Bullies No Longer: The Flyers Identity and Defense is MIA

Last night may have been unofficial funeral for the nickname “The Broad Street Bullies”.

The Flyers have been dancing around the line between good and bad for some time now, and with their performance, last night have firmly found themselves in the bad. Two nights after they eked out a victory against the Rangers in overtime, they were rendered hapless in a 9-0 drubbing which is the lowest moment in recent Flyers memory. They looked and responded to each goal like a broken team.

The Flyers get to play again tonight against the Islanders, and their immediate response will likely dictate the rest of the season for the orange and black. Can they rise up after being smacked down or will they whimper through the rest of the season, plunging down the standings and up draft boards?

The issues are crystal clear. The Flyers have a top-pair defender in Ivan Provorov, who has no partner to play with. Justin Braun and Robert Hagg (who is now on IR) are bottom pair players, and ideally the 7th defenseman on a good team. Shayne Gostisbehere is an offensive “specialist” but has a risk/reward quotient that is trending too often towards risk, with Erik Gustafsson performing similarly. Each of these players has inherent flaws and limitations. If the defense was properly constructed these might even be acceptable. The main issue is that Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers have both played at an unacceptable level and have made the Flyers’ situation on defense untenable.

The Twin Pillars Have Crumbled

The expectations for Sanheim and Myers this season were high. Myers was expected to make a year-two jump and even was considered a replacement for the retired Matt Niskanen on the top pair. Sanheim at 200 games into his career was at the point where he was expected to get it, and evolve into a stalwart on the 2nd pair and provide stability. Neither has happened.

Instead, the 6’3″ 1st rounder Sanheim and the 6’5″ un-drafted Myers have been beanpoles with a negative impact on the Flyers this season. With the forward and defensive depth lacking on both ends, the Flyers only established pair has faltered in the face of adversity. With the Flyers only having 2 lines that can score the offensive regression is expected but defensively the pair have looked like chickens with their heads cut off. Chasing opponents and being out of position, poorly timed pinches, not locating the dangerous players on the ice and covering them. These sound like simple tasks but they are not being completed by the pair. As an example, let’s go back to the Pittsburg series. A puck comes in high towards the net. Standing in front of his goalie, Sanheim attempts to catch the puck. Instead, he redirects it into the net.

This pair was a -6 against the Rangers during the 9-0 debacle. They had no teeth, no bite back for the Rangers. They were both victimized by Mika Zibanejad as he put up an absurd 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) in the 2nd period alone. They’ve been pushed around all year and have shown a lack of physicality. There is a long list of problems you can associate with these two players. Something a coach should be doing. Which is our next problem.

Yeo, Where Are You?

Where is Mike Yeo factoring in all of this? After praise was heaped on him last season for his handling of the defense and the idea that the unit as a whole was getting better, he’s seen all of that dismantled in 2021.

The Flyers penalty kill is ranked 28th in the league. The net PK% is sitting at 74.1. Allowing 26% of the penalties you take to result in goals is abysmal. The only Flyers defenders without a negative plus-minus ranking are Justin Braun (+9) Provorov (+4) Gustafsson (+2) and Hagg (0). Plus/minus isn’t the greatest stat but it should be telling as to what names are positive and negative. It is deeper than just a lucky statistic.

We’ve seen players like Mark Friedman not make the lineup and get claimed by Pittsburg and become an immediate contributor. Then we’ve seen Nate Prosser enter the lineup and a rotation of guys going out. We’ve seen Sam Morin be moved to forward, then sent down to the AHL and moved back to defense. We’ve seen a team that boasts the reigning Selke Trophy winner has forwards who seemingly forget how to play in the defensive and neutral zones. Mike Yeo has some say in these decisions and his name is not brought up often enough as a possible problem.

Losing the Emotional Battles: No Bullies and No Fights

The Flyers have had 2 fights this season. Nic Aube-Kubel and Andy Andreoff own them. Fighting for fighting’s sake is not the way of the modern NHL and may not even be an effective motivation for the players.

But, this is the last time the Flyers were dealt a high scoring “embarrassing” loss.

This Flyers team had started 0-3, had a coach fired, and had continued to struggle out of the gate. This was the turning point for that team. It is also likely the signature Flyers highlight of the 2010-2020 decade. This team obviously doesn’t have a Wayne Simmonds, Ray Emery (RIP), or heck even a Brayden Schenn.

Maybe they don’t need a goalie fight or a line brawl, but this team needs an emotional wake-up call. Here’s hoping they get it and the defense begins to make a turnaround. The faith in this team and coaching staff is waining.

Cover Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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