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Kings 3, Flyers 2: 10 things we learned from a tough shootout loss

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The Flyers put together a solid performance against the Pacific-leading Los Angeles Kings, but poor play in the second half of the third period eventually let the Kings tie the game and later win in a shootout.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • This game was far more similar to the Flyers' play in the first two weeks of the season than their performances out west. Los Angeles is clearly the more talented team from top-to-bottom - they can roll four lines with ease, and half of their defensemen would immediately top the Flyers' depth chart - but Philadelphia mostly skated with them last night, aside from the final nine minutes of regulation when the Flyers clung for dear life. Philadelphia played a sound game in the neutral zone, limiting turnovers and slowing down the Kings whenever possible. As Dave Hakstol put it after the game, "I always call a spade a spade, good or bad, and our team played hard and played well tonight." He wasn't wrong.
  • The line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds has thrived over the past few games while primarily using a dump-and-chase style. I'm predisposed to question that tactic, as controlled entries historically are a far more productive way of generating offense. But some teams and players can play chip-and-chase and still dominate - Joe Thornton and his San Jose Sharks are a classic example. Last night, Couturier and his line went up against maybe the physically strongest team in the NHL, and were still able to impose their will despite playing dump-and-chase all game. Maybe this really is one of those rare tandems that can out-execute and outwork the opposition enough to succeed despite a low percentage of controlled entries.
  • Yet again, the Flyers' top two lines delivered solid performances, while the bottom-six struggled to generate much of anything. The Giroux and Couturier lines have obvious, repeatable tactics - Giroux's line wants to hit the neutral zone with speed and carry the puck into the offensive zone, while Couturier's group tries to dump the puck in and generate chances via a cycle down low. In addition to containing more talent than the bottom-six, those lines seem committed to achieving their goal on every shift. The sense of purpose is obvious.
  • The third and fourth lines? Not so much. At least the fourth line has a unifying mentality - ultra-aggressive forechecking and neutral zone play (their problem remains defensive zone coverage). The "third" line, however, just looks aimless. They don't have the skill to play Giroux and Voracek's game, nor the tenacity to employ a disruptive forecheck. Instead, they just skate their seven minutes of ice time and go home. And I'm not sure it's a fixable problem. The team just needs more skill so they can ice a sheltered "scoring" line, and instead they are using a combined $14.1 million in cap space on Vincent Lecavalier, R.J. Umberger and Andrew MacDonald. It's in the struggles of the third line where that pain is most felt.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere is going to become the favorite player for the Wells Fargo Center "shoot!" contingent during Flyers power plays. Gostisbehere is not afraid to let shots go from all angles, regardless of traffic in front, because he's confident that his shot will create havoc whether it gets through to the goalie or not. Philadelphia's power play was generating more than enough chances during their slump, but it was missing the controlled chaos that puts so much pressure on defenses. With his shot from the point, Ghost has brought that chaos back to the power play for the Flyers.
  • Gostisbehere is going to be a risk-taker, especially at even strength. And to Hakstol and the Flyers' credit, they appear willing to let their young defenseman take chances, because they understand that over a large sample, the rewards will outweigh the inevitable errors. They were almost rewarded last night. Deep in his own zone, Ghost blasted right by Steve Mason, dangerously close to the Flyers' net as he moved up ice. Some coaches would take issue with the undeniably risky play. But how the play end? With Brayden Schenn knocking the puck past Jonathan Quick. Regardless of outcome (the goal was eventually overturned), the scoring chances never would have been created had Gostisbehere not made an aggressive move through the defensive zone. It was a perfect example of the benefits of letting talented players take chances and trusting their instincts.
  • The Gostisbehere-Manning defensive pairing did not have a particularly strong night in terms of even strength puck possession. And they did struggle at times (late in the third period especially) in their own end. But it's worth noting that Gostisbehere and Manning spent half of their 5v5 ice time backing up the fourth line of Bellemare, Raffl and VandeVelde, who also were below-average all night in the defensive zone. This has been a recurring issue for that unit, regardless of the exact personnel. They lose races to loose pucks, struggle in puck battles, and go through streaks of failed clears. Everyone agrees that Gostisbehere's weakness right now is defensive zone coverage. Why force him to spend half of his ice time with the team's worst line in the defensive zone?
  • Brayden Schenn went from the press box to the first line, and responded well to the opportunity. It's nearly impossible to generate eight shots on goal without being actively involved in the game throughout the night. Schenn obviously reacted positively to Hakstol's motivational tactic, but it begs the question - why must Schenn be punished first in order to play a high effort game? I think back to a quote from Paul Holmgren in 2014: "I think once [Schenn] figured out to play a hard game all the time, he took another leap where he needs to go with his career." The Flyers believe that Schenn, more than other forwards on the roster, needs to play "a hard game" to be useful. Some players, like Giroux and Voracek, don't need to crash around and play every shift at top speed to be effective. But the Flyers have determined that Schenn cannot depend on his skills to carry him through his career. They want energy from him all of the time. That's the demand, and that's why I believe Schenn is punished more than other forwards. It's because you can't bench a player and tell him he'll get back in the lineup when he learns how to skate faster, or shoot harder. But you can implement effort requirements, which can help to explain the treatment of Schenn.
  • Right before Giroux's third period goal, we saw the immediate benefits of Jakub Voracek ending his goalless drought on Saturday night. Voracek took control of the puck in the offensive zone in the right faceoff circle, and actually had some space available. It wasn't the best angle, but Voracek could have easily waiting for a shooting lane and blasted one at Quick. High percentage? Probably not, but in line with Jake's tactics over the past few weeks, as he desperately looked to light the lamp. But last night, he hesitated just enough to draw the defensemen away from the slot area, allowing Giroux the opportunity to settle in the open area. Then, Voracek slipped him the puck and the Flyers had a 2-1 lead. Had Jake not scored on Saturday, I wonder if he would have waited that extra second to find Giroux.
  • Three-on-three overtime is undeniably a blast for everyone (except the goalies). And for a relatively thin team, the Flyers are actually able to roll line after line of exciting forward talent. On the back end, Shayne Gostisbehere's skillset fits perfectly, and Michael Del Zotto is a plus skater who loves to jump into the play. Unfortunately, those two blueliners cannot play the entire five-minute overtime. Enter Radko Gudas, who was Hakstol's third choice defenseman in the extra session. This choice illuminates two points. First, it shows just how weak the Philadelphia defense really is. Gudas is no one's idea of a dynamic offensive defenseman, but who else was Hakstol going to choose last night? Luke Schenn lacks ideal foot speed, Brandon Manning's puck skills are below-average at the NHL level, and Nick Schultz is viewed as a stay-at-home defenseman. But second and most importantly, it highlights the mistake of scratching Evgeny Medvedev. Obviously Hakstol couldn't have known that the game would go to overtime. But he dressed a defense that has Radko Gudas as its third best offensive option on the blueline. You'd think Medvedev should be able to find a role in this blueline corps.