There's nothing uncommon in describing an NHL team as resilient.
Or fragile, for that matter.
What's uncommon is when both terms are applied to the same team, and even more uncommon when it's within the same stretch of games, or even within the same game. Yet throughout the Flyers' 9-9-2 start to this season, both words, and their synonyms, have cropped up repeatedly as the players, the coach, the fans, and yes, the media attempt to characterize this mercurial team.
Take Saturday's 6-5 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, for example. Upset over two consecutive ticky-tack penalties in the second period, the Flyers lost composure, structure, focus – ah hell, they were fragile. Two power-play goals, 11 seconds apart, blew a small hole into a big hole
"We kind of lost our minds a little bit there on the five-on-three, and before you knew it, it was 5-1," said goaltender Cal Pickard, playing because of the most recent lower-body injury suffered by Brian Elliott. "But credit to our guys, didn't quit, came back, and scored four. And we deserved better."
Well yes, they did, and if their goaltender could have stopped just one more of the 26 shots he faced, they would have. He had no chance on a few, but not all, and thus the Flyers needed to tap into all of their purported resilience, becoming the ninth team in NHL history to rally from a four-goal deficit in the final 10 minutes of regulation to tie the game at 5-5.
"It's definitely a positive takeaway from the game,'' defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "Never give up. I mean we got a point out of it, I don't know if we had any business getting a point tonight, but you know it shows the true grit of our team.''
Fragile, resilient. Fragile, resilient. Fragile, resilient.
The recurring bouts of fragility, which fourth-year coach Dave Hakstol has alluded to at times himself, are often used in arguments made to replace him as head coach, particularly with three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville currently unemployed.
The acts of resilience, like last season's rebound from a devastating 10-game losing streak in late November and early December, are the most empirical reason he hasn't been. Hakstol not only manages to hold onto the room despite such struggles, many in there echo his assessment of games. Including sometimes, like on Saturday, when results suggest otherwise.
"Our first two periods were good periods,'' Hakstol said after Saturday's loss. "We came out of it on the wrong end of it. We have to do a little bit more. But, our first two periods were pretty darn good periods."
He also said this about a group that has allowed more goals (71) than all but two NHL teams, including the six on Saturday: "We didn't five up a whole lot in terms of grade-A opportunities and I'm going back over the last couple of games here. We've been reasonably solid there. Can we be better; can we be more airtight? Absolutely. We have got to try and tighten things up a little."
There would be a certain Alice In Wonderland feel to all this if it didn't — oddly — make some sense. The Flyers outshot the Lightning, 45-26. The Flyers hit five posts against New Jersey.
Where you might take issue is with the phrase "reasonably solid." Because the Flyers' defensive effort tends to collapse at the worst possible times. Like the mayhem that led to Tampa Bay's second power-play goal, or the two shorthanded goals allowed in their ugly 5-4 victory over Arizona two games before, or the unlikely sight of Ivan Provorov's being plowed behind his own net by Brayden Point, who then tapped a pass past Pickard. .
Even so, Point's goal was soft, and that's another point Hakstol would like to make but can't. It's a results-driven business, for sure, but for much of his tenure, management has kind of made it up as it goes along in terms of goaltending. Over the last calendar year, the Flyers have used five goaltenders.
That can make a team fragile.