Morning Observations is a feature where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
- This was a particularly tough regulation loss for the Flyers to take, because it truly felt like a game worthy of overtime. As they have been wont to do recently, Philadelphia dug themselves an early hole, this time due to poor coverage on the penalty kill. But even if the first period was pure domination on the part of the Bruins, the Flyers carried the play through the game's final forty minutes, outshooting Boston 28-15. They drew five penalties, drove play at even strength, and generated scoring chances by the bunches. In the end, the 5v5 shot attempt totals were nearly even after adjusting for score - Philadelphia finished with a 50.39% score-adjusted Corsi - but the Flyers ended up with a big advantage in high-danger chances, generating 23 in all situations to Boston's eight. At the very least, the Flyers' performance tonight appeared worthy of a loser's point. Instead, it was a rehash of the Toronto loss last week, as they fought back to tie the game in the third, only to see a bad bounce go against them in the final two minutes of regulation.
- The primary reason why the Flyers struggled so much in Pittsburgh was that the Claude Giroux line was completely caved in at even strength. Their issues were understandable - with Sean Couturier out, their ice time and matchup difficulty went through the roof - but that didn't change the fact that only an above-average performance from their top line at even strength would have allowed the Flyers to tread water against their rivals. Last night, the Giroux line was given similarly heavy ice time, primarily against the units centered by Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds were up to the task this time. All three received over 17 five-on-five minutes and each forward posted a Corsi For percentage over 73%. In fact, over half of the Flyers' even strength shot attempts occurred with the Giroux line on the ice. For comparison's sake, the Flyers generated 73.17% of the shot attempts with their captain on the ice. They were able to muster only 44.07% of the attempts without Giroux. That's what you call "carrying the load."
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- Claude Giroux ended up receiving 17:45 of five-on-five ice time during last night's loss. Second line center Michael Raffl, on the other hand, spent less than twelve minutes on the ice at 5-on-5. I asked coach Dave Hakstol about the difference in ice time between his first line and his other three units, and whether the disparity spoke to a degree of disappointment in the bottom-nine. Hakstol claimed that it was more a result of the Giroux line looking particularly dangerous, stating, "To be honest with you, as we got to the third period, [the first line] was going. We got them on the ice as often as we could. Overall, I thought the other three groups, much like the rest of our team, had pretty good second and third periods." The other lines certainly had their moments, and none of the forwards were especially throttled during even strength play. But I'm sure that in an ideal world, there would have been another unit playing well enough to complement the Giroux line in the late stages of the contest.
- The first four minutes of the game actually seemed to be moving in a positive direction for the Flyers. Giroux's line kicked off the night with a strong shift, a performance that would be a sign of things to come. Then, the new line of Matt Read, Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn generated some extended pressure. The period began to fall apart when Raffl took an ill-advised holding penalty in the offensive zone, sending Boston to an early power play just four minutes into the game. Patrice Bergeron quickly scored, and even after Raffl got out of the box, the Flyers were a far more sloppy team than they had been immediately after the opening whistle. It took a first intermission regroup for Philadelphia to resemble a squad capable of beating a solid team like Boston, but by then, they had a dug a hole for themselves that would prove impossible to completely escape.
- The Flyers' penalty kill was exploited yet again last night, allowing two power play goals in succession to start the contest. Throughout the year, Philadelphia's shot suppression while shorthanded has actually been decent, but they were gashed against Boston, allowing 18 total shot attempts in less than six minutes. To be sure, the Bruins' power play is one of the league's best. But the Flyers have real issues on the penalty kill, and I'm not certain they can be resolved. Some of the problem is technique - Philadelphia doesn't consistently fight to take away space in the slot and in front of the net, leading to screens and lots of rebound opportunities. Still, the bigger problem is personnel. Due to their weakness on the blue line, Hakstol is forced to trot Radko Gudas and Nick Schultz out as his last line of defense more often than not. Prior to this season, Gudas had delivered poor shot suppression statistics at even strength, and Schultz's overall issues this year have been well-documented. Beyond those two, only Michael Del Zotto has showcased any penalty killing acumen among Flyers' blueliners. Systems can be tweaked, and technique can be cleaned up. But a lack of high-end defensive talent is a nearly impossible issue to fix midseason.
- In Jordan Weal's first game as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, the young forward delivered a mostly positive performance. He was stronger in the corners than I expected, and provided slick passing through the neutral zone on multiple occasions. He even was able to engineer a high-danger scoring chance in the first period, fighting his way to the slot area and just missing the net. I asked him in the locker room if there's been an adjustment period in terms of picking up the Flyers' system, and he admitted that it is taking some time to fully grasp. He did note, however, that he feels the Flyers' style of play fits his skillset better, as Los Angeles focuses on a straight-ahead, north-south game while Hakstol allows his forwards a bit more freedom and opportunities to be creative with and without the puck. His performance last night wasn't eye-popping, but to my eyes, Weal did enough things right to stay in the lineup on Wednesday. We'll see if the coach agrees.
- It may have been the Claude Giroux line that receives praise this morning, but the best performers on the unit were the wingers - Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Simmonds finished with two goals, but that actually may underrate his performance. Simmonds played a like a man possessed in the slow and crease areas, generating a whopping seven high-danger scoring chances (no other player had more than three). He also came within inches of a hat trick, as Tuukka Rask robbed him on a late second period one-timer from the left faceoff circle. Voracek was nearly as good as Simmonds, though the Czech winger functioned more as a creator than a shooter in this one. His speed was on display all night long, both in generating controlled entries into the Bruins' end, and also by outskating beleaguered Bruins players as they tried to keep up with him in the cycle game. Voracek earned a primary assist on Simmonds' second goal of the night, but his performance felt more befitting of a three or four point game than the meager assist that he received.
- The defensive pairing of Shayne Gostisbehere and Brandon Manning finished as the only negative puck possession duo for the Flyers last night. Their issues were fairly easy to pinpoint. Ghost had a spotty start to the game, particularly in terms of puck handling. After a very sound game in Pittsburgh, it was disappointing to see Gostisbehere looking antsy with the puck early in the game, leading to a few cheap turnovers in the defensive zone. Luckily for Philadelphia, Gostisbehere's game trended upwards, and by the third period, he was back to his usual self, disrupting plays in the neutral zone and picking off passes in the Flyers' end. The bigger issue was Brandon Manning, who struggled in the middle of the ice all game long.
- There was a shift in the early third period that was a perfect encapsulation of the line centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. With the defensive pairing of Michael Del Zotto and Radko Gudas attempting to begin a breakout play, somehow the wires were crossed and Bellemare decided to make a push for the puck next to the net as well. The result was Del Zotto, Gudas and Bellemare colliding and nearly causing a costly turnover. After dodging that bullet, the line made its way into the offensive zone and proceeded to put heavy pressure on the Bruins' defense, creating turnovers and generally wreaking havoc around Rask. The line is fully capable of creating confusion and chaos in the offensive zone, and I've long suspected that this is the reason why Dave Hakstol uses them so much. But none of the forwards - Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde or Ryan White - are immune to the defensive zone lapses that have plagued the line. What you're left with is a high-event line in both ends of the ice, and one that lacks a scorer capable of turning the positives (the offensive zone pressure) into tangible goals.
- With Sean Couturier out, the Flyers needed to formulate a new plan towards containing the great Patrice Bergeron at even strength. Hakstol chose to split the assignment among his top three lines, and the results were a bit surprising. Giroux fared the best against the Selke winner, finishing with a Corsi For percentage of 57.14% versus Bergeron. But it was the Bellemare line (and not Raffl's unit) that was able to at least tread water versus Bergeron, finishing at 50%. The second line of Read, Raffl and Schenn, on the other hand, ended up solidly in the red against the Bruins' best player. Raffl's unit did have a number of solid shifts, but his move to center is most likely a temporary one. While at this point, Sean Couturier should be expected to miss Wednesday's game against the Capitals as he's been a no-show at practice recently, it's reasonable to expect he'll be back following the all-star break. Then, the Flyers can go back to their usual combinations, making the bottom-six the biggest problem facing Philadelphia yet again.