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Flyers 4, Hurricanes 3: 10 things we learned from an epic overtime victory

Shayne Gostisbehere was the hero on the scoresheet, but there were a number of other Flyers who deserve credit for last night's big win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • This was about as evenly matched of a contest as the NHL can provide. The Flyers were ever so slightly the better team at even strength (they led 48-43 in total shot attempts, 23-21 in shots on goal), but Carolina made up the difference due to more power play time. In the end, Carolina ended up with one more shot on goal, two more scoring chances, and one more high-danger chance. It was a game that deserved to finish in overtime, even though the Flyers played a strong overall game excepting an extended stretch in the latter half of the first period.
  • The big news entering the game was coach Dave Hakstol's decision to move Jakub Voracek up to the second line alongside Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds, playing the left side. Voracek, who prefers to play right wing, did show some signs of discomfort early in the game, particularly on the breakout. But once the Flyers entered the offensive zone, Voracek looked plenty comfortable. Finally given two linemates with above-average offensive instincts, the Flyers' star forward flourished, scoring his second goal of the season and finishing with a team-high 66.67% Corsi For percentage at even strength. There was a play in the third period that best showcased the line's potential, when Couturier broke up a Carolina rush at center ice and immediately dished the puck to Voracek in transition. Voracek, taking full advantage of Couturier's strong defensive play, raced right by the Hurricane defensemen and charged in on goalie Eddie Lack, creating a scoring chance. It's the fact that Voracek can extract full value from Couturier's defensive acumen that makes this line combination so exciting.

  • When Wayne Simmonds was called for an instigation penalty in the second period and relegated to the penalty box for 17 minutes, it was Matt Read who primarily took over as the third winger on the new Voracek/Couturier line. Truthfully, this combination seems to make more sense than the current trio - it would allow Voracek to play his natural right wing, and keep the neutral-zone dominant Read with Couturier. The line made an immediate case for its viability, as Sean Couturier scored during their first shift together. Matt Read generated a controlled defensive zone exit after a faceoff, Voracek made a slick play in the neutral zone to give Couturier space to enter the offensive zone with possession of the puck, and then Couturier threw the puck on net, eventually resulting in a goal. I hope that eventually Hakstol gives this trio an extended audition together.
  • Another reason why I don't love Simmonds on the Couturier line with Voracek - it marginalizes Matt Read. We highlighted Read's stellar neutral zone play at even strength last week, and it doesn't make much sense to give that player only 9:13 minutes of ice time at 5v5. That's less than Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan White, Chris VandeVelde and a Wayne Simmonds who spent 17 minutes in the penalty box. If demoting Read comes with a bump in ice time to the line of Read, Scott Laughton and R.J. Umberger, I'm more on board with the move. But Hakstol continued to use the Laughton line as his fourth line despite the presence of Read. That's simply not an optimal distribution of minutes to the forwards.
  • In his short tenure as Flyers head coach, Dave Hakstol has shown a high level of appreciation for the efforts of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde. Two years ago, Bellemare was toiling away in the Swedish Elite League, while VandeVelde was primarily an AHL forward. This year, Hakstol has used the two depth forwards as the stalwarts of his third line, and even gave them an extended audition with star Jakub Voracek. But it may be time to lessen the load on Bellemare and VandeVelde. Back with Ryan White last night, the pair struggled, particularly in the defensive zone. Bellemare's possession statistics were the best of the three, but even he limped to a 35 percent Corsi For. It's hard to justify their status as the third line now that Voracek is back in the top-six and Read and Scott Laughton (two more talented forwards) waste away on the fourth line. Bellemare and VandeVelde either need a new offensive weapon to push them back to respectability, or a decrease in their minutes at even strength.
  • The crowd at the Wells Fargo Center was not impressed with the decisions from the referees in last night's game. From a raw penalties standpoint, the frustration was understandable - the Flyers were called for five minor penalties while Carolina only received three. Still, only the interference call on Scott Laughton was egregiously bad, as Jay McClement had the puck in his skates when Laughton hit him along the boards. Carolina scored on the ensuing power play, which only served to draw the fans' ire even more. The instigation penalty on Wayne Simmonds was borderline, as it appeared that Brad Malone was taking his gloves off at the same moment as Simmonds prior to their fight, but the Flyers' forward clearly targeted Malone for a brawl and even stepped in for teammate Giroux, who was ready to defend Michael Raffl first after Malone's low hit. Evgeny Medvedev's tripping penalty in the second period also was criticized, but the Flyers' defenseman did slip his leg behind Kris Versteeg, and Versteeg simply did a great job of selling the call. Overall, the referees did not have a fantastic performance last night, but this wasn't a case of the officials giftwrapping Carolina one point.
  • The Brandon Manning - Shayne Gostisbehere pairing was not at their best at even strength. In the first period, Manning was the main issue. His late reaction to Carolina winning a puck battle in the Hurricanes' end resulted in the defenseman getting burned in transition on Skinner's first goal, and his reads in the defensive zone were severely lacking as well. But Manning cleaned up his game by the second period, leaving Gostisbehere the main culprit in the third. He took poor routes to pucks and was lost in coverage more than once, extending the length of Carolina cycles in the offensive zone. Dave Hakstol specifically noted after the game that Ghost did not play particularly well, but he remained impressed that the young defenseman could shake off his mistakes and score the game winner in overtime.
  • Ghost may not have had a perfect game, but it was his play in the neutral zone that created the circumstances necessary for Brayden Schenn's second period tally. As Carolina tried to move up ice, Gostisbehere attacked Andrej Nestrasil in the neutral zone, just as he was about to receive a pass. The aggressive move broke up the play, leaving a loose puck to be retrieved by Schenn who then sent Michael Raffl into the offensive zone with speed. Raffl was soon able to return the favor, spotting an open Schenn in the slot so that he could rip a shot past Eddie Lack. But the sequence does not even begin without Ghost's instincts in the neutral zone. They may not end up on the highlight reel, but those little aggressive plays add up over time, and will turn Ghost into an effective even strength defenseman on the whole even if his defensive zone play remains below-average.
  • To keep up the Gostisbehere theme, it's obvious that teams are watching tape of his impact on the power play. Last night, the highest man in Carolina's penalty killing formation seemed to have one clear goal in mind - prevent Gostisbehere from ripping his shot from the center of the slot. As a result, Ghost was unable to let one of his dangerous slap shots loose with the man advantage. But this isn't necessarily a negative development for Philadelphia. If that high man is primarily concerned with taking away Gostisbehere's space, that will open up more room for Claude Giroux at the left faceoff circle, or Jakub Voracek on the right. Giving the team's top two forwards even more time with the puck on the power play should be a long-term benefit of Ghost's presence on the top unit. And once teams decide that they cannot afford to allow Giroux and Voracek space, Gostisbehere's slapshot will take flight once again.
  • On the whole, Philadelphia had a solid game at even strength against one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL (not joking, they rank sixth in the NHL in Score-Adjusted Corsi). The Flyers' only real poor stretch came in the second half of the first period, when they were able to generate only two shot attempts through ten minutes of play. Carolina was unable to capitalize on their possession with any goals during that stretch (unsurprisingly, that's been a problem for them all season), but the Flyers created almost nothing for 16% of the game. The reason? Philadelphia simply could not exit their own zone - forget clearing the puck without possession, there were entire shifts when the Flyers couldn't even get out of the defensive end. It was mostly an execution problem, and once the second period began, the forwards and defensemen were back on the same page. But this will be a problem that lingers throughout the season, considering the relative weakness on the back end. They'll just need to weather these stretches like they did last night.

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