The Flyers Ruined Our Stink-Off
9:00 AM EST on November 8, 2023
It's a joy when a terrible team opens its season with a gnarly losing streak. For one, there is no pretense to even bare mediocrity, unlike when the 2016–17 Colorado Avalanche—who you are compelled to mention when talking modern NHL travesties—started their season 9-9-0. You also get to play the fun game of guessing when said terrible team will get their first win. If you're a big ol' meanie, that game is better framed as guessing which team will suffer the embarrassment of losing to said terrible team first. With each loss, the stakes get higher. Losing to a team on a four-game losing streak is no big deal. But what about losing to a team on an 11-game losing streak?
This is a good, honest way of watching sports.
That the San Jose Sharks' first win since April 1 came against the Flyers isn't exactly earthshaking. Entering the game, the rebuilding Flyers were 5-6-1 and second-to-last in the Metropolitan—not a unlikely candidate to lay a stinker, if you were to pick one out of a hat. But on a more affective and historical level, the Flyers simply love to give 0-10-1 teams their first win. In 2017, the Flyers graciously broke the Arizona Coyotes' 11-game season-opening losing streak in overtime. The groundwork was laid early in this one; Anthony Duclair scored just 1:43 in.
You can't say the Sharks didn't try their damndest to lose. The Flyers outshot them 39 to 19, and Mackenzie Blackwood had to put on a clinic, very nearly pulling off an incredible save on the one goal he did allow (quickly confirmed after video review). Philadelphia had four power plays that were futile even when they weren't committing penalties of their own to nullify the man advantage—a disproportionate number of the penalties turned into 4-on-4s or 4-on-3s.
If you can manage to shove aside the narcissism of the Philly Sports Fan Doomerism Index, the Flyers becoming the team to lose to the Sharks first commits the cardinal sin of being narratively unsatisfying. The game was chippy enough—and congratulations are due, as always, to Travis Konecny et al. for this fact—that there wasn't much opportunity for immediate catharsis for the Sharks; after the end-of-game horn sounded, the San Jose players on the ice wound up hugging more Flyers than their own teammates.
Worst of all, though, is what you can see looming on the schedule. The ignoble "first team to lose to the San Jose Sharks" title should've been saved for the Edmonton Oilers, who will face them on Thursday. While the Flyers are in a rebuild, the Oilers are in win-now mode, and are not winning, which—speaking as a good, honest sports fan who even enjoys the Oilers—is hilarious in a tragicomic way. The Oilers are 2-8-1. They signed Jack Campbell to a five-year contract, and two years in, in face of his .873 save percentage, are putting him on waivers. Connor McDavid's career is wasting away in Edmonton like a Victorian maiden confined to her bed with consumption! The doctor's bringing out the leeches! It's all rotten! The least the Oilers deserve is to have the opportunity to take their fates into their own hands in front of the greatest pressure of all: facing a possible loss at the hands of the winless Sharks.
But now the Oilers are facing a possible loss at the hands of the 1-10-1 Sharks, which may win out in palindromic terms, but sucks more every other way. If the Oilers lose now it'll be funny, but not tragic. Terrible teams win games all the time. Even those Avs won 22 games! This is a disaster for the greater narrative good.
It is a bit cruel to say that the Sharks—who, along with their fans, have suffered greatly—should've lost one more game, thus giving them sole possession of second place on the all-time leaderboard. Look, no matter what Ray Ratto says, this win could be cause for hope. When the 2017–18 Coyotes started 0-10-1 and then broke through against the Flyers, they actually put together a winning record after the all-star break and moved the needle from "historically atrocious" to "merely sad." Just, uh, maybe don't look at the other, more recent Coyotes team that opened up their season with an 11-game winless streak.