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Flyers 3, Predators 2: 10 things we learned from a thrilling win

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The Flyers rebounded from a poor final forty minutes in Brooklyn with one of their better games of the season against the Predators.

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

  • The Nashville Predators may not have the best record in the league (or even their conference), but don't doubt their credentials. They're second in the NHL in Score-Adjusted 5v5 Corsi and first in Expected Goals. Despite the major gap in underlying statistics between the two squads, the Flyers played Nashville evenly throughout the entire game. They narrowly won every key battle at 5v5 - shots on goal, total shot attempts and scoring chances. Still, the Flyers were only slightly the better team, making an overtime decision probably the most fair outcome possible.
  • The game wouldn't have needed overtime had Philadelphia survived the final minute of regulation without allowing a game-tying goal. But they were unable to do so, as Mike Fisher beat Neuvirth with only 20 seconds left to force the extra session. Dave Hakstol chose to send Radko Gudas and Nick Schultz out for the 6v5 shift, and it was a less a terrible decision and more a commentary on the overall weakness of the Flyers defense as a unit. Obviously, the coach isn't sending Shayne Gostisbehere out. Hakstol also hinted today that he wasn't satisfied with Medvedev's defensive zone play either, so he wasn't an option. So that left Gudas, Schultz, Luke Schenn and Michael Del Zotto. I would have probably picked Del Zotto over Schultz - he has more recent experience playing with Gudas, and also has been impressive on the penalty kill in his career. The 6v5 is basically a penalty killing situation, so I believe Del Zotto would have been the best choice. But I do understand that the team lacks a true "shutdown" pairing, making the decision a difficult one.

  • Evgeny Medvedev finally found his way back into the lineup last night in favor of Brandon Manning after an extended absence. He looked like the player that Philadelphia thought they signed back in July. Everything was working for the Russian defenseman - stellar neutral zone play, calm decisions in the defensive zone, and slick passes to spring his forwards on the breakout. Medvedev even added a primary assist on Colin McDonald's third period goal, getting a point shot through traffic and creating a rebound for McDonald to bury. He'll play tomorrow, and with a few more strong games, he could carve out a permanent place in the lineup. His goal will be to replicate Michael Del Zotto's 2014-15 season, which started with inexplicable scratchings but ended with Del Zotto as maybe the defense's most important player.
  • The Medvedev-Gostisbehere pairing overcame a few hiccups and was a rousing success overall. Both defensemen finished with Corsi For percentages over 75%, primarily a result of aggressive neutral zone play and controlled defensive zone exits. Gostisbehere and Medvedev have dealt with some issues in their own end thus far this season, but today, their mistakes were limited to two shifts in the second period when the blueliners did appear to get their signals crossed on breakouts. Obviously, Ghost's inexperience and the language barrier between the two players doesn't help there. But the talent on both sides of the pairing is obvious. Finally, Medvedev has a partner who shares his neutral zone tendencies, and Gostisbehere is playing with a defenseman who possesses plus puck skills, lessening his load from a decision-making standpoint. There's real potential here.
  • It's even more impressive that the Flyers' skaters were able to control play after accounting for the fact that the talents of Jakub Voracek were almost completely buried at even strength. Voracek again skated with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde, and it was an unmitigated disaster. With the usually-elite puck possession Voracek on the ice at 5v5, the Flyers posted a 28.9% Corsi For. With Jake off the ice, that percentage jumped to 61.43%. And watching the game, it was hard to pin the possession issues on Jake. His effort level was through the roof, particularly in the offensive zone where he tried to create as much as possible with almost no help from his linemates. Bellemare and VandeVelde are strong forecheckers, but they struggle in defensive zone coverage at times and lack much in the way of NHL finishing ability. Voracek needs to be taken off this line immediately, as his skill is being wasted. And if Hakstol doesn't want to adjust the top two lines? Put Jake with Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, as both had strong games today. At the very least, it will provide more offensive upside than Voracek's current situation.
  • To defend VandeVelde, Bellemare and Voracek, they did spend a lots of time with Nick Schultz and Luke Schenn, and that pairing had its worst performance of the season. The center on the line (Bellemare) posted a 11.76% Corsi For in his 5:22 minutes on the ice with Schultz, and a 15% Corsi For in his 6:26 minutes out there with Schenn. The older Schenn brother has been surprisingly solid this season, but he struggled with the puck on his stick today. Schultz has been less impressive in 2015-16, but one of his actual strengths has been defensive zone coverage. Against Nashville, that wasn't the case, as Schultz spent too much time chasing the puck and not enough time making actual hockey plays. The pairings will likely remain the same for tomorrow's game against the Rangers, so Schenn and Schultz luckily have the opportunity for a quick bounce-back game. They certainly need one.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere already has two overtime game-winning goals in his short NHL career, and while there's an obvious element of luck to those outcomes, what should not be discounted is Gostisbehere's apparent prowess during 4v3 power play opportunities. Ghost is a threat during every man advantage, but he does his best work with lots of open ice. Four-on-three opportunities provide extra space for Gostisbehere, who can then cycle down into the slot area and confuse penalty killers with constant motion. Both of his game winners have come during 4v3s, and I don't believe it's an coincidence. Now, all that's left is to see Ghost during a five-on-three.
  • I criticized Michael Del Zotto's performance against the Islanders on Wednesday night, noting his surprisingly poor play in the neutral zone. To his credit, the Flyers defenseman responded with arguably his best game of the season. First, he opened the team's scoring with one of his patented top corner wrist shots from a left side rush. He followed that goal with a dominating puck possession performance, regardless of competition. In fact, against the top pairing of Shea Weber and Roman Josi, Del Zotto posted a stellar 70% Corsi For percentage. And he's doing this alongside Radko Gudas, whose game has dipped recently to these eyes. That contract is looking like a shrewd move by general manager Ron Hextall right now.
  • Colin McDonald's goal may have been surprising, but the process that created the goal certainly was not. Hakstol has been preaching the importance of taking lots of shots and scoring "dirty goals" recently, and McDonald was the beneficiary of that mindset finally paying dividends. Medvedev simply put the puck on net, and because McDonald was stationed in a high-danger area, he was able to deposit the rebound past Pekka Rinne. The fourth line was stellar in limited minutes, as no member of the line finished with a Corsi For percentage less than 81.82%. Nick Cousins, in fact, was on the ice for zero shot attempts against (versus 10 shots for). Not bad.
  • They didn't receive a ton of ice time, but the second power play unit looked significantly more dangerous with Medvedev manning the right point. Brandon Manning was certainly trying his best, but he simply does not have the skill that the big Russian blueliner possesses. When Medvedev is on his game, his combination of mobility, vision, and a heavy point shot makes him a bear for penalty killers to contain. If he stays in the lineup, expect that unit to become more efficient in creating chances, and in turn, some goals.