clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Flyers 3, Blackhawks 0: 10 things we learned from a big win over the defending Champs

New, comments

The Flyers hit a five-day break on a two-game winning streak. How did they take apart the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Morning Observations is a new feature, where we will break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.

  • The Flyers are four games into the season, and so far, this team doesn't look like a cellar dweller. They earned three of four possible points against last year's Stanley Cup finalists, but it's how they played both Tampa Bay and Chicago that warrants optimism. Philadelphia didn't lean on a goalie playing out of his mind (though Neuvirth was fantastic last night) or shoot the puck lights out. Instead, they've matched the elite competition chance for chance. In score-adjusted Corsi, they basically broke even with the Blackhawks, and they matched them in high-danger scoring chances created as well.
  • So much of this can be credited to the adjustments made by Dave Hakstol in the neutral zone, as both the defense and the forwards have already bought into the new system. Not only are most of the defensemen stepping up in the neutral zone to cut off lanes and pressure puck carriers, the forwards are backchecking furiously to provide support. It's incredible that the Flyers have taken to these adjustments so quickly, especially coming from a new coach with no professional experience.
  • I criticized the fourth line on Monday for spending way too much time in their own zone, and they turned it around with a dominating performance last night. They don't have the skill to generate a ton of controlled offensive zone entries, so the formula for success is simple: pressure, pressure, pressure. VandeVelde, Bellemare and White essentially cut the ice in half, giving the Blackhawks no room to breathe in the neutral zone. After gaining possession, they'd dump the puck into the Chicago end and beat them in offensive zone puck battles to sustain long cycles. Impressed by their first few shifts, Hakstol began sending the line out for offensive zone faceoffs early on, and it was the right call. The fourth line sustained their strong play for the first two periods, only showing some signs of fatigue in the third.
  • Philadelphia has iced an elite power play for years without anything remotely resembling a viable second unit. So imagine how dangerous this team could be at 5v4 if the "B-Team" keep up this level of production. From day one, Evgeni Medvedev provided calm and structure to a unit sorely lacking it, and the addition of Sam Gagner and his puck skills just makes the unit even more dangerous.
  • Sam Gagner needs to stay in the lineup. Not only does he bring more skill to the second power play unit, he's been useful at even strength with two sets of linemates. Tonight he did not receive a ton of 5v5 ice time (primarily because the fourth line played so well), but in limited minutes Gagner was a willing backchecker and looked far from the "no-defense" forward that critics claimed the Flyers had acquired.
  • The Flyers' penalty kill is back. After a horrific start to the 2014-15 season, Philadelphia PK did turn things around as Matt Read began to recover from his high ankle sprain, but it never reached its former heights. This year, Hakstol and Ian Laperriere have taken the right lessons from the second half improvements - VandeVelde and Bellemare work as a pair, Michael Del Zotto deserves more ice time - while making additional changes, such as increased puck pressure and more minutes for Claude Giroux. If these four games are any indication, the Flyers' shorthanded unit should be right back at the top of the league charts in 2015-16.
  • With Sam Gagner moved to a line with Scott Laughton and Matt Read, the second line again consisted of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds. On paper, the group seems to lack an above-average puck carrier, as both Couturier and Simmonds lack plus skating ability and Schenn seems most comfortable in a forechecking role. As a result, the group often is forced to resort to dump-and-chase hockey when entering the offensive zone. Last night, that was definitely the case, but luckily the Couturier line did a fantastic job of puck retrieval. My preference remains for lines to prioritize controlled zone entries over the dump-and-chase method, but some teams have made it work, such as Todd McLellan's San Jose Sharks. Keep an eye on whether the line can continue to drive play using these tactics.
  • It's only been two games, but I'm willing to adjust my opinion of Radko Gudas' puck skills from "bad" to "inconsistent." He showcased a number of slick moves early in the first period that would never have been attempted by a player such as Nicklas Grossmann, for example. But then he struggled with turnovers as the game progressed. The skillset clearly is there, I'm just uncertain if he can tap into it on a consistent basis. Regardless, he'll still earn fans through his big hits. He brought the crowd to its feet late in the first period when he absolutely crushed Patrick Kane.
  • Can't believe I've gotten this far without discussing Michal Neuvirth. There's a reason why Neuvirth was briefly viewed as Washington's goaltender of the future - he has a quick glove hand and tracks the puck extremely well through traffic. His problem has always been consistency, but Neuvirth is certainly locked in right now. Steve Mason was arguably the team's MVP last year, and his recent absence could have been a disaster for a Flyers team looking to finally get off to a strong start. Instead, Neuvirth has shaken off an unimpressive preseason to deliver two straight fantastic performances.
  • Ironic that Claude Giroux would score his first even strength goal of the season despite his line struggling to generate extended offensive zone time. Through the first two periods, the Raffl-Giroux-Voracek line was the team's worst in terms of puck possession, yet Giroux was able to capitalize on a rare shift in the Chicago zone for a goal - only his fifth 5v5 tally in the past 38 games. But as I pointed out on Tuesday, Giroux's struggles seemed primarily due to an even strength shooting percentage way below his career average. Last night, the bounces finally went his way. And the goal seemed to spark the line, as they stepped up in the third period and were the only group to regularly generate offensive pressure despite Chicago's late push.