The loss of Flyers is a reminder that the team plays players for the long term

In Saturday night’s waning moments of regulation against the Montreal Canadiens, Flyers coach John Tortorella selected three forwards he wanted on the ice in a six-a-side five to cement the team’s 4-3 lead alongside top defenders Ivan Defending Provorov and Tony DeAngelo.

Looking at the bench during a hiatus, the veteran players he might seek out in an alternate universe were nowhere to be found. 2020 Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier has not played this season after undergoing a second back surgery. Winger Cam Atkinson was absent from the lineup all season due to an undisclosed upper body injury. Tortorella’s popular penalty shootout duo of forward Scott Laughton and winger Travis Konecny ​​both had recently injured themselves and were out of the game – Laughton (undisclosed) just moments earlier after suffering a hard hit and Konecny ​​( upper body) on Thursday against the Boston Bruins.

” CONTINUE READING: The Flyers’ losing streak stretched to six games with a shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens

So, at the game’s most critical moment, Tortorella settled on an unlikely trio of winger Zack MacEwen, forward Patrick Brown and center Noah Cates. Cates, the Flyers’ fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft, has only played 34 NHL games in his career. MacEwen and Brown were waivers in 2021, playing mostly in the fourth row last season and moving up the front of the lineup with the injured Flyers.

Four seconds from time, Canadiens center Nick Suzuki sent a cross pass under Brown’s stick to winger Cole Caufield, whose one-timer sped past goaltender Carter Hart. After the Flyers fell 5-4 in a shootout, Tortorella noted that Cates didn’t have his stick in position and that it was ultimately up to Brown to stop that pass. However, Tortorella issued an increasingly common refrain to avoid piling up.

“They’re trying,” Tortorella said. “It’s not about being lazy or not listening. They’re trying, but they’re not ready right now. I’ve got Catesy out there, a guy who probably… I don’t know how many… games he’s played here. I put him in situations that I haven’t even thought about this year, but it is what it is.”

If these three weren’t ready for the moment, then who is? Or rather, who should it be? The Flyers no longer have experienced talent up front, players with the experience who can hold down and end games. For Tortorella, team leaders would make big plays to calm the bench during those tense moments. The Flyers lack leadership at the moment.

But they still have a handful of veteran players who Tortorella passed over at this critical moment, most notably nine-year veteran Kevin Hayes. When asked after the game if he needed more of his healthy veterans, Tortorella let his personnel decisions speak for themselves.

” CONTINUE READING: Flyers Bond in Boston, give Kevin Hayes’ nephew a day he will never forget

“You saw the guys I ended up having on the ice,” Tortorella said. “That sort of spells it for you. I don’t need to answer that question. You can tell that from the people I put on the ice.”

Before the season started, Tortorella the layers peeled off about his tenure at the helm of the Columbus Blue Jackets in an interview with The Inquirer. He spoke about the importance of “addition through subtraction” to take this team from eighth place in the Metropolitan Division in 2015-16 to playoff contenders for four straight seasons. No one, not even 2010 runner-up Ryan Johansen, who eventually packed his bags for the Nashville Predators, was immune to Tortorella’s strategy. The coach added that the sortout would likely happen in Philadelphia as well.

After the Montreal loss, Tortorella invoked the same message of addition through subtraction, saying he would approach the game from a big standpoint.

“I’m a little frustrated for her tonight,” Tortorella said. “I’m not crazy. We’re not getting the result. But I’m not even looking at that right now. I’m trying to figure out who’s who and who do we really want to keep here?”

Even if Tortorella and general manager Chuck Fletcher are in lockstep, ditching every underperforming player overboard will not be an option — or at least not an easy one — for the Flyers. Right now, some of their most conflicting players are also their best paid. Hayes, who was demoted to third row on Saturday, has the highest salary cap among active forwards ($7.14 million) with four years left on his contract. Defender Rasmus Ristolainen has been relegated to the third pairing for 11 games since returning from injury and has averaged a career-low 16 minutes and 15 seconds of ice time. He is the second-highest-paid defenseman on the team this season ($5.1 million) on a five-year contract.

Regardless, the Flyers’ recent loss was a reminder of what this season is really about — it’s an audition to see who should be part of the team’s future. The Tortorella train will eventually exit the station and some players will be left on the platform.

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