Look, Andreas Johnsson is a pretty good player for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 24-year-old’s carved out a nice niche for himself, particularly considering the fact that he was a seventh-rounder (202nd overall in 2013). Johnsson would probably be at least a medium-sized deal if he were on a team that wasn’t so loaded with young talent.
Still, it’s not the greatest sign in the world when Johnsson scored a hat trick on you … in a single period. It’s even worse when his hat trick doesn’t even cover all the goals allowed in a troubling 20 minutes.
That’s the plight of the Philadelphia Flyers so far in Saturday’s game, as Johnsson – who came into this game with two goals in 27 career NHL games – delivered such a drubbing, while Patrick Marleau added a goal to provide a 4-0 early edge.
Calvin Pickard ended up allowing four goals while making just two saves, extending what’s been a miserable run with the Flyers. It has to sting a little extra for Pickard, as he went from a respectable backup to something of a journeyman last season, as the expansion draft process scrambled him into the Maple Leafs’ once-deep pipeline of goalies who weren’t quite at the NHL level.
Instead of getting a little bit of revenge against his old club by living well, he instead languished.
By my eyes, Johnsson’s first goal was probably the ugliest, as Pickard really seemed to lose his angle or simply find himself out of sorts:
The second tally was a semi-breakaway that would probably give a lot of goalies trouble, but the third one might be another tally Pickard would want back, although Johnsson was able to wade in with his backhander before any defenders could really give him any trouble.
And that last point is really the thing. You can get in a chicken-and-the-egg argument about who’s most to blame for the Flyers’ goalie issues, at least from a bigger picture standpoint. Because … make no mistake about it, this continues to be a crisis.
Coming into 2018-19, it was somewhat understandable why GM Ron Hextall decided to stand pat, although you could probably charge him with possibly being a little too gunshy.
After all, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are a) quite experienced, b) cheap options, and c) in expiring contracts. The hope would be that those two veterans could hold down the fort while Carter Hart develops. Hextall also made a reasonable (but so far disastrous) decision to claim Pickard on waivers, rather than going the free agent route.
Now, Hart hasn’t been a brick wall at the AHL level, yet this seems like another beacon to the Flyers: why not just roll the dice and see if Hart could be like Matt Murray. The Pittsburgh Penguins probably wanted to let Murray marinate at lower levels a little longer, but injuries sort of forced their hand, and then Murray forced them to keep him around with strong early play.
For the Flyers, Hart standing above his colleagues would be filed under a “good problem to have.” And, worst-case scenario, Hart could instead fail, but get sent down to the AHL to continue working on his game.
(Even if he struggled, management would likely receive a better understanding of how close Hart is to full-time NHL work, and gain greater insight about how to approach either the next goalie free agent summer [Sergei Bobrovsky reunion tour, you might ask?] or the trade deadline [other Bob opportunity?].)
Speaking of standing pat instead of making more aggressive decisions, this latest hiccup and the wave of coach firings naturally make some wonder – again – about Dave Hakstol.
Is it possible that Flyers goalies aren’t put in ideal situations to succeed, too? Should Philly play a system that possibly plays to the strengths of its roster in ways they don’t now? Perhaps the solution might just be to shrug your shoulders at your Swiss cheese in net, hold your nose, and just try to “outscore your problems?”
There are a lot of questions stemming from a rough period of play, and they’ll only bubble up more often if the Flyers fail to find answers. Granted, these issues have been plaguing this franchise since their GM stopped being their goalie, so it’s obviously a situation of easier said than done.
Either way, something has to give, especially if nights like these continue … right?
The Maple Leafs ended up winning 6-0, with Garret Sparks pitching a 34-save shutout. Anthony Stolarz experienced a busy night in relief of Pickard, stopping 33 out of 35 shots.