Morning Observations is a new feature, where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
- After I wrote an article yesterday stating that the Flyers' special teams were bound to improve, it's appropriate that the team would struggle mightily on both the power play and penalty kill last night. The Flyers were totally ineffective with the man advantage, failing to create even one high-danger scoring chance in their three opportunities. And after they allowed Boston to score on their first power play of the night in only 25 seconds, it looked like the penalty kill was irredeemable as well. Luckily for Philadelphia, the shorthanded unit cleaned up its act in the third period, after Brandon Manning took a technically-a-delay-of-game-but-probably-shouldn't-have-been penalty with Boston up 2-1. They smothered Boston's top-ranked PP, and only seconds after the penalty expired, Wayne Simmonds tied the game. Another power play goal for the Bruins would have likely ended any hopes of a comeback, but the Flyers stood tall and gave their top line a chance. That's all they really needed.
- Against the Islanders, the first line of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds generated a whopping seven high-danger scoring chances, but were unable to light the lamp. Last night, they replicated the dominant effort but this time reaped the fruits of their labor. The line factored in each goal for the Flyers, with Voracek, Simmonds and Mark Streit all coming away with tallies. But it was the endless pressure that the top unit placed upon Boston that really caught the eye. Especially in the third period, it was almost like the other Flyers lines were content to just tread water and play sound defense, knowing that the Giroux line was going to blow the doors off the opposition as soon as they hit the ice. Considering the talent level of all three players, there's really no reason to believe they'll regress - this should be a stellar unit for as long as they are grouped together.
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- Despite another subpar showing on special teams, the Flyers were the better squad through the majority of even strength play, though most of that can be attributed to the dominance of the Giroux line. Even after accounting for score effects, Philadelphia won the shot attempts battle, but where they held the big edge was in scoring chances. They nearly doubled up the Bruins in high-danger 5v5 chances, leading 13-7. That was primarily due to their ease in generating controlled zone entries all night long. In the early going, the Flyers were wasting their entries with possession, searching for the perfect shot and then losing subsequent puck battles. But as the game wore on, they began to pass up fewer of their opportunities, and that's when their neutral zone advantage began to show.
- The first period was particularly choppy. Watching the game in person, it appeared that the ice surface was not at its smoothest at the start of the contest, and it seemed to affect the players, who struggled to generate quick bursts in the neutral zone and even stay upright when on the attack. Both teams placed a high emphasis on tight checking the middle of the ice, and there were entire shifts when neither team was able to successfully enter the offensive zone. The only line that was able to regularly break the logjam in the first period was unsurprisingly the Giroux line, and they were rewarded for their efforts with the only goal of the stanza.
- Evgeny Medvedev had the kind of game that looked fine on the possession statistics sheet, but probably didn't make his coach very happy. Medvedev finished with a 56.25% Corsi For percentage, driven by creative play in the offensive zone. But it was his penalty that led to Loui Eriksson's power play goal in the second period, and Medvedev struggled to win 50/50 puck battles in the defensive zone on more than a few occasions. I'd still argue that Medvedev's good outweighed his bad last night, but his play is always under more of a microscope than many of the other members of the Philadelphia defense. Brainless penalties and poor shifts in the defensive zone will not endear him to Dave Hakstol - in fact, that's probably what had him benched in the first place.
- Sean Couturier's strong start to the season has the 23-year old center generating some legitimate Selke Trophy buzz. Last night, he was given the chance to go head-to-head with three-time winner of the award, Patrice Bergeron. Dave Hakstol chose to match Couturier up against Bergeron and his linemates all night long, as Couturier spent 8:04 5v5 minutes (out of 12:24 total 5v5 minutes) of ice time facing the Bruins' star center. And while Couturier did not dominate, he certainly held his own, finishing barely under the break-even point (five on-ice shot attempts for, six on-ice shot attempts against) when matched against Bergeron. Hakstol's line matching served a larger purpose, though. With Couturier taking up most of Bergeron's time, that allowed the Giroux line to feast on Boston's other three lines. The top line spent only 32 seconds facing Bergeron, which definitely made it easier for them to dominate as they did.
- There was some concern that the 38-year old Mark Streit would struggle to rebound from major surgery, even after being deemed healthy enough to return to action in late December. And while his play since returning has been spotty, last night was Streit's most complete performance since his return. Not only did Streit score the game-winning goal by alerting jumping up into the play on the rush, his passes were crisper and his reads in the neutral and defensive zones were quicker as well. His partner Nick Schultz continues to play a passive game in the middle of the ice, and it's up to Streit to keep that pairing above water by efficiently exiting the defensive zone and then creating offense on the attack. Last night, there was the first glimpse that Streit may still be capable of doing that.
- The general consensus in the locker room after the game was that last night's victory was very important, not just because the team is on something of a run and they'd like to keep winning. Multiple players noted the fact that the Flyers were able to win in regulation, preventing the Bruins from salvaging any points from the loss. Philadelphia may not be a perfect team, but the locker room clearly believes that they are playoff-caliber. And with their next eight games against Eastern Conference teams who likely will be in the playoff race in March, they'll certainly have a chance to prove their case.
- The first two periods saw the line centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare fall victim to their fatal flaw - poor play in the defensive zone. Shift after shift, the line of Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White found themselves pinned in their own end, struggling to win puck battles or exit the zone cleanly. But once the third period began, the Bellemare line became Philadelphia's second-most effective line after the top unit. Even after the Flyers had retaken the lead, Bellemare and his linemates kept up their furious forechecking, draining valuable seconds off the clock and keeping the Bruins far away from Steve Mason. The Flyers' third line may not be the strongest puck possession line, but it remains a strong forechecking unit in the offensive zone. After forty minutes of mediocre play, they remembered that at the most pivotal time possible.
- Zac Rinaldo finished the contest with a Corsi For percentage of 28.57%. I'll leave that there.