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Flyers 4, Blues 2: 10 things we learned about the Flyers' fourth straight road win

The Flyers used a strong second period and a great performance from their top two lines and reunited top pair to get a good road win against a tough opponent. Here's what we saw.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • Lately, we've seen a lot of Flyers games in which the run of play tended to skew pretty heavily towards one side -- win or lose, there was often one team that seemed to be getting the better of things for most of the contest. This game, by comparison, was definitely more of a back-and-forth, as both teams seemed to have extended stretches where it was constantly on the attack followed by ones where they were on their heels. The end result was a fairly even game -- possession was ever-so-slightly in the Blues' favor on the night, which matches up with how things seemed to go. Luckily for the Flyers, their strong push which lasted through most of the second period stood up against what ended up being a rough go of things in the third period.
  • In terms of providing actual insight here, I could do worse than just posting the .GIF of Claude Giroux's game-winning goal and saying "wow", but that top line absolutely did the dirty work for the Flyers and was the biggest reason they left St. Louis last night with two points. Giroux, in his second three-point game of the season, is what he is, and as was mentioned in Tuesday's observations he's absolutely back on track and doing what we all know he's capable of doing. So let's talk about the other two guys on that line. Michael Raffl is at his best when he's sneaking into dangerous areas on the ice and putting the puck home, and while keeping it simple doesn't always seem to be the answer for Brayden Schenn, he's so much more on point when he's able to make the heads-up kind of plays that he was on Thursday. So to see the two of them team up to score the team's first goal -- on a pass from Schenn all the way on the boards to Raffl right in front of the net -- was quite refreshing, and the dish from Schenn to a streaking Giroux on the captain's highlight-reel finish wasn't particularly exciting but was the obvious play. That line has been clicking since the first time it was put together a couple of weeks ago, and while it stinks that we're not seeing more Jakub Voracek fireworks (more on that later), it's unlikely we're going to see them broken up any time soon.
  • Meanwhile, the line that's been grabbing all of the headlines lately had a pretty solid day at the office, but the Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Wayne Simmonds line got its work done in a variety of ways, all of which were on display when Read lit the lamp in the second period. On Thursday, Charlie highlighted what exactly Read has been doing in the neutral zone this year, and how that dominance has possibly been the spark behind that line's success. Surely, in an attempt to make our content look good and timely, that line got on the board after Couturier forced a turnover that allowed Read to -- wait for it -- carry the puck into the offensive zone. From there, though, it was Simmonds who won the board battle that allowed Michael Del Zotto to put a point shot on net, where Read was able to set up on the rebound for a tremendous finish. That line's dominance is simple: get the puck in the offensive zone and keep it there. We saw more of that simple formula on Thursday.
  • There are worse problems for us to have then to continue to have to write the same paragraph about the uneven-but-ultimately-positive performances of the Shayne Gostisbehere - Brandon Manning pairing, but their game in St. Louis was very similar to the one they played on Tuesday night. On the one hand: the two clearly had some coverage issues and allowed some extended shifts in the defensive zone. And they both looked pretty wretched on the Blues' first goal -- Manning couldn't keep up with Dmitri Jaskin behind the net as he got the pass away, and Ghost completely left Robby Fabbri unmarked right in front of the net for the finish. But still, Gostisbehere in particular just did a number in terms of getting the puck up ice and starting the rush in the right direction for the Flyers, and the pair's possession numbers were once again well in the black. There's a lot for the talented young defenseman to work on, and it remains to be seen when he'll be asked to shoulder more responsibility. But we again saw the good and bad of Gostisbehere on Thursday, and one flubbed defensive zone coverage can only take so much away from what was otherwise another very solid game.
  • Radko Gudas being back gave Hakstol the green light to reunite the Gudas - Del Zotto "top pairing" that had been working surprisingly well prior to Gudas' suspension, and one quick look at the minutes for each of them (24:14 for Del Zotto, 22:53 for Gudas) tells you everything you need to know about how ready he was for that. And those minutes, really, were warranted -- Gudas came back into the lineup and had what was probably one of his best all-around games of the season. He played the physical style we're used to seeing from him, but even jumped up in the offensive zone a number of times, launching probably about a half-dozen bombs from just above the circle towards the net over the course of the game. That he and Del Zotto -- two guys who are mostly known for their aggressiveness, albeit frequently in different ways -- were able to play up the way they were on Thursday and never really have it come back to bite them is surely something Hakstol will be thrilled with.
  • It was interesting to hear Ken Hitchcock say after the game that his team's problem was that they "stopped hitting". If you believe the hit numbers on NHL dot com (and admittedly, I am skeptical that you should), you'll see a game that was fairly even in terms of physicality. Still, in an age where we've all started to realize that racking up high hit counts is not automatically a good thing, the Blues under Hitch's watch have been one of those teams that frequently does do a good job of setting the tone with its physical play, up and down the ice. To hear their coach suggest that the Flyers outplayed them in that regard, in their barn, says something. This has never been a team that's afraid to play physically, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're always good at it. Last night, they were. And yes, you have to think Gudas being back does help in that regard.
  • Hakstol mentioned after the game that he does like the chemistry that he's seeing develop on the Voracek line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde, even while acknowledging that the 5-on-5 scoring isn't always going to be there. Sometimes that's true, and that group did get some chances on the night. But when you've got an All-Star caliber forward playing with two guys who are bottom-6 NHLers, you would think that the first guy is the one who would occasionally be getting an extra shift or two. Instead, it was VandeVelde and Bellemare who, per war-on-ice, were actually the team's two most frequent 5-on-5 forwards on the evening, both getting over 15 minutes of ice time in the contest. Voracek? Seventh, at just over 12 minutes. It's perplexing, to say the least, and it's tough to imagine Voracek really getting going when he's just not playing as much as a guy like him should be.
  • The Evgeny Medvedev - Nick Schultz pairing had by far its worst go since being put together a few games back, with the pair's possession numbers looking awful and the eye test not really painting a much more favorable picture. And while we're often harsh on Schultz in this space (not unjustifiably so, I would contend), the Russian rookie (I think he's technically a rookie?) doesn't get a pass here, either. Medvedev's ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone is one of the better things we've seen in his time with the Flyers so far, and he made some nice plays to bail the Flyers out here and there against the Blues. But it wasn't nearly as consistent as you see with him on a lot of nights, and there were definitely a few shifts -- especially late in the game, when the Blues turned up the pressure -- where an inability to get the puck out snowballed on the two of them. Hakstol clearly trusts the pair, as they had (per war-on-ice) by far the most 5-on-5 ice time of any of the team's players in the third period. The team's "shutdown pairing"? In terms of usage, they probably are. But to live up to that billing, they'll need to be better than they were on Thursday.
  • You could maybe quibble with a couple of rebounds he left out, but overall another very solid performance from Michal Neuvirth. With the exception of the bang-bang play on Fabbri's goal, Neuvirth was just about always squared right up to the shooter ready to make the first save, and at no point did he really seem out of position. The team (and fanbase) clearly does have a lot of confidence in him right now, and for good reason. Hakstol was pressed a bit post-game on who his starter will be tomorrow in Dallas, but declined to divulge that top-secret information. I would have to think Mason will start -- there's no reason to believe Hakstol doesn't believe in him, and starting any goalies on both halves of a back-to-back is well past proven to be a bad idea, let alone ones who take 37 shots on the first half of one. But Neuvirth is going to continue to get a share of the starts worthy of at least a '1-B' goalie for the forseeable future, and he should.
  • The Flyers have now won four straight games on the road, and many of those were games in which they've controlled play for the most part. When asked about winning on the road during a road winning streak, guys often talk about how it can be easier to play on the road because you tend to be a bit simpler in how you play, etc. I have no idea if that's actually true, and based on the fact that this is largely the same roster that won all of 10 games away from Philadelphia last season, I'm skeptical it is in this particular case. But whatever it is, the fact that these wins and respectable performances are coming without the support of a home crowd or last change can only be a good thing.

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