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Stars 2, Flyers 1: 10 things we learned from the season's first home loss

The Flyers returned from their five-day break and fell to the Dallas Stars by a score of 2-1. What helped contribute to Philadelphia's defeat?

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.

  • There was some criticism across social media of the Flyers' neutral zone play last night. While the talk was understandable (Philadelphia lost the shot attempts battle 54-41 at 5v5), the biggest issues were in the defensive zone. In the final ten minutes of the first period and continuing throughout the second, the Flyers simply could not cleanly exit their own end. Dallas' aggressive forecheck pinned Philadelphia in the defensive zone, and when they did get the puck out, it was rarely with possession. That's the main reason why the Flyers looked like they were getting destroyed in the neutral zone - if your team is just chipping the puck out of the zone and right to a opposing defender, it won't be long before the puck is back in your end. Clean up the exits, good neutral zone outcomes will follow.
  • If the Flyers had a "goat" for the night, it was Brandon Manning. He was a deserved minus-two, playing a direct role in both Dallas goals. The effort is clearly there with Manning, and along with Michael Del Zotto, he's making a conscious effort to execute Dave Hakstol's aggressive neutral zone tactics. His biggest problem thus far has been bad routes on the ice. It reared its head on Seguin's goal - a difficult bounce to be sure, but one that could have been cut off more safely by an experienced defenseman. Too often it seems like Manning is going to where the puck is, rather than where the puck will be.
  • The fourth line followed their standout performance against the Chicago Blackhawks with a real dud. The line's primary strength is their tenacious forechecking, which appeared in spurts throughout the game. But all the forechecking in the world won't help a line if they can't get out of their own zone. And that's exactly where Chris VandeVelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White have struggled thus far. While none of the players on the line are goons with stone hands, the line does lack a player with plus puck skills (Bellemare comes the closest). As a result, they're going to struggle to generate controlled zone exits against deep teams that employ an aggressive forecheck. Against Chicago, the fourth line spent so much time in the offensive zone (aided by a handful of o-zone draws) that they rarely were forced to withstand a heavy forecheck. Last night, they were not so lucky.
  • It feels like a good time to get R.J. Umberger back in the lineup, replacing Ryan White. White was maybe the fourth line's worst offender in terms of defensive zone turnovers, and his dumb second period penalty against Antoine Roussel played right into the agitator's hands (even if it did result in this great gif). White skated with the healthy scratches this weekend but ultimately stayed in the lineup. His performance last night did not justify Hakstol's decision.
  • Let's be clear - the Flyers were not the better team last night and did not deserve to win the game, even accounting for their third period surge. However, there is a very good chance that Philadelphia takes this game to overtime if Antti Niemi had just an average game. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Niemi was at his best. By the middle of the second period, the Flyers had generated about five high-end scoring chances that appeared ticketed for the back of the net, and that was before they even began to play well. Niemi deserves a ton of credit for withstanding the third period onslaught, including point-blank saves on Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl during a late power play.
  • On the Flyers side, Steve Mason seemed to settle in as the game progressed. Tyler Seguin's first goal was a tricky knuckler but was probably stoppable, and Jamie Benn's early second period goal saw Mason cheat a bit on the two-on-one, anticipating a pass to Seguin that never came. But starting with a big glove stop on Seguin in the second period, Mason found his game and did a particularly good job in the rebound department. While I generally hate to psychoanalyze players, it would be understandable if Mason needed some time to get comfortable following the recent family issues that he's faced.
  • With his goal last night, Sean Couturier now has three points (one goal, two assists) on a team starved for offense. While his possession statistics thus far this year have been below average, some improvements in his game have been noticeable and should manifest in the numbers down the road. For starters, Couturier just looks stronger this year, particular in the corners and battling for space in congested areas like the slot. Fans have long suspected that a player with his size would eventually "grow into his body," and it may be happening this season. His goal was a classic example of a player not letting any obstacles stand in his way, as he bulldozed Seguin on his way to the front of the net. Another good sign for his future development.
  • Somehow, Nick Schultz found a way to finish the game with a Corsi For percentage of 22.22%, while no other Flyers defenseman posted a Corsi For of less than 40%. At some point, the Nick Schultz problem will need to be addressed. He continues to be the main blueliner on the team still playing a passive game in the neutral zone, and last night, even his defensive zone exit attempts were disastrous. It's gotten to the point where I'm not even sure how to evaluate his regular partner, Mark Streit, because Schultz looks so out of place in this system that it's affecting everyone else on the ice. Is Streit playing passive because he's also having trouble adjusting to Hakstol, or is he just trying to hold the same retreating line as his partner? Schultz received the least amount of 5v5 ice time among Flyers defensemen last night, so clearly his struggles have not gone unnoticed.
  • I've praised the new iteration of the second power play unit early in the season, but they deserve some criticism today. The insistence upon playing dump-and-chase while on the power play was baffling last night, and it was their skilled puck movers who were the chief offenders. Evgeny Medvedev and Sam Gagner, both quick and smart enough to generate controlled entries with the man advantage, dumped the puck in repeatedly and failed to set up sustained cycles as a result. This unit isn't lacking for talent anymore, so it's unacceptable for them to settle for dump-and-chase hockey.
  • I loved Dave Hakstol's explanation of Dallas' second goal of the night. The play was kicked off by Wayne Simmonds pressing into the Stars zone to try and force a turnover, an attempt that failed. Hakstol was not critical of the tactic, calling it a "50/50 puck" and a "broken play that we nearly created." He did note that the Flyers were a bit too aggressive after that puck battle was lost, but Hakstol seemed satisfied with Simmonds' choice to take a calculated risk. It's the nature of risks that sometimes a team will get burned as a result, but Hakstol's coaching style is predicated on the notion that risk-taking will be a net positive in the end. It was great to hear him hold to that creed even after it caused the eventual game-winning goal.