Morning Observations is a new feature, where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
- With the Flyers on the second night of a back-to-back and facing a Detroit team that had not played since Thursday, it was fair to expect that the Red Wings might have the overall edge in play. And while Philadelphia put up a strong fight, Detroit definitely carried the majority of even strength, winning in score-adjusted Corsi (61.13%) and scoring chances (21-13 normal, 10-4 high-danger). But you have to admire Philadelphia's effort in the third - their sixth period in 33 hours. Claude Giroux was able to tie the game early in the period, and then the Flyers drew three penalties, helping them to outshoot the Red Wings 14-4 in the final twenty minutes. What changed late in the game? Aside from Philadelphia simply digging deep and showcasing their character, the skill players for the Flyers took over. Detroit did a fantastic job of taking away space through the game's first forty minutes, and Philadelphia's passing was simply not crisp enough to make the Red Wings pay for their aggressiveness. The solution was depending on their most gifted players, such as Giroux and Jakub Voracek, to create rushes and chances on their own. The result was less chaos in the neutral zone and more scoring chances for Philadelphia.
- Statistically speaking, this was a battle between two of the five best goaltenders in the NHL so far this season - Michal Neuvirth and Petr Mrazek. It shouldn't have been a surprise that the game quickly turned into a goalie duel. The two netminders stopped all fourteen high-danger shots on goal (per War-On-Ice), and both proved pivotal in helping their respective teams survive on the penalty kill. Neuvirth was calm and in control during Detroit's five-minute power play early in the first period, a power play that could have essentially ended the Flyers' night before it began. Then, Mrazek bailed out his team after they handed Philadelphia an extended five-on-three midway through the third period in a tie contest. His robbery of Jakub Voracek on a one-timer had Jake looking skyward in frustration. But in the end, only Giroux and Voracek were able to solve the Red Wings' stellar Czech goaltender, both in regulation and during the shootout.
NHL.com Report | Highlights | War-On-Ice.com Report | HockeyStats.ca Report | ExpectedGoals (xG) | HockeyViz.com | BSH Recap | Meltzer's Musings
- Last night's game was a particularly wild, back-and-forth game played at a very high pace, but it was two controversial goal calls that had fans incensed. First, Niklas Kronwall was able to beat Neuvirth, but Flyers coach Dave Hakstol called for a review, nothing that Darren Helm had made contact with the goaltender's glove prior to the shot getting through. It was a tough decision for the officials, as there was clear contact and it surely affected Neuvirth's ability to set himself for the shot. At the same time, he was at the edge of the crease and Helm clearly did not intentionally interfere. Unfortunately for the Flyers, the goal was upheld despite the 50/50 nature of the call. It was a disallowed goal by Shayne Gostisbehere with seconds left that really had fans fuming, however. After earning a power play with four seconds remaining in regulation, Gostisbehere was able to let loose a shot after a faceoff that made it past Mrazek and beat the buzzer. But Wayne Simmonds had knocked into the Detroit netminder before the shot, and this time the goal was disallowed. Simmonds' contact was far more violent than Helm's, even though Mrazek had crept outside his crease area. Still, the disallowing of the goal seemed understandable. On the other hand, handing a penalty to Simmonds that nullified the Flyers' power play was a bit more questionable. In the end, it comes down to whether you feel the degree of contact and the reaction of the goaltender matters more than the intent of the skater involved.
- Rarely is a period look so different via the eye test versus the numbers than the first period in last night's game. After a fairly even start, Ryan White's major penalty put the Flyers on the penalty kill for 25% of the opening stanza. And while they were able to survive, their even strength play was uninspiring following the conclusion of the penalty, to say the least. Philadelphia struggled to move the puck through the neutral zone, while Detroit was setting up shop regularly in the Flyers' end, initiating their cycle game and forechecking to prevent clean breakouts by Philadelphia. But somehow, the numbers at the end of the period showed a fairly even game. Aided by a late Danny DeKeyser interference call, the Flyers actually outshot the Red Wings 11-10 in the period. But more surprising was the Corsi statistics, which handed Detroit a mere 10-9 edge in 5v5 shot attempts. The neutral zone statistics that I manually track will likely tell a different tale, and it seemed like the Red Wings were unable to extract full value from all of their offensive zone time in the first period. That changed in the second period, however, when Detroit blasted 22 shot attempts at Neuvirth while Philadelphia only managed nine. The first period really could have been just as bad.
- Ryan White's major penalty put the Flyers behind the proverbial eight-ball from the start of the game. It was an unnecessary hit against a player (Tomas Jurco) who had shot the puck about a half second earlier, and one that forced a penalty kill that has struggled this season to kill off a five-minute major penalty. Now, was the hit suspension-worthy? I'm sure the NHL will take a look at the hit, but upon further review, it's at least possible that White could avoid further discipline. While the hit was almost certainly late, it's unclear if White ever left his feet prior to impact. In addition, some angles seem to hint that the initial point of contact was the chest and not Jurco's head. Finally, Jurco returned to the game and does not appear to be seriously injured. White's hit was foolish, unnecessary, and forced his team to overcome a potentially-disastrous and totally justified penalty. But it's not a slam-dunk suspension.
- After a stellar even strength game against the Rangers, the Flyers struggled to get much of anything going through the majority of the contest at 5v5 last night. Detroit employed a tight checking style, both in the neutral zone and when defending their own blue line. Philadelphia has broken through these types of strategies before, but it takes clean, creative passing through the neutral zone in order to take advantage of aggressive checking from the opposition. But the Flyers were misfiring all night long on their passes. The only line able to generate consistent pressure was the top line, which makes sense - Giroux and Voracek have the skill to attack a defender one-on-one and still create their own shots. The second line centered by Sean Couturier, however, depends upon passing to create space in the neutral zone, because all three forwards on the line lack dynamic speed or elite hands to create something out of nothing, like Giroux and Voracek can. As a result, the Couturier line had its worst game in months. I don't imagine it becomes the start of a trend, however. Other teams may try to employ tight checking in the neutral zone against Philly's second line, but the poor passing is most likely a one-game fluke. If Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl are on their games, they are more than capable of exploiting those strategies. They simply weren't last night.
- The pairing of Shayne Gostisbehere and Evgeny Medvedev put together a dominant performance on Saturday afternoon per the possession statistics, but last night, the risks of the pairing were on display. They struggled both in coverage and to avoid turnovers, with Ghost providing most of the former issues and Medvedev chipping in with the latter. A strong third period by Gostisbehere did help to salvage his statistics, but this is always going to be a pairing that will have adventures in the defensive zone at times. I do believe that their positive impact will outweigh the negatives over the long-term, but it would be easy to see Hakstol prefer to give Gostisbehere a partner with a more conservative style of play.
- There has been a groundswell of support for the inclusion of Jordan Weal, newly acquired in the Luke Schenn/Vincent Lecavalier trade, to make his debut in the Flyers' lineup. The player most frequently suggested to sit out in his place is forward R.J. Umberger, who had found a home on the wing with Matt Read and Scott Laughton. While Umberger is surely not a flashy player at this stage of his career, he didn't appear to be holding back a line that was moving higher and higher in the coach's estimation. Last night, however, Umberger delivered the performance that many fans wrongfully attribute to him each night. Given opportunities via both odd-man rushes and offensive zone scoring chances, Umberger was consistently unable to take advantage. It remains an open question if Hakstol would consider benching Umberger (remember, it was Read who was the last surprise scratch in the forward corps), but this game certainly provide more ammunition for those advocating for such a move. However, if Ryan White does serve a suspension due to his hit on Jurco, Weal may get into the lineup anyway, even without a corresponding benching.
- In order to stay alive against Detroit, the Philadelphia penalty kill was forced to step up in a big way. And through nine minutes of Red Wings power plays, the Flyers held their opponent to only two high-danger scoring chances. Sure, Detroit had little trouble racking up shot attempts (20) and shots on goal (8), but Philadelphia's PK units deserve credit for keeping the Red Wings to the outside for the majority of their time with the man advantage. Ideally, a shorthanded unit can be dominant at shot suppression in addition to chance and goal suppression, but for a Flyers penalty kill that has struggled all season long, this wasn't a bad place to start.
- Shootouts may be the Flyers' kryptonite, but purely from a hockey standpoint, it was neat to see Pavel Datsyuk and Claude Giroux play a game of one-upsmanship last night. On both of their goals, it was tough to see how the goaltenders could have made the stop. For some reason, Giroux had struggled recently in shootout situations, scoring on only two out of 17 chances over the past two seasons. But his skills seem undiminished. His poor recent results illuminate the small sample size issues that come with the shootout, as he threatened to come through with a new highlight reel shootout goal at any time. Luckily for the Flyers, the old Giroux returned last night just when they needed him.