We'll begin tonight's recap with a confession: I've never really liked the phrase "60-minute effort". I think it's a term that gets thrown around by people who watch a team dominate games for stretches at a time (which is prone to happen for just about any team in any game) and then get frustrated when they aren't able to dominate like that for the entire game. In today's NHL, there's too much talent on every team (well, almost every team) to expect to be able to look like you're walking all over a team for an entire hockey contest on a given night.
I say this because every once in a while there are exceptions. Tonight was an exception. And not exactly the kind that I or probably any of us were expecting heading into the game, given the effort the Flyers put forth on Saturday and given the fact that the San Jose Sharks are a really good hockey team, especially on their own ice.
No, tonight -- on the third game of a notoriously difficult three-game road trip -- what we saw was, honest to God, a true 60-minute effort from the Flyers. Probably moreso than any game they have played this season. From the start to the final whistle, they were absolutely all over the Sharks in every zone. They moved the puck up-ice pretty well, they didn't let the Sharks do the same, and they controlled the special teams battle (again).
There were very few points at this game that it didn't feel like they were controlling the game, even after the Sharks scored twice in the first period to take a lead that would last early into the third period. They missed out on a few quality opportunities in the second period (and dodged a bullet on a Sharks chance that may have been saved by Steve Mason but may have hit the post?), but it seemed like this was a game where if they kept doing what they would doing, the floodgates would open.
And boy, did they open. After standing tall when necessary through the first 40, Antti Niemi finally cracked, letting in three goals in 2:45 to open up the third period. Two of them were probably ones he'd like another shot at, but they all count the same, and after controlling the game before those goals I don't think the Flyers minded catching a break or two.
The best part, though? After those two goals? They kept going. There was no point in this game in which the Flyers looked like they eased up or let down. The Sharks pushed once they were trailing in the third, as any good team would, but there was no retreat or defensive shell or anything. Good chances in the Flyers' end were met with attempts to advance the puck into the Sharks' zone. And after killing off a late penalty for too many men, they put an exclamation point on the whole thing, as Claude Giroux ripped the puck off of Martin Havlat's stick in his own zone before putting it right on Jakub Voracek's tape in front of the net for goal number five and sealing up the 5-2 victory.
I said it once already, but I don't at all think it's an exaggeration -- especially considering the setting and situation -- to call this the best all-around game the Flyers, as a team, have played this season. Sure. It's one game. But man, was it fun.
SOME SPECIFIC THOUGHTS:
* We'll get the one complaint out of the way now: as it often is, discipline was a problem tonight for the Flyers. Five penalties, including a dumb slash by Wayne Simmonds shortly after the team's fourth goal and a too many men call late in the third while the Sharks were trying to rally. It was all mitigated a bit by another A effort by the penalty kill, who was only beaten once on a great pass by Tommy Wingels to a streaking Matt Nieto (who beat Luke Schenn to the front of the net). Full marks to Sean Couturier and the rest of the PK for that. But still, easy on the dumb stuff, guys.
* Just about everyone in the lineup played well tonight, but if you're picking one player/group, Claude Giroux's line just looked outstanding every time it stepped on the ice. They routinely gained the offensive zone and kept the pressure on, but you could even see it in their own end that they were on top of their game tonight. Three goals and six points combined tonight for the three gingers. Three points for Claude Giroux. Eight points in his last four games. Screw off, Canada.
* Michael Raffl's another guy who I saw get a lot of credit after this game, and justifiably so. He's brought just about the same level of play to the team while playing on the fourth line with Adam Hall and Zac Rinaldo as he did with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, which is both a bit odd and kinda cool. And that was a pretty nice shot he had off the rebound to roof the puck over Niemi on the eventual game-winning goal. It's fun having some sort of offensive playmaker on the fourth line, I say.
* Here at Broad Street Hockey, we've gone out of our way a bit lately to talk about, well, how bad Nicklas Grossmann has looked for the past month or so. It's been really bad. And he and Braydon Coburn (still not a pairing I like together long-term) both looked a little lost on the one goal San Jose got at even strength. But that play aside, I thought he played one of the better games he's played in a while. Did what he was supposed to in his own end and didn't look like a disaster when trying to make things happen anywhere else. Possession numbers backed that up, too -- Grossmann was a +13 in shot attempts at even strength, which is darn good by any measure.
* That said, most Flyers had a solid night in possession. Team as a whole got 55 attempts for and 33 against at even strength. Against a Sharks team that's quite good in this area, that's an awesome sign.
* Not a whole lot was asked of Steve Mason tonight, but a solid enough game for him. Both San Jose goals involved obviously blown coverages right in front of his net, and he stayed calm and made the saves he had to once the Flyers took the lead back.
* Thanks to Frank Seravalli for putting together the info that made this easy to find out: Only one NHL team this year has played three straight road games in California and won two of them in regulation. That team? The Philadelphia Flyers. Awwwwww yeah.
All in all, thank you, the Flyers, for not making us hate ourselves for staying up late and instead bringing us a genuinely fun game and a well-deserved two points. Good times. Try and do this more often, OK? At least try? Apparently these mythical "60-minute efforts" are pretty fun.
Comment of the Night:
I see what the Flyers' plan was.
1. Go to California.
2. “Freaky Friday” with the Ducks.
3. Win the Cup.
Back home for two more before the Olympic break. Colorado on Thursday. Go Flyers.