed and creativity bring their offense into the low slot and around the net where the probability of scoring is much higher. The Flyers, under Hakstol, have clearly not caught on to this style of play, which is a shame, considering the forward talent on the team right now.

Hakstol’s insistence on using his preferred system, his odd decisions regarding player usage, which has included lengthy benchings of young players despite veterans playing just as poorly, and his continued usage of Ian Lapperiere as the penalty kill coach are enough collectively to justify the organization moving on.

Speaking of Laperriere, the former player has overseen one of the worst penalty kills in the NHL over the past three seasons. Last season, they operated at around 75 percent, which was near the bottom of the league. So far, not much has changed. The PK continues to get scored on each game, bafflingly allowing players to coast into the slot and post up in front of the net, untouched.

As Appleyard points out again, the Flyers are allowing an alarming number of shots in front of their own net. It’s not enough to say that the penalty isn’t working. Rather, it’s a fractured unit being operated by players that are playing in a system that also doesn’t work at the NHL level. Yet nothing has changed.

Moving on from Hakstol at this point seems like the logical move, but the problem is that Ron Hextall has quite obviously anchored himself to this coach, for reasons that are simply unknown at this time. Inexplicably, Hextall seems reluctant to admit that hiring Hakstol was a mistake, and instead of correcting that mistake and moving on, he’s content to let this situation play out.

Should Hextall continue down this road, it’s only fair that he should fall under the sword along with his coach if things get truly ugly. And right now, it looks like this season could absolutely get worse before it gets better.

I get that Hextall came to Philadelphia with the objective of changing the culture, which includes changing the way things have been done in the past, like firing coaches too quickly and constantly employing former players. He made a coaching hire that was outside the box and did so in the hopes of building a new culture that would bring about years of success. It just hasn’t happened the way he wanted it to.

But if Hextall makes the right choice and begins a search for a new coach, things can turn around. We’ve seen it before with Peter Laviolette coming in to replace John Stevens, and we’ve seen it with the Pittsburgh Penguins when they fired Mike Johnston midseason and proceeded to go and win a Stanley Cup. There are some parallels there with Pittsburgh, and this Flyers team is just much too talented to be toiling at the bottom of the league and playing with not an ounce of urgency.

Which brings us to the players. While I believe that this team still has a chance to turn things around, what is overwhelmingly apparent is that they are playing a brand of unmotivated hockey. Regardless of the coaching situation, the players must still go out and play. A bad system is one thing, but a lack of effort and style of play that includes bad penalties, lazy shifts, and failure to protect one’s teammates is absolutely inexcusable and is indicative of a team that has packed it in.

I hope that the Flyers have not quit this early in the season, as there is more than enough hockey to be played the rest of the season. There is enough talent on the team to right the ship. The question is whether or not the correct people are currently in command of that ship, and the current feeling is that is not the case.

In the end, Dave Hakstol probably won’t be the coach of this team for much longer. But if fans are forced to continue to watch the utter dreck that has been thrown out on the ice for another 72 games, there needs to be a point. The young players need to play, instead of getting thrown into the press box for making the same mistakes as so-called “veterans” like Dale Weis and Jori Lehtera. There needs to be a reason for fans to continue to pay for this product.

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There may not be another coach out there that’s worth putting behind the bench for the Flyers right now, but Hakstol almost certainly isn’t the right guy right now. There’s only one man that can make things right and get this franchise back on the path to success, which is what fans were promised in the first place.

The ball is in your court, Ron.