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Flyers 3, Rangers 2: 10 things we learned from a thrilling shootout win over the Rangers

Another rivalry game, and another win for the Philadelphia Flyers. Can they keep up their strong play?

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • Beating Chicago and stealing a point against the Lightning was all well and good, but this matchup against the Rangers was a true measuring stick for Dave Hakstol and the Flyers. Not only is New York rightfully one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, they've treated the Flyers as their personal plaything for years. Last night, Philadelphia skated right with Lundqvist and company, outshooting them and winning the scoring chance battle. By the third period, the Flyers were undoubtedly the better team, which speaks both to their stamina and also to the viability of Hakstol's system.
  • In the second period, there seemed to be a conscious shift on the part of the Flyers in terms of their zone entries. Under Hakstol, Philadelphia has primarily utilized dump-and-chase to get into the offensive zone, but in the second stanza, they shifted priorities and started pushing for controlled entries. It made for some sloppy play at first, but in the third period, the adjustment paid dividends. Aside from the fourth line (which I think will always be a chip-and-chase line), the Flyers were attacking Rangers defensemen with speed and control, and the effectiveness of the strategy was apparent in the huge third period shot advantage. Hopefully this is a product of the team becoming more comfortable both in the Hakstol system and with each other.
  • Don't look now, but Steve Mason has found his game. He played well against Dallas and had a stellar third period in Boston, but tonight was his best performance yet, matching Henrik Lundqvist save for save. The national media expects this level of play from The King, but Mason served notice tonight that his poor game in Florida was not the start of a regression back to his Columbus levels. Mason did an especially great job of tracking the puck last night, with his only real mistake on Derick Brassard's power play goal. The Rangers tried to create traffic in front of Mason all night long, and it didn't faze him one bit.
  • Fantastic news after the game that Michael Raffl seemed back to his old self by the second intermission. While concussion symptoms can take time to manifest, it was reassuring that Raffl bounced back so quickly from such a terrifying sight. My first thought after realizing that Raffl had collapsed on the bench was a repeat of the Rich Peverley incident, and then when it became clear that the issue was concussion-related, I worried it would have comparable severity to Chris Pronger's injury. Right now, it looks like Raffl may have dodged a bullet, but the next few days will determine that for sure.
  • Evgeny Medvedev has established himself in the early season as the Flyers' best possession blueliner, leading me to call him "far and away the team's best defenseman" in my observations on Thursday morning. Of course, he then goes and has his most uneven game in a Philadelphia uniform. It wasn't all bad for Medvedev - he was stellar in the defensive zone in the third period, nullifying a number of potential Rangers chances. But his instincts just seemed a bit off last night, as he made a more than a few bad passes and had trouble adjusting to the speed of the New York forwards through the neutral zone.
  • The Michael Del Zotto - Radko Gudas pairing was significantly improved from Wednesday night's game in Boston, but concerns linger. They had a dominant possession game together but allowed a number of odd-man rushes as well, often due to poorly-timed Gudas pinches. Generally speaking, I'm in favor of defensemen taking risks in the Dave Hakstol system. But I worry that the MDZ-Gudas tandem may just repeat the issues from the Del Zotto and Luke Schenn pairing of last season. That pairing provided good puck possession statistics but absolutely bled scoring chances against, resulting in a Goals For percentage that was a more accurate barometer of their play. Neither Del Zotto nor Gudas has showcased above-average coverage skills in the defensive zone, and both like to jump into the play on a regular basis (Del Zotto to score, Gudas to hit people). Last night it worked, but there remains a recipe for disaster in terms of goals against.
  • I'm amazed that Jakub Voracek has yet to score a goal this season. For the second straight game, Voracek was at his absolute best with the puck on his stick. The first and third periods in particular were filled with scoring chances created because Voracek is nearly impossible to knock off the puck. And if tonight's move towards more controlled zone entries versus dump-and-chase play is the start of a trend, no player will benefit more than Voracek. While he is above-average at puck retrieval, Voracek most dangerous when blasting through the neutral zone at speed and putting immediate pressure on opposing goaltenders. If he keeps that up, the goals will most definitely come.
  • Scott Laughton's shift in the second period that ended with his first goal of the season was a thing of beauty, from start to finish. It was a stat tracker's dream of a shift - Laughton cleared the puck out of a high danger scoring chance area, engineered a controlled defensive zone exit which led to a controlled offensive zone entry, and then trailed the play to unleash a wicked wrist shot past Lundqvist. Laughton is not lacking for skill - in fact, according to Jess's tracking last season, he was fourth among Flyers forwards in controlled zone entry percentage at 57.8%. However, he also led the team in failed entry percentage, hinting that he needed to be smarter in showcasing his skill. Last night, we saw flashes of Laughton doing just that.
  • Despite good post-game news on Michael Raffl, it's fair to assume that he'll miss some time with what is almost certainly a concussion. Brayden Schenn was Hakstol's preferred option to replace Raffl on the top line last night, but I'm not sure how much I like the fit. Schenn loves to attack the offensive zone with an aggressive forecheck and then tends to stay down low throughout his shift, pressuring opposing defensemen. Giroux and Voracek, however, seem to function best with a more defensively responsible winger, who covers them higher up in the zone and gives them the freedom to freelance a bit. I worry that using Schenn in that role will stifle him and force him to play an uncomfortable, passive game. Unfortunately for the Flyers, if Raffl misses time, they don't have many other options.
  • Dave Hakstol absolutely loves his fourth line of Chris VandeVelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White. Just take a look at their usage - they're getting more ice time than the supposed "third" line centered by Scott Laughton, and their minutes are coming in key situations, such as the final minute of regulation in a tie game. Bellemare and VandeVelde even received ice time in overtime. So why does Hakstol like them so much? It's because they've been the team's most effective forechecking line. That serves two purposes - it creates more offensive zone time, and it also causes teams to resort to chipping the puck out of their zone to escape the pressure. As a result, the Flyers are winning the neutral zone, as opponents' uncontrolled zone exits go right to Flyers defensemen, who just dump the puck right back into the offensive zone and start the process all over again.