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Sharks 1, Flyers 0: 10 things we learned from an undeserved loss

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The Flyers outplayed the Sharks for the majority of last night's game, but could not come away with the win. What prevented them from earning the two points?

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 looked ugly for the Philadelphia Flyers early in the first period. The San Jose Sharks under Todd McLellan were one of the league's best dump-and-chase, forechecking squads, and they've retained that to an extent under new coach Pete DeBoer. With Philadelphia's big weakness on the back end, there was legitimate concern that San Jose would pin the Flyers in their own end and prevent them from exiting the defensive zone throughout the game. But after a slow start, Philadelphia cleaned things up. Exits got better, which allowed the Flyers' forecheckers to take charge of the game. The result was a dominant effort at 5v5 - Philadelphia won the shot attempts battle 55-38, and defeated San Jose in scoring chances as well (26-16). The eye test matched the numbers - the Flyers were the better team last night, even if the final result didn't show it.
  • The second may have been Philadelphia's best even strength period of the season. They generated 14 scoring chances (4 high-danger) while San Jose was only able to create four (one high-danger). It was the Sean Couturier line that drove the team's success. After struggling early to contain the Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton tandem, they took the Sharks' stars apart in the second period. Both players posted 33% Corsi For percentages in the period, while Couturier and his linemates finished well above 80 percent. The Flyers shutdown line not only produced numerous quality chances - they neutralized San Jose's most dangerous forwards.
  • The first six minutes of the game were a total disaster, however. The struggles were caused by the Flyers' inability to exit their own zone cleanly, which is an issue that has plagued the team all season. Uncontrolled defensive zone exits are like blocking shots - better than the alternative, but something a team would rather keep to a minimum. Because Philadelphia was unable to exit their own zone with possession of the puck, they generated no speed through the neutral zone, and therefore no offense at all. For six minutes, the Flyers couldn't even generate a shot attempt, let alone a shot on goal. To their credit, defensive zone passes became cleaner as the game progressed. But the start was ugly, and could have put the game out of reach early.
  • Steve Mason was the biggest reason that Philadelphia survived their start-of-game ineptitude. His sliding stop on Justin Braun at the very end of San Jose's early domination was one for the highlight reel, but Mason was solid throughout the game and should have came away with a shutout. There will be talk today that the "good" Steve Mason is back, as his numbers are trending back upwards after a poor start. But I'm not convinced that that Mason ever left. Mason obviously should not have started the second game of the season against Florida, as his mind was distracted by the personal issues he faced. And even including that game, his numbers at even strength remained stellar, with a poor 4v5 save percentage to blame for his overall stats falling closer to 0.900. But the Flyers gave him very little help on the PK in October and early November, especially after Sean Couturier went down. His statistical rebound really shouldn't come as a surprise.
  • The pairing of Shayne Gostisbehere and Brandon Manning spent a great deal of time skating with the Pierre-Edouard Bellemare line on Tuesday night. At practice on Wednesday morning, I asked coach Dave Hakstol if that was intentional. He gave a telling response: "Maybe it has something to do with who's on the ice for the other team at that point in time." What became clear tonight was that Hakstol is trying to keep his young defensemen away from top forwards. In his 12:14 minutes of even strength ice time, Gostisbehere faced Joe Pavelski for 0:34 seconds and Patrick Marleau for 0:48 seconds. Gostisbehere and Manning spent the rest of their minutes against San Jose's bottom-six, and outside of Tomas Hertl, that's a fairly weak bunch of forwards. Ghost's performance has been strong thus far, but he's definitely getting sheltered.
  • Speaking of line matching, Hakstol stapled the Couturier line to the Sharks' top unit of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson all night long, to glowing results. Couturier particularly thrived against the still-imposing Thornton, posting a 69.23% Corsi For percentage versus the future Hall of Fame forward. Couturier's line has received the tough minutes all year, but this was a particularly extreme case of line matching from the Flyers coach - Couturier spent 86.4% of his 5v5 ice time matched with Thornton specifically. Hakstol admitted after the game that they had some matchups in mind going into the game, and he exploited them expertly.
  • It was frustrating as a hockey fan to see the referees make that tripping call on Wayne Simmonds at the end of regulation. Not only was the penalty weak, the timing must be considered as well. There were thirty seconds left in a 0-0 game, and in those circumstances, usually the officials will let a borderline play go uncalled. Not only that, the game wasn't tightly called throughout, so the decision reeked of inconsistency. While the Sharks were unable to score on the ensuing power play, the entire complexion of the overtime would have changed had the play begun at 3v3. Tough to see the refs inject themselves into a close game like that.
  • Pierre-Edouard Bellemare stood out to me all game long. He generated three individual scoring chances, and was a demon on the forecheck throughout. Also, the Sharks were unable to generate one power play shot on goal while Bellemare was on the ice. He looked like he has the jump back in his step entirely after missing a couple weeks due to a lower-body injury, which is great news for the so-called "fourth" line. The Leier-Laughton-Gagner line is really the fourth line now, in terms of ice time and effectiveness, so that increases the pressure on Bellemare and his wingers. His line is all that stands between the Flyers and total bottom-six annihilation. Last night, they were up to the task.
  • Not only did the Flyers carry the play at even strength, they put together a stellar performance on both sides of the special teams battle. In four power play opportunities, the Sharks could only generate two shots on goal and two scoring chances (one high-danger). The Flyers only had two power plays, but they took five shots on net and generated more scoring chances (three) in half of the ice time. As with their even strength play, the Flyers deserved a better result on special teams as well.
  • It's not the fault of either player, but Brandon Manning is just as ill-suited for extended power play minutes as Radko Gudas is for ice time at 3v3. The second power play unit is suffering with Manning at the point, as he simply does not possess the offensive instincts at this point to create chances for his teammates. The Flyers are playing relatively well right now, so Dave Hakstol probably doesn't want to rock the boat in terms of his defensive pairings. But icing a roster without Evgeny Medvedev forces many of his defensemen to take roles outside of their established skillsets. It's going to bite Philadelphia eventually.