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Flyers 3, Rangers 0: 10 things we learned from a streak-busting victory in the Big Apple

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The Flyers broke a ten-game regular-season losing streak in Madison Square Garden by taking the script that many of those losses had followed and flipping it on the Rangers themselves.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Morning Observations is a new feature, where we break down the previous afternoon's game with an analytical eye. Charlie was unable to watch Saturday's game, so you all get me instead. Sorry about that.

  • Coming into yesterday, the Flyers had lost ten straight regular season games in Madison Square Garden, and 13 of their previous 14 including the teams' series in the 2014 playoffs. If you will, take a second and try and remember how most of those games were ultimately lost. Typically, it involved the Rangers bringing some combination of the following: a tough forecheck that led to struggles escaping the offensive zone, four lines of speed and forward depth that were too much to overcome, skilled defensemen making aggressive plays in all three zones, players collapsing around the goaltender to prevent high-quality chances, and excellent goaltending. From the beginning of the second period through the end of the game -- a timeframe which saw the Flyers outscore the Rangers 3-0 and outshoot them 30-14 -- all of those were things that the team in orange, and not the one in blue, were doing successfully. The Flyers were able to beat the Rangers at what's largely been their own game, and it was surely a refreshing sight for fans to see.
  • Everything was thrown into flux for a bit around the halfway mark of the first period, when Dylan McIlrath's huge hit on Nick Schultz sent Schultz out of the game for good and sent Schenn to the penalty box for 17 minutes. At that point, the Evgeny Medvedev-Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas-Michael Del Zotto pairings were both asked to do probably a bit more than this coaching staff wants to ask them to do, and the end result was only one Flyers shot on goal in the second half of the period and several long Rangers shifts in the Flyers' zone. In essence, it was roughly what you would kind of expect to see those two pairings look like on their bad nights -- all of those four guys could be fairly characterized as aggressive players who can be more than a bit rough in the defensive zone when they're not all in sync or on their game. Getting through that last part of the period with no goals allowed was crucial, as they were able to tighten up as the game went on.

NHL.com ReportHighlightsWar-On-Ice.com ReportHockeyStats.ca ReportExpectedGoals (xG)HockeyViz.comBSH RecapMeltzer's Musings

  • And boy, did they ever tighten up. Heck, even in that first period where the Rangers sustained a lot of zone time, rarely were they getting many high-quality looks towards Steve Mason's net, and that was a trend that would continue through the rest of the game. Look at the scoring chance shot chart via hockeystats.ca for this one -- barely any chances for New York that were any closer than the circles. Though some miscommunications in that aforementioned first period, the aggressiveness that those guys showed down low prevented New York from getting a ton of high-end chances even while hemmed in. An encouraging performance from the blue line, and an outright admirable one given that they were playing a man down. (Speaking of which, while it's impossible to draw hard conclusions from one game, we at least have to mention that this outstanding defensive performance came without Schultz on the ice, yes? Hmmmmm.)
  • For all of the praise Medvedev and Gostisbehere have received for their play this weekend, and much of it is earned, it appears for now that the Gudas-Del Zotto pairing is the one that Dave Hakstol is loath to break up more than any of the others. The Schultz injury certainly makes it difficult to pull true intentions out of it all, but once Schenn came back onto the ice in the second period, it was still Del Zotto and Gudas who were getting (a) the most ice time together and (b) the toughest assignments (for example, the Rick Nash line saw much more of Del Zotto than they did any other Flyer). Hakstol largely split up the remaining minutes among the other three guys, though Medvedev was the primary anchor and ended up with much more ice time than either of Schenn or Ghost. The Gudas-DZ pairing hasn't always been perfect this year, but Hakstol has shown unrelenting trust in Del Zotto that's mostly been warranted. If Schultz misses time, we can probably expect that pair to be the closest to a tough-minutes pair that the team will have.
  • Speaking of Schultz, it was tough to tell what exactly happened to him on that booming hit by McIlrath. With the hit being high, and with the way Schultz staggered back up after being hit, it wouldn't be too surprising if he was dealing with a concussion, but with the Flyers giving us no news other than the "upper-body injury" designation, we're left to speculate. If he misses time, Brandon Manning -- pushed back up to the press box with Medvedev's return to the ice -- is likely the next man in. But assuming the Gudas-MDZ pairing remains untouched as discussed above, would the play be to put Manning back with Ghost? It seems like that'd be the most likely move, even though fans would surely be sad to see Medvedev and Ghost broken up already. We'll see.
  • The Rangers had only two recorded scoring chances (again via war-on-ice) in the third period, one of which came with the goalie pulled. I don't have much to add to that other than to say that for the Flyers to play defensively like that in the final period of a weekend back-to-back, at the end of a four-games-in-six-days stretch, is pretty outstanding.
  • I almost feel dirty only waiting this long and only dedicating one bullet point to the performance of this line as a whole, but my goodness, what a performance by the Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds unit. This space has been used by Charlie multiple times in recent weeks to mention how well that group has played, and how it was only a matter of time before the goals were going to come for them. After a frustrating first 30 or so minutes of the game that saw them get close multiple times, the floodgates finally opened for them, with two very different-looking goals -- one with Read springing Simmonds on a breakaway, the other with Couturier banging home a second-chance rebound off a Simmonds shot -- coming before Simmonds iced it with the empty-netter. That they created goals in two entirely different ways yesterday the way that they did -- one silky and smooth, one "dirty goal" -- is a testament to how well they've played in all zones lately, with all three of them making plays in the neutral zone to turn Rangers rushes aside and to get chances of their own going the other way. War-on-ice had that group on the ice for 12 scoring chances for and four against, and that's absolutely believable. This game was well overdue for them.
  • Though the neutral zone aggressiveness was there all game, another key point that helped the Flyers out defensively yesterday was something that's crucial all the time, but is especially important for this group given the team's defensive "talent" and the system Dave Hakstol is trying to run: backchecking efforts by the forwards. For some reasons talent and some reasons effort, you don't always see it. Yesterday? Though I don't remember exactly how many times I saw a forward get back to chase down the guy in blue with the puck, or throw himself into a passing lane just in time to force the Rangers to regroup, I feel reasonably certain that I saw it happen more times than in any game I've watched this year, and guys from all four lines were getting in on the action there. To do that as a team on the second half of a back-to-back on the road is phenomenal, and while I understand that we're not going to see that every game, that is the kind of performance Hakstol is going to try and get out of this group every game -- because he knows that's when they're at their best.
  • We've been relentlessly positive so far in these thoughts (and rightly so!), so let's drop in one downer, and if you watched the game or really any game from the past week you may already know what it is. The Jakub Voracek line, featuring Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde, had another game that surely is leaving Flyers fans frustrated. It seems like Hakstol doesn't see this as a demotion for Voracek -- VandeVelde and Bellemare were second and third (!) on the team, per nhl.com, in even-strength ice time for the game, behind only Simmonds. And in fairness to them, that group definitely had a more productive game in the offensive zone than it did on Friday against Nashville, where it was a disaster everywhere. There were a few near-misses for them in the offensive zone, as VandeVelde came close a couple of times, but isn't that kind of the problem? It's just so tough to ask Voracek to spend all this time with guys who are rarely going to be able to finish on his great plays, and the group hasn't been lights-out defensively to make up for it. I have no issue with Hakstol breaking up Giroux and Voracek, but with the aforementioned dominance of the Couturier line making it impossible to break them up, he may not have a choice but to put the two redheads back together again soon unless he's willing to try putting a Scott Laughton or a Nick Cousins in the top-9. But he just can't keep asking the team's second-best player to be in this kind of role much longer.
  • The Flyers extended their streak of consecutive penalties killed to 19 against the Rangers, and the PK looked good both times they were called upon. But potentially more exciting than that was the fact that, for what was now the third straight game they were only needed twice on the entire afternoon. With the team already down a defenseman in Schultz, it was that much more important for them to stay disciplined, as any penalty by a defenseman (such as the one Gudas took at the end of the first) was going to put someone like Gostisbehere -- who the Flyers would surely prefer to not be on the penalty kill at this point -- out there on the man-disadvantage. They held that up by not taking any penalties in the final two periods. The Flyers currently (per war-on-ice) sit 8th in the NHL in time spent on the penalty kill per game. We noted at the beginning of November that they were 2nd in the league in that same number, so for now that appears to be moving in the right direction. If they can continue hammering home good discipline and keep the penalties to a minimum, all while still playing an aggressive game, and if the penalty kill can continue to look excellent when it's needed, then the Flyers' goals-against numbers will slowly but surely keep dropping.