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Stars 3, Flyers 1: 10 things we learned from a loss that wasn't really that close

The Flyers were boatraced up and down the ice last night, but still managed to keep it close on the scoreboard thanks to outstanding goaltending and penalty killing. Here's what we saw.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • After largely playing good hockey over the past three or so weeks, after a fairly strong performance the previous night in St. Louis, I would be willing to guess that Flyers fans were as interested to see how Friday's game would go as they had been for maybe any game this team has played in a while. And after a first 10 or so minutes of this very game that saw the Flyers actually outskate and outwork the Stars, one could have been forgiven for getting a bit optimistic. So to see the Flyers so thoroughly outskated, outplayed, outworked, out-everythinged for most of the rest of the game after that was at least a bit disheartening. Still, in the context of everything, nothing about this was that surprising. The Flyers came in off of a hard-fought win last night, playing their third game in four days, on the road, against a Stars team that is (a) really really good, (b) freakishly fast, and (c) hadn't played since Tuesday. Sure, you don't ever want it to get as bad as it was on Friday. But the loss isn't too surprising in the grand scheme of things.
  • On a related note: I saw a lot of complaints from Flyers fans out there about the number of and quality of calls against the Flyers in this game. And to an extent, I agreed. Obvious homer goggles acknowledged, there were times where the refs did seem like they were calling the game a bit tighter on the guys in orange than the guys in green, with six penalties called on the Flyers -- at least a few of which could be described as "a bit soft" or "borderline". However, with that all said, I hate complaining about refs, so let's just acknowledge this: no team in NHL history has ever sat back and gotten territorially pummeled the way the Flyers did for most of Friday night, only to get the benefit of the doubt on borderline penalty calls. When you play the way the Flyers did on Friday night, everyone watching the game is sitting there waiting to see you screw something up, and it turns out the refs are part of that group. So the Flyers deserve quite a bit of the blame for being on the penalty kill that frequently. (I also thought it was interesting, watching the Dallas broadcast, to hear Daryl Reaugh say that -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- Dave Hakstol, as a rookie coach, is not going to see his team get the benefit of the doubt from the refs in many games. Take from that what you will.)
  • So the big surprise coming into this one was the starter in net being none other than Michal Neuvirth, whose presence marked the first time this year that the Flyers started the same goalie on both sides of a back-to-back. Neuvirth played an excellent game in St. Louis on Thursday, and it's likely Hakstol wanted to see if he could keep that high level of play up. Which he did, and then some, as Neuvirth stopped 41 of 43 Dallas shots, including several in close, and the only ones he couldn't get were one that bounced off of Wayne Simmonds right in front of him and one right in front of his net on a second chance where the Flyers couldn't clear it. If Hakstol's confidence in Neuvirth wasn't evident playing against the odds and starting him on both sides of a back-to-back, it surely has to be after that performance. Does this mean Neuvirth is going to get the starts until he has a clunker? It's tough to say, because we don't know that Hakstol's not confident in Mason, but no one would be surprised at this point if he keeps riding this train until it gets off the tracks.
  • Simmonds took a lot of heat from fans on social media during the game, for a handful of justified reasons -- two bad first-period penalties, his unfortunate role in the aforementioned first Dallas goal, and his losing Antoine Roussel on the game-winning scramble in front chief among them. But that entire Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Simmonds line had what may have been its worst performance as a unit since it was put together, with all of them routinely being stuck in the defensive zone trying to withstand Dallas pressure. All of them were well in the red in terms of possession on the night, with Couturier even sporting a ghastly 12.5% Corsi-For number. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that the line was asked almost exclusively to start in its own defensive zone on the night, but (a) those issues were compounded by Couturier having a very bad night in the faceoff circle, winning 2 of 10 in the defensive zone, and (b) the entire team had to work out of the defensive zone by default (as a team, the Flyers had eight faceoffs in the offensive zone and 24 in the defensive zone), and no one else took it on the chin quite like they did. And they didn't even have the excuse of spending the evening matched up against the high-powered Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin line -- it was the Stars middle-6 forwards who really took it to them. When you've got a team that's getting through the neutral zone at will like the Stars were last night and is getting the puck after almost every offensive zone faceoff, even a possession machine like the 24-14-17 unit isn't safe.
  • Some credit for keeping this game close when it shouldn't have been does also go to the Flyers' penalty kill, which was called upon six times and was up to the task each and every one of them. Surely, Neuvirth's outstanding game drove that to an extent, but there were only really one or two ten-bell stops that I can remember on the penalty kill, whereas it seemed like we were seeing those every few minutes at evens. In a twisted sort of way, this only underscores a couple of points from the night. First, Hakstol clearly thought some folks were playing better than others on the night -- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde were both around seven minutes of PK time, while Read and Couturier both got about two. And second, the fact that the Stars were arguably about as efficient getting into the scoring chance area with a man advantage as they were at 5-on-5 shows that, again, the problems last night may have been less about what the Flyers were doing in the defensive zone (though it wasn't always pretty there) and more about how quickly, frequently, and efficiently the Stars were getting there in the first place.
  • A change was almost inevitable in the third period with the way the first two went, and Hakstol totally tossed his forward lineup in the blender early in the frame. This change included one that people have been begging for for weeks now, as Jakub Voracek was put back on Claude Giroux's right wing with Brayden Schenn on the left wing. That was pretty much the only constant, as the other nine forwards all were sort of moved around with different linemates for the rest of the evening after that. While the Flyers did go from "being totally and completely dominated" in the first two periods to "only sort of being outplayed" in the third period, that's a thing that should happen thanks to score effects anyways, and Giroux and Voracek were actually still negative possession players in the final frame. This does show that Hakstol isn't afraid to try and put his best players back together in an effort to generate a spark while down in a close game, but I don't think we're going to see Voracek back on Giroux's wing the next time the Flyers are practicing. Hakstol's expressed confidence in his lineup as it's assembled -- I would think he'll need more than one bad performance to truly blow it up and start over.
  • Claude Giroux's only point of the night came on the power play, but he was the team's leader in terms of on-ice possession and was probably the biggest reason why Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were pretty quiet up until the empty-net goal they teamed up on in the final minute. Those guys were just about even on possession for the night, despite Giroux and his linemates far and away getting the better of them in their on-ice matchups -- the captain was +9/-2 in Corsi against Benn and +8/-2 against Seguin. This is really just meant to serve as your reminder that Claude Giroux is really good. Thanks.
  • It does seem a little bit like Jakub Voracek is pressing a bit to score a goal, and that may be especially true on the power play where he, incredibly, hasn't potted one yet this season. I don't know for sure that Voracek scores if he rips a shot on the PP with about six minutes left off a cross-ice pass from Brayden Schenn, but let's just say the opportunity was there for him if he wanted to try it. "He's gripping the stick too hard" and all the things that people say about guys in scoring droughts are cliche, but it really does seem to have some weight here with the Flyers' star winger.
  • On Thursday, Nick Schultz and Evgeny Medvedevdespite largely playing poorly on the night, were far and away Dave Hakstol's go-to guys in the third period while up a goal. So it was interesting to see that last night, with the team down one, Schultz only got one shift in the final 12 minutes of the night. Meanwhile, Shayne Gostisbehere -- who, power play goal aside, didn't have a stupendous night himself -- got over nine minutes in the third period, about as much as he got in the first two combined. Hakstol clearly has his favorites for certain situations of game time, and he's shown that the fact that they're having poor nights on the ice will not deter him from leaning on them when it counts the most. Whether or not that's a good thing -- should Ghost be getting that much more ice time than Michael Del Zotto, the team's best defenseman this year, on a night where he may not have his best stuff? -- is up for debate.
  • Amidst the line jumbling that took place, one guy who we barely heard from at all last night was R.J. Umberger, who only had six shifts across the final two periods and had just 6:48 in total ice time on the night. I was not and am not opposed to the team giving Umberger, off of his injury, a chance to see if he can still play -- they've got a decision to make on him this summer as to whether or not he should be kept or bought out and want to be as informed as they can going into it, and if he somehow goes on a hot streak, maybe you can deal him down the line. But the Flyers' fourth line -- and admittedly, Scott Laughton bears some responsibility for this, too -- just isn't anything right now, and that puts even more weight on the other guys' shoulders when they aren't producing. It's tough for Umberger to show much when he's only getting seven minutes a night, but nothing in his play is demanding the coaching staff give him more minutes. You have to think he'll be the odd man out once Sam Gagner is good to return.

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