The situation around the Philadelphia Flyers is getting dire.
Head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien were let go on Monday morning, after their rested club dropped an ugly 7-1 loss on home ice. Their opponents, the Tampa Bay Lightning, were missing two of their best players in Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and were playing their third game in four nights.
Monday night, Mike Yeo was elevated from his assistant’s role to become the team’s new interim head coach as the Flyers hosted the Colorado Avalanche. Claude Giroux scored first, and the team managed more than three goals for the first time since Oct. 27. But the end result was a 7-5 loss.
It’s the first time Philadelphia has allowed seven goals in back-to-back games since 1993. The lead was erased by the 13:13 mark of the first period. Then, Colorado added two quick power-play goals in the next 2:29 to go up 4-1. That essentially sealed the first career win for 21-year-old Avalanche netminder Justus Annunen, who was playing in his second-ever NHL game.
Don’t read too much into the five-goal outburst.
Fletcher Forced To Change Course
A week ago, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher met with the media and said he wanted to remain patient with his group. In particular, injury issues made him uncertain about exactly where his team was at.
Two multi-goal losses later, Fletcher was forced to accelerate his timeline.
“We just keep digging a bigger hole right now,” he told the media on Monday.
“I just felt watching our team (Sunday) night that we needed to make a change. We need to find a way to spark change with our group. In an ideal world, we could have bought more time and waited. But I just felt like we couldn’t wait anymore.”
Fletcher is doing what he can to try to turn around the fortunes of his team, which has gone from 8-4-2 on Nov. 16 to 8-11-4 on Dec. 6. But he also undertook a massive offseason roster revamp in an effort to erase the stench of last season. His own job security will likely be called into question if the Flyers continue to spiral.
Since Fletcher took the reins just over three years ago, the Flyers have gone 100-80-25 in 205 games. His tenure to date has had two particularly bright moments. From Jan. 18 to Mar. 10, 2020, the Flyers went 15-4-1. They looked like they were peaking at the right time before Covid-19 shut down the season. And during the 2020 playoff bubble, Carter Hart outduelled Carey Price as the Flyers knocked off the Montreal Canadiens in six games. Then, Philadelphia pushed the New York Islanders to Game 7 before falling one game short of reaching the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.
It’s Yeo’s Team, For Now
It’s not surprising that Yeo gets first crack at righting the ship. As Minnesota Wild general manager, Fletcher gave Yeo his first head coaching job in 2011. The pair had previously worked together in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
Yeo guided the Wild to three playoff appearances in four years, but never got his team past the second round. Fletcher went with interim head coach John Torchetti when he fired Yeo in February of 2016, then turned to Bruce Boudreau as Minnesota’s full-time replacement during the offseason.
That same summer, Yeo joined the St. Louis Blues as an associate coach. Fifty games later, he was put in charge on Feb. 1, 2017, after Ken Hitchcock was fired. But Yeo’s tenure as the Blues’ bench boss was a brief 133 games. He was ousted in November of 2018 before his replacement, Craig Berube, guided St. Louis to the 2019 Stanley Cup.
All told, 48-year-old Yeo’s regular-season record as a head coach is 246-181-55 in 482 games, for a winning percentage of .510. “He’s a detail guy,” said Fletcher. “He knows there are no promises going forward, but he has his hands on the wheel now.
“It’s his opportunity to help this team get going in the right direction.”
Room For Improvement
During the Flyers’ current losing slide, two main problem areas initially stood out — goal scoring and the power play.
Following Monday’s game, the Flyers sit 26th in the league offensively, averaging 2.43 goals per game. They’re tied with the Islanders and Vegas for 26th on the power play, at 14.3%. After going 1-for-19 during the first seven games of the losing streak, the club scored with the man advantage on both Sunday and Monday. That’s just the second time all season that the power play has clicked in back-to-back games.
But as the goals dried up, the defensive game that started out much improved from last season has begun to regress. Philadelphia has given up 29 goals in its last five games — an average of 5.8 per game. That has pulled the season average down to 3.35 goals against per game — also 26th in the league — while penalty killing sits 22nd at a 79.7% success rate.
So there’s room for improvement all over the ice. But any immediate help that Yeo is going to give his team will need to be dished out on the fly. This week ends with a 3-in-4 road trip with significant travel — in New Jersey on Wednesday, then Vegas on Friday and Arizona on Saturday.
The Devils should serve up a fertile opportunity for the Flyers to bump their slump. Since beating the Flyers 5-2 at Prudential Center on Nov. 28, New Jersey is 0-3-1 and has averaged five goals against per game.
But Philadelphia’s injury situation has gotten worse, not better. Joel Farabee joined Ryan Ellis, Derick Brassard and Nate Thompson on the injured list following a heavy crash into the boards at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday. Officially, he’s sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder issue.
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