Yesterday, I was asked by one of the Staff Editors over at SBNation's Dallas Stars blog Defending Big D about the first four games of the Philadelphia Flyers season. "How did the team find themselves in this 0-2-2 hole? Was it bad puck luck? Was the team playing as badly as they had been predicted to do by so many? Are you concerned?"
Concerned? Yes. I was concerned because of the results and only because of the results. If there's one thing that people are beginning to learn in hockey these days, it's that process matters. Process really matters.
The Flyers controlled play for a good portion of the time against Montreal and Anaheim. They were -at least- in the game against Boston and New Jersey. The defense, while becoming of ill-timed breakdowns, has looked fairly solid on the whole.
The Flyers were tied in the third period of every single game they've played thus far. I see people screaming and complaining about the makeup of this team and the defense and breakdowns and etc etc etc.
Let's all just calm down for a bit. If you take a look at the past week, the Flyers have had the opportunity to win games late against 5 potential playoff teams (Boston, New Jersey, Montreal, Anaheim, Dallas.) That matters.
And you all say Broad Street Hockey is so negative. Psh.
But, man, did the Flyers need the results for this one.
Aside from the first 5 minutes of the first period and final 10 minutes of the second period tonight, the Flyers were a massive force at evens. There was even a minute long shift in the offensive zone (including line changes!) in which the Flyers had 7 attempts on the net. That's almost one every eight and a half seconds. The top line looked like a top line, and they've looked pretty good over the past week. Voracek has been a delight to watch.
By the time the teams faced off at the start of overtime, the Flyers were out-attempting the Stars 77 (34 shots, 20 missed, 24 blocked) to 47 (24 shots, 15 missed, 9 blocked). A good portion of the Stars' attempts came from the top line of Sequin - Benn - Spezza, and the Stars are a team that's usually touted as being a strong four-line team.
It goes without saying, however, that the defensive breakdowns that enabled the Stars to score the third and fourth goals need to be addressed -- and there's more to it than just "Nick Schultz."
While the team outplayed the Stars at even strength throughout the course of the game, the breakdowns made it seem like the defense was playing a lot worse than it really was. The breakdowns are a heck of a lot more noticeable (and people decide to be more vocal) when the puck finds itself in the back of the Flyers' net.
So, once again -- as ugly as it seemed, the Flyers should be very happy as they head to Chicago. The Flyers finally have a win.
*The fourth line did a remarkable job, and it's getting to the point where they've been noticeable at times every single game. There was a ton of ire (from what I noticed) over Twitter this morning regarding the scratching of Jason Akeson and the subsequent insertion of Chris VandeVelde. I was certainly in this group. VandeVelde, to his credit, looked pretty dang good. He was relentless along the boards and helped setup a decent number of attempts in the offensive zone. As far as fourth lines go, they should have three main purposes: play minutes, be defensively sound & limit attempts. They actually did their fair share of driving play, which is awesome to see.
*Brayden Schenn made a couple of pretty great plays to setup the team's go-ahead goal in the second period. Realizing that the opposing defenseman was coming up on the end of his shift, Schenn skated the puck all the way through the neutral zone, and, instead of dumping it, carried it along the boards -- avoiding the contact along the way. After a backhanded outlet to Luke Schennat the point, Brayden skated to the front of the net for a tap-in off of a Kari Lehtonen rebound. At first glance, it's not much. But I could have sworn that Schenn was going to dump and change in that situation. This team needs to win the neutral zone and neutral zone possession battle. It's the little things that create chances like this one.
*I'm going to pose a question to everybody and hope the comments don't get too rowdy: I know there were a ton of defensive breakdowns over the first 5 games, but at what point do we look at Steve Mason's adjusted save percentage of .867 and go "Maybe it's time to address this." Food for thought.
*While you were reading this, Trevor Daley scored another PP goal.
Looking ahead, there's an incredibly daunting back-to-back this coming Tuesday and Wednesday against Chicago and Pittsburgh; both games are on the road. But, for the love of God, please exhale. One game at a time.