clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Penguins 4, Flyers 3: 10 things we learned from the end of a glorious streak

The Flyers may have only lost to the Penguins by one goal, but the statistics tell a different tale. In fact, Philadelphia struggled mightily at even strength throughout the game.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • It's easy to say that the Flyers gave away this game starting in the second period, considering the fact that they were up 2-0 over the Penguins after the first twenty minutes. And to be sure, the second period was indeed a disaster, as Philadelphia gave up three goals and watched their lead dissipate in rapid fashion. But there were warning signs in the first period, as well. Both Flyers goals were scored on the power play which helped to mask a spotty effort at even strength, where Pittsburgh won all the statistical battles - shots on goal, shot attempts and scoring chances. From the start, the Penguins were the better team at even strength, and absent a welcome performance from the Flyers' power play, this game could have gotten out of hand fast.
  • It's certainly not time to panic, but it's fair to note that last night was the third straight game in which Philadelphia was outplayed for the majority of the contest. The Detroit game was easy to write off - second game of a back-to-back, Red Wings were well-rested - but these last two losses are more difficult to swallow. Against Toronto, the Flyers sagged in the middle portion but nearly made up for it by dominating the first and last ten minutes of the game. Last night, however, they were chasing the puck at even strength all game. The absence of Sean Couturier was a major contributing factor to the poor performance, but that wasn't the whole story. Too many of Philadelphia's better even strength players were outright liabilities, which only served to amplify the loss of the team's tough-minutes center. Getting Couturier back on Saturday would help, but the entire team needs to deliver a better effort to earn a different result against the Islanders.
  • The biggest positive of the loss was the re-emergence of Philadelphia's power play, which has delivered disappointing results this season despite stellar shot and scoring chance generation statistics. While it was Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn that got the glory, the impact of Wayne Simmonds can not be overstated. His net front presence and ability to create both havoc and screens in the crease area was a major cause of both Schenn and Giroux's goals. While opponents have been able to take away the Simmonds "spin and shoot" play that so was effective in past years, they've yet to figure out a way to move him from the front of the net. As a result, his point production on the power play often undersells his impact on the goals that Philadelphia scores. The Flyers haven't had a problem getting shots on the power play, but burying their chances had been an issue before last night, when fans were reminded that screens and chaos in front can go a long way into turning run-of-the-mill shots into scoring chances, and scoring chances into goals.
  • With Sean Couturier out of the lineup, the Flyers were forced to make tough decisions on how they planned to match up with Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They chose to have Giroux battle Crosby, while using a mix of all three lines against Malkin's unit. The plan proved disastrous, primarily because Crosby's line absolutely decimated Giroux and company at even strength. In twelve minutes against Crosby, the Flyers captain posted a horrendous 28.57% Corsi For, and his linemates fared no better. It was obvious that the second line for Philadelphia was going to be weaker without Couturier, making the performance of Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds all the more important. Instead, they spent the majority of their even strength ice time pinned in their own zone, far away from the Penguins' net.
  • It wasn't all the first line's fault, however. Philadelphia's top pairing of Michael Del Zotto and Radko Gudas also were buried at even strength. Breakouts were the big issue for the pair, as both defensemen were misfiring just enough on their passes to make it difficult for the forwards to cleanly and quickly exit the defensive zone with possession. The timing issues resulted in unnecessary extra board battles and opportunities for Pittsburgh to extend their cycles. Gudas's puck skills can be best categorized as inconsistent, but Del Zotto is expected to carry the load in terms of engineering clean zone exits. In the majority of his minutes this season, Del Zotto has done just that, but last night was a substantial regression.
  • Perhaps the only Flyers skater who played a complete game no matter the situation was Shayne Gostisbehere. To my eyes, last night was Ghost's best two-way performance of the season, the first game that saw him deliver above-average defensive coverage and stickwork to match his usual positive impact on offense. It showed in his on-ice shot attempt statistics - Gostisbehere finished with a team-high 56.52% Corsi For percentage and a whopping +26.79% Corsi Relative to his teammates. The plus skating ability of Gostisbehere allows for him to be difficult to beat on the rush, and last night he supplemented that skillset with strong instincts in the defensive zone, even without the puck. And to prove that his offense didn't go anywhere, he added two power play assists as well.
  • Special teams have held back the Flyers all season, even as their even strength play (aside from these last three games) has progressively improved throughout the year. Last night, the power play stepped up and posted its best game of the season, which of course meant that the penalty kill was forced to take a big step back. Pittsburgh scored two goals on the power play in the second period, including a Phil Kessel tally that saw Flyers penalty killers again doing too much puck watching and too little disruption of open lanes and passes. Still, Philadelphia actually did not do a terrible job at shot suppression on the penalty kill, allowing only five shots in six minutes of shorthanded ice time. Still, puck watching on the Kessel goal and allowing Eric Fehr to create an uncontested screen on Trevor Daley's goal are mistakes that justifiably caused the puck to end up in the back of the net. Assistant coach Ian Laperriere will certainly have points of emphasis to address today in practice.
  • Scott Laughton's play in the defensive zone remains imperfect, but his confidence on the attack continues to improve with each passing game. His controlled entry percentage going into last night's game had risen over 50% (51.47%), which was a testament to his willingness to move through the neutral zone with speed and decisiveness. Still, this newfound assertiveness has yet to turn into tangible point production, for one big reason - R.J. Umberger. It seems like the vast majority of Laughton's best setups end up on the stick of Umberger, who right now appears incapable of putting the puck in the net. Twice last night was Laughton able to giftwrap a high-danger scoring chance to Umberger only to see the struggling forward fail to bury the chance. I'm of the opinion that Umberger does bring positives to the table, including strength in the corners and positioning in the defensive zone. But if he remains incapable of capitalizing on offensive opportunities, the case for Umberger to see the press box gets better and better.
  • With the Giroux line stymied by Crosby at even strength, line two missing Sean Couturier, and the Laughton line struggling to finish on their scoring chances, that left the third line of Chris VandeVelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White to take a big step forward in order to avoid 5v5 domination by the Penguins. Instead, the Bellemare line underwhelmed in all three zones. In fact, their biggest tangible achievement was taking two penalties (one by White and one by VandeVelde) that would result in Penguins power play goals. It's not surprising to see the line be penalty-prone, especially considering their season-long issues in the defensive zone. Infractions are most likely to occur when a line is hemmed in their own zone for extended periods of time, whether that be due to turnovers or poor results in terms of puck battles. The Bellemare line has been the Flyers' worst in the defensive zone this season, and Pittsburgh exploited that last night.
  • The Flyers were able to make things interesting late, but the credit goes mostly to the team's power play for cutting the gap to one goal late in the third. After Philadelphia fell behind 4-2, the expectation was that Pittsburgh would fall back into a defensive shell and allow the Flyers to create sustained zone time. In fact, the opposite occurred, as Pittsburgh continued to carry play despite their large lead. The Penguins did something that most teams are either unwillingness or incapable of doing - playing the same style up two goals as they played while the game was tied. A heavy forecheck with pinching defensemen worked through the first two periods, so Pittsburgh intelligently decided to continue executing the same style that earned them their lead rather than taking their foot off the gas pedal. Sure, pushing deep in the offensive zone comes with some risks - the Flyers theoretically would be more likely to score a counterattack goal. But last night, they were far more concerned with simply surviving against the Penguins' onslaught than looking to spring an odd-man rush going the other way. It makes you wonder why most teams sit back with leads rather than sticking with what has worked to that point.