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Flames 2, Flyers 1: 10 things we learned from a slightly less painful loss

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The Flyers lose their sixth straight, but a strong finishing kick to regulation provides some semblance of hope for the coming games.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • The Calgary Flames may be a bad team; a poor puck possession squad that is actually performing below its talent level following a full season of playing over their heads. But that doesn't change the fact that last night's third period was the first real cause for optimism regarding the Philadelphia Flyers in two weeks. After failing to generate much of anything in the first forty minutes, the Flyers dominated the third period from the opening shift, doubling up the Flames in overall shot attempts (24-12). They did it by rolling three lines - the top unit, the new and improved fourth line, and whatever line Sean Couturier was on - that all were pushing forward, generating zone entries and winning puck battles.
  • Despite the Flyers winning the shot attempts battle at even strength handily, the Flames bested them in overall scoring chances. War-On-Ice tracked Calgary with 21 scoring chances to the Flyers' 17, and nine high-danger chances against three for the Flyers. That's primarily a result of the first two periods, when Philadelphia was too content to fire wildly from the outside, seemingly shocked that they had even gotten into the offensive zone. Their dominance in shot attempts bodes well for the future, but the forwards need to be more creative in getting to scoring areas.
  • This was not a game to show a friend who is on the fence about this whole hockey thing. It was an ugly game, as two struggling teams failed to execute on simple passes and odd-man rushes throughout the night. The officials did not help the game's pace, however. They allowed quite a few obvious obstruction plays pass without calling penalties, which simply encouraged the players on both sides to continue their barely-legal tactics. Had the referees called a few hooks and holds early on, it may have been a far more watchable game.
  • Sean Couturier returned to the lineup last night, and he didn't miss a beat. In the early season, what really stood out regarding Couturier's play was his increased strength in puck battles, particularly in the offensive zone. That was on display tonight, as the Flyers' shutdown center was a demon in terms of puck retrieval all game long. He was the best player on the ice by the third period, after Dave Hakstol decided to double-shift him due to the benching of Vincent Lecavalier. Couturier doesn't have the speed to play puck carrier through the neutral zone on a consistent basis, but so far this year, we're seeing exactly how he could become a plus offensive player - dominance on the cycle.
  • The penalty kill also took a gigantic leap forward tonight as Couturier returned to the fold. There were only two Calgary power plays, but the Flames failed to generate a scoring chance or even a shot on goal during their four minutes with the man advantage. Couturier played the top of their triangle-plus one formation during his shifts, and brought back the pressuring style that had been missing from the PK units in his absence. Ryan White also looked particularly strong in his shorthanded minutes.
  • Couturier may have been great last night, especially in the third period. But I question the decision to use him during the 3v3 overtime session with Wayne Simmonds. Couturier and Simmonds are two of the Flyers' weakest forwards in terms of skating speed, and were ripe to be exploited in the breakneck pace of overtime. And that's exactly what happened - both forwards struggled to keep up as Calgary went on a rush and eventually beat Michal Neuvirth to end the contest. Couturier shouldn't necessarily be stapled to the bench during 3v3 play, but he could use a faster linemate. Considering their existing chemistry on the penalty kill and at 5v5, I'm not sure why Matt Read wasn't the obvious choice to play with Couturier.
  • The Flyers were at their worst whenever the new line of R.J. Umberger, Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier saw the ice at even strength. This seemed like a bad idea from the start - take Philadelphia's two worst forwards from 2014-15 and place them with a center who has struggled statistically in shot suppression. The line combination was unsurprisingly a disaster. Hakstol finally granted Brayden Schenn a reprieve after he was accidentally whacked in the face by Lecavalier in the second period. Vinny spent the rest of the game on the bench, and Schenn and Umberger saw most of their remaining shifts with Sean Couturier. Lecavalier needs to return to the press box for Saturday's game against Winnipeg - if Hakstol can't trust him in the third period of a tie game, then it's tough to see a reason for Vinny to be in the lineup.
  • Michael Raffl has been generating quality chances all season, so if was great to see him finally rewarded with his first goal of 2015-16. The first line has continued to dominate possession even as the rest of the roster has fallen apart, making their scoring struggles inexplicable. In his rookie season, Raffl earned a reputation as a player who often failed to capitalize on golden opportunities, though his 21-goal, 16% shooting percentage 2014-15 season let him shed that label. In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see if his early season goal drought was just bad luck, or part of a regression back to his rookie year scoring rates.
  • When the pregame line combinations were announced, I was excited to see how Scott Laughton would perform on the "fourth" line with Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White. While some saw it as a demotion, Hakstol surely did not view it as such. Prior to the Bellemare injury, that line was getting heavy ice time, using their tenaciousness in the neutral and offensive zones to generate zone entries and constantly pressure opponents. Laughton comes the closest in skillset to replicating what Bellemare brings to the table, so it wasn't a surprise to see the line back to their old dump-and-chase, crash-and-bang style of play. I wouldn't be shocked to see this line stay together even if Sam Gagner returns to the lineup on Saturday.
  • The Flyers were again unable to capitalize on a stellar performance by backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth. While he didn't make as many tough saves last night like he did in Edmonton, that was primarily because Philadelphia was not bleeding high-danger chances as they did on Tuesday. Neuvirth still made a number of tough stops, and the two goals were rebounds off rush chances - tough for even elite goaltenders to stop. After suffering through end-of-career Ray Emery, Ron Hextall's signing of Neuvirth is looking like a stroke of brilliance. He's the best backup goalie that the Flyers have had in years.