New game, same outcome.
The Philadelphia Flyers had a chance to even up the series in Game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but once again got embarrassed on home ice. They were outmatched and outplayed in Game 4 to the tune of a 5-0 final score to go down 3-1 in the series.
Here are five storylines from the Flyers’ Game 4 loss.
Couturier injury leads to depth being exploited
The Flyers were without their most important player in the series for Game 4, and it showed. Sean Couturier played over 26 minutes in both Game 2 and Game 3 before suffering an injury at practice on Tuesday. Couturier was ruled a game-time decision on Wednesday morning, but the Flyers announced that he would be out of the lineup for Game 4 with a lower-body injury.
Dave Hakstol had already changed things up for practice on Tuesday, and had to shuffle things again without Couturier. That left the Flyers with their four centers being Nolan Patrick, Valtteri Filppula, Scott Laughton, and Jori Lehtera. Any way you slice it that’s not good.
Patrick played well on the top line, but three bottom-six forwards centering the other three lines isn’t good enough. The Flyers’ success in Game 4 hinged largely on Couturier, and that was evident in the 5-0 loss.
Even with Couturier the Flyers were being outplayed in the first three games overall. Without him, they were completely overmatched.
The Penguins’ forwards, even without Patric Hornqvist, were deep enough to overmatch the Flyers up and down the lineup. Sidney Crosby continued to do his thing, Phil Kessel got his first goal of the series on the second line, and even fourth-liner Riley Sheahan chipped in with a goal.
Coming into the series it was clear that the Penguins are the better team. They are the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions for a reason, and they added a great center in Derick Brassard at the trade deadline. The Flyers, on the other hand, are a team in the final year of a transition to becoming a real contender that overachieved when you look at the season as a whole.
That can’t be an excuse, however. The Flyers had a chance coming into this series and they blew it. They have been outplayed for the large majority of the series so far and will have to turn it around quickly and take it a game at a time if they want any chance of saving their dignity in Game 5.
Being overmatched is one thing, but not having any fight or any pushback is another. If the Flyers were simply getting outplayed by the Penguins that would be somewhat understandable. However, they have had an embarrassing effort in both Game 3 and Game 4 to go down 3-1 in the series after a win in Game 2.
Nearly the entire lineup had very little fight in them in Game 4. There were a few shifts of sustained pressure in the first period, but outside of that it was putrid.
The spotlight shines on the top guys when they aren’t performing, especially when the power play goes 0-for-4 again. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds all need to be better offensively, while Shayne Gostisbehere has to be better on the back end as well. There’s plenty of blame to go around.
A lot of the blame this season has fallen on Dave Hakstol. There is good reason for some of that. He isn’t a great coach. Hell, he might even be a bad coach. During the regular season he did enough to get this team into the playoffs, but the postseason is where you learn what a team, player, or coach is made of.
Hakstol has been blamed too much this season, but he isn’t doing himself any favors with his playoff performance. He has been outcoached and his in-game adjustments of shuffling the lines haven’t been enough. He pulled his goalie after the third goal on Wednesday night to try to get something going after taking no action on Sunday, so there’s at least some progress there.
The best coaches are able to get the best out of their players, even when they are overmatched. The good coaches are able to have a solid gameplan to start the game or make in-game adjustments to get things going. Hakstol has shown none of those things. He may be good in the long-term for helping in the development of young players and to right the ship over the course of an 82 game season, but this series is showing his short-term flaws. His lack of in-game strategy and adjustments, as well as his overreliance on veterans rather than young, skilled players are hurting the Flyers in this series.
Goalie carousel continues
Michal Neuvirth dressed as the backup goalie for tonight’s game after Petr Mrazek played that role in the first three games of the series. Mrazek saw action in Game 1, and now Neuvirth saw action in Game 4.
Brian Elliott, like the rest of the team, has played poorly in this series. He was bad in Game 1, getting pulled simply out of mercy in the second period, but bounced back in Game 2 while also catching a few breaks. He was then bad again in Game 3, overplaying the first goal and allowing a soft goal five seconds after the Penguins’ third goal. Elliott was shaky once again in Game 4, allowing a really weak goal to Phil Kessel after the Flyers had a few minutes of strong pressure in the offensive zone.
Elliott was pulled after allowing a fluky third goal in an attempt to shake things up, and Neuvirth came in. He didn’t play much better, allowing two goals on 13 shots.
The Flyers have now used three goalies in this series and who knows who will get the start in a must-win Game 5.
Patrick the lone bright spot
Before last night’s game I tweeted out “Welcome to the Nolan Patrick game.” I had anticipated a strong game for Patrick given his chance on the top line, and my inkling was correct – well, kind of.
Unfortunately, it was correct only in the sense that Patrick was the lone Flyer to show up for the full sixty minutes against the Penguins in Game 4. He had two or three of the team’s best scoring chances as the top-line center.
Patrick progressing in the second half of the season has been one of the storylines to follow and to shine a bright spot on some otherwise dark stretches. That was once again a storyline last night.
Patrick led the Flyers with six shots on goal – double the next highest total (Konecny, Simmonds, and Gostisbehere all had three) – and won six of the eight faceoffs he took. He also had a game-high 0.91 individual expected goals for, more than double the next highest player (Conor Sheary, 0.45 ixGF), with 0.46 ixGF at 5v5 play.
The Flyers may have found their center of the future in Patrick. Unfortunately the rest of the team isn’t stepping up right now to help him in this series.
Game 5 is on Friday night in Pittsburgh.
Photo by Heather Barry/Sons of Penn
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