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Capitals 5, Flyers 2: 10 things we learned from a tough divisional loss

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The struggles continue, but this time, the Flyers lost to a good team. Yet whether it's Colorado or the Capitals, the same issues are causing Philadelphia's poor play.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • It's time to kill the "Flyers only play well against top teams" narrative. Washington is undoubtedly a great squad, possessing both high-end talent and depth throughout the roster. Last night, Philadelphia was not even close to their level. Sure, they hung with the Capitals for a while, but the team was neither able to generate any consistent offense nor prevent Washington from going the other way on the rush. The poor road trip was not a result of the Flyers playing down to their opponent. It was simply caused by a limited team struggling to execute even basic plays, and those issues weren't going to be magically solved by playing against a top-tier opponent.
  • Coach Dave Hakstol put the Flyers through an extremely tough practice on Wednesday, and to a man, the players said that it was warranted. The universal sentiment was that the effort level needed to improve first and foremost. Well, Philadelphia was not lacking for effort last night, especially in the early part of the game. They were physical, regularly employed their forecheck, and engaged in post-whistle fisticuffs. But it didn't matter. Effort can only take this team so far, and beating the Washington Capitals was going to take a lot more than a high-energy game. To a degree, Hakstol's focus on compete level was understandable - high effort is necessary to execute his preferred forecheck and to backcheck sufficiently to cover the rushes that can result. But at some point, the talent needs to create scoring opportunities and finish them off with goals. That's simply a matter of execution.
  • It was great to see Evgeny Medvedev return from what we now know was a concussion, but the Flyers defenseman was very rusty following the two-week layoff. Medvedev has the best controlled zone exit statistics on the team so far this season, but he was jumpy with the puck on his stick last night and struggled to avoid turnovers. It was his turnover, for example, that caused Nicklas Backstrom's late goal, as he failed to avoid an incoming forechecker along the boards and coughed the puck up to him. Hopefully Hakstol doesn't overreact to this poor game, however, as Medvedev should improve as his regains his skating legs.
  • Yesterday, I highlighted the increased usage of an aggressive forecheck by the Flyers under Dave Hakstol, so it was satisfying to see their first goal scored as a result of the heavy 2-1-2 strategy. Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White converged upon Nate Schmidt below the red line, which quickly caused a turnover. The puck than made its way to Scott Laughton, who quickly deposited it behind Braden Holtby. It was a perfectly executed forecheck, but unfortunately one that was not a sign of good things to come for the Flyers.
  • For weeks, I've claimed that the issues with the Philadelphia power play were primarily a matter of executing on scoring opportunities, as the team was still generating chances at a very high rate. So of course, last night the Flyers do a poor job of generating chances (only one high-danger chance in four power play opportunities) yet find a way to score a goal. At this point, the Flyers just need goals any way they can get them, regardless of process. But Philadelphia struggled mightily tonight in setting up their formation with the man advantage. Poor puck movement, failed keep-ins by the players at the point, and too much dump-and-chase were the key reasons for the ugly power play last night. One Claude Giroux goal doesn't erase that.
  • When a team is matched up against the Capitals, the primary goal is to find a way to slow down Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the Washington first line at even strength. With Ovechkin coming off a 15-shot performance against Detroit, containing the league's best sniper was going to be nearly impossible. Somehow, the Flyers succeeded in containing Ovechkin yet still were dominated territorially throughout the game. Sean Couturier and his line drew the primary matchup, and they came out on top, holding Ovechkin to a team-worst 25% Corsi For percentage at 5v5. That the Flyers wasted such a fantastic performance from the shutdown line shows just how ineffective the rest of the team was at even strength.
  • Sometimes, a team can lose the shot volume battle but come out on top in terms of quality chances. The Flyers did this on a number of occasions early in the season. Last night was not one of those nights, particularly in the first two periods. After forty minutes of the play, the Capitals had generated 17 high-danger scoring chances (during all situations). The Flyers created two. Philadelphia played a solid game in the neutral zone for stretches, but they struggled to make much out of their offensive zone time. Forget going one-and-done - the Flyers often failed to generate a single shot attempt despite moving the puck around the perimeter. Philadelphia isn't Chicago, but they have creative offensive players like Giroux, Voracek, Gagner, Read and Couturier. Those players need to start finding open spaces in scoring areas.
  • Nick Schultz had a rough second period. He was late picking up Jason Chimera on the Capitals second goal of the game despite a slow-moving pass to the forward, and then he totally lost Justin Williams in front of the net on what proved to be the game-winner. Schultz's play has picked up a bit recently, and he's clearly making a conscious effort to increase his aggressiveness in the neutral zone. But there's a reason why Ron Hextall was quoted stating the following last year regarding Schultz: "A lot of people thought he was done after [the 2013-14 season], and I felt he had an off year." As recently as the 2014 offseason, many hockey observers felt Schultz was finished as an NHL roster player. To Schultz's credit, he proved to be a fairly useful defenseman last season, but his floor was set back in 2013-14. And it's not pretty.
  • Like Medvedev, Mark Streit fought the puck all game long. But at least the Russian blueliner had an excuse, as he was coming off a long layoff. Streit had no such excuse - or did he? The Swiss defenseman sat out the final ten minutes of the Flyers' loss to the Avalanche on Tuesday, and then left practice early on Wednesday morning. Could Streit be playing through an injury? It would certainly help to explain his poor play last night, particularly on the power play, as he consistently struggled to handle the puck at the blue line and hold the point against clear attempts.
  • Claude Giroux got ripped on social media during the game due to his unwillingness to shoot the puck on two separate 2-on-1 rushes, both of which failed to beat Holtby. It's true that Giroux, a notoriously unselfish player with the puck, probably passes too much on the rush. It's also true that he shouldn't be deferring to Ryan White on a 2-on-1, as he did in the second period. But he made the right choice on a similar rush with Jakub Voracek in the third. Giroux didn't stare down Voracek - instead, he looked off his winger and forced Holtby to commit to the shot. Unfortunately, the Capitals defenseman deflected the ensuing pass just enough to prevent Voracek from making contact with the puck, but Voracek had a wide open net had the pass been placed perfectly. Giroux made the right call here.