This morning, the big news out of Philadelphia Flyers camp was the surprise scratching of dynamic defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. But hockey rolls on even in the wake of unexpected coaching decisions, leaving the remaining Flyers players with only one option to quiet the controversy — come away with a victory just hours later.
The team delivered, stopping the Winnipeg Jets in their tracks to earn a 5-2 win. It wasn’t a dominating performance by Philadelphia, as they were outshot 32-22 and finished with an unimpressive 44.97% score-adjusted Corsi at 5-on-5, but opportunistic goal scoring and fantastic netminding on the part of Steve Mason made up the difference. Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Mark Streit and Brandon Manning scored for the Flyers, while Mason made 30 big saves on 32 shots. His goalie counterpart, young Connor Hellebuyck, struggled for Winnipeg, stopping just 17 for a poor 0.810 save percentage on the night.
While the eventual outcome of the first period didn’t show it, the Flyers actually started this game pretty slow. They were pinned in their own end quite a few times, forcing Mason to be sharp, especially on an early power play chance. In fact, Philadelphia’s first shot on goal didn’t come until the 9:13 mark of the period.
That shot ended up in the back of the net, however, erasing the struggles of the preceding nine minutes in one swoop. After an extended forecheck in the Winnipeg zone, Sean Couturier took advantage of a Mark Scheifele turnover (that may have been aided by an uncalled Jakub Voracek trip) and sniped a shot top corner past Hellebuyck to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
Persistence pays off! Cooots puts the Flyers up 1-0! pic.twitter.com/RF5l0doeDS— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 18, 2016
They weren’t done, either. Just 34 seconds later, Michael Raffl joined in on the fun, benefiting from a diving Matt Read slap pass that left him wide open in the slot on the rush. Suddenly, the Flyers were succeeding in a manner that had been foreign to them so far in 2016-17 — they were being opportunistic. Despite Winnipeg outshooting them 9-5 in the period and holding edges in all the advanced stat categories, Philadelphia hit the locker room after twenty minutes up two goals.
Perhaps fully aware their first period wasn’t as impressive as it looked on the scoreboard, the Flyers came out strong to kick off the second stanza, jumping out to an early 8-3 lead in shot attempts. But then, the team’s fatal flaw — a propensity for defensive zone turnovers — reared its ugly head yet again, and Winnipeg was able to take back control of the pace. Dustin Byfuglien was the Jet who finally broke through. With Gudas trapped high in the zone, Winnipeg executed a two-on-one down low that ended with Byfuglien blasting a one-timer past Mason, who had no chance on the shot.
Have a goal drought? The Flyers are here to help! pic.twitter.com/rmDKStXrBg— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 18, 2016
The Jets nearly added the tying goal in the very next shift, but Mason bailed out Ivan Provorov, who turned the puck over the offensive zone to allow a breakaway opportunity for Winnipeg. Slowly, the Flyers regained their footing, but it was a big mistake by young goalie Hellebuyck to help them re-extend the lead to two goals. Mark Streit took an innocent-looking blast from the point that somehow passed right through the glove of the Jets netminder, and somehow the Flyers were back up 3-1.
Provorov tees it up, Streit slams it home pic.twitter.com/zElxXZSBEs— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 18, 2016
The truth was, the Flyers didn’t deserve to be up two goals after forty minutes, and the hockey gods finally came around to bless reward Winnipeg for their territorial advantage with less than three minutes remaining in the period. To be sure, however, they totally earned their goal with a beautiful passing play that made fools out of both Andrew MacDonald and Michael Del Zotto.
The Flyers did nearly push the lead back to two with time running down in the period, but Brayden Schenn rang a golden opportunity off the pipes and the team entered the locker room for the final intermission still clinging to a one-goal edge. So far, the game had went their way, but they were going to need either an improved effort from the skaters or a big finish from Mason in order to come away with two points in regulation.
They got both. The Flyers came through with probably their most complete period of the game, winning the scoring chance battle 8-6 and the goals battle 2-0. Wayne Simmonds was the first to strike, scooping up a partially-blocked MacDonald shot and slipping it past Hellebuyck to give Philadelphia back its two-goal lead. Brandon Manning would later ice the result with a long-distance empty net snipe from the opposite end of the rink, locking down the Flyers’ eighth win of the year.