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Ducks 4, Flyers 1: 10 things we learned from a blowout loss

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Given the chance to rebound from a disappointing weekend, the Flyers instead were blown out by the Anaheim Ducks on home ice. We break down the loss.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • The general consensus in the Flyers locker room after the game was that this contest was lost in the first period. It's tough to argue that Philadelphia was not dramatically outplayed early, particularly in the middle section of the opening stanza when the Flyers failed to generate even one shot attempt at even strength for nearly ten minutes. But even when they were able to create extended zone time, their shots were not hitting the net. Anaheim did not have the same problem, blasting away at Steve Mason to the tune of 15 shots on goal in the first period. The Flyers, on the other hand, generated only five, and just three were at even strength. That offensive ineptitude forced Philadelphia to play catch-up for the remainder of the contest, and they weren't executing at nearly a high enough level to do so.
  • In Exhibit A of "When Stats don't tell the whole story," the Flyers actually broke even with the Ducks in terms of 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi (49.69%). Despite this, there was only one extended stretch - following Rakell's second goal through the first seven minutes of the second period - where it felt like Philadelphia was actually executing at a high level in all three zones of the ice. Their play in the third period makes the shot attempt differentials appear even, but the vast majority of their pressure in the final stanza was limited to the outside (only two high-danger scoring chances in the period). In addition, while the Flyers look decent in 5-on-5 score-adjusted metrics, they were throttled in their brief time at 4v4 even strength, allowing five shot attempts to the Ducks in a little over four minutes of play while only generating one of their own. Philadelphia was surely the inferior team last night, regardless of what one metric - even a very good one - says.

  • Since Sean Couturier left the lineup with his right foot injury, the Flyers have lost three straight games (0-2-1). Their overall record without the shutdown center in their lineup is a putrid 2-8-2 this season. Couturier has undeniably been a very effective player for Philadelphia this season, but could his absence really be having this big of an effect on the team? To a degree, the answer is yes. He's been the team's most efficient scorer at even strength this season, and he's done that despite consistently receiving more difficult matchups than every forward on the team. However, elevating Couturier to the status of team MVP is probably a bit premature. Stars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek remain the more impactful players, both due to the heavy ice time and high-end scoring production both provide at even strength and the power play. If either of those players were to go down, I suspect the win-loss record would be just as bad as it is without Couturier. The problem is that the Flyers lack forward depth, and they're relying primarily upon three players (Giroux, Voracek and Couturier) to drive play and to help their linemates score. When one exits the lineup, it's disastrous.
  • Steve Mason has received a fair amount of flak from sections of the fanbase in recent weeks, whether it be on social media, on talk radio, or at the water cooler. Searching for a scapegoat, some fans have chosen to lay the blame upon Mason rather than the weak forward depth or underwhelming defense corps. While this trend is ridiculous (especially because Mason is now shouldering a heavy load in the absence of Michal Neuvirth despite battling injury), last night's performance will only serve to fuel the doubters. Mason was not on his game, and allowed two goals that he'd surely like to have back. The goaltender himself noted after the game that he was fooled by the position of the shooter's stick on Rakell's second goal and Chris Stewart's penalty shot, resulting in him opening up the five-hole to allow the tallies. At this point, I'd strongly consider giving Anthony Stolarz a shot on Thursday against the Sabres, simply because the schedule doesn't get any easier from a workload standpoint, and this may be the best chance to give Mason a break, both mentally and physically. I believe he needs one.
  • Presumptive #1 defenseman Michael Del Zotto has a disastrous start to last night's game, specifically in his own end. I counted five turnovers/failed clears within the game's first ten minutes, as it seemed Del Zotto was really fighting the puck early on. He ended up with a 50% Corsi For percentage, but it was obvious via the eye test that he was underperforming in comparison to Shayne Gostisbehere on the other side of his pairing. It's tough to be too critical of Del Zotto, who has exceeded all expectations this season. But considering the amount of ice time he receives (he led all Flyers in 5-on-5 minutes last night), even a mediocre game from the defenseman can put the Flyers in a hole.
  • The line centered by Nick Cousins was one of the few bright spots of the game. In the first two periods, it was the Gagner-Cousins-Schenn line that spent the most time in the Ducks' zone, setting up extended cycles and actually generating tangible offense. In fact, Schenn finished with the best Corsi For on the team, posting a 71.43 percent. But it was Cousins who appeared to really catch the eye of his coach. He finished fourth in 5-on-5 ice time, and was even chosen as the extra attacker when Hakstol pulled Mason was minutes remaining in the third period. Clearly, he believed that Cousins was one of the team's better forwards last night. It will be interesting to see if that faith extends to Thursday.
  • On the other hand, the line of Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton and Matt Read functioned as the fourth unit in terms of ice time after being solidly in the middle-six over the weekend. Some of this surely has to do with the strong play of the Cousins line, which was temporary elevated to line two status last night. But the interesting thing is that the Laughton line was far from a sieve in their limited minutes - each member of the unit finished with over a 60% Corsi For percentage. Michael Raffl and Matt Read are not elite players, but with Sean Couturier out, they're among the team's six best forwards on the roster. And Laughton seems to be finding his game offensively, as his controlled entry percentage has stabilized over 50% for the past month. Using that unit as the fourth line (behind the Bellemare line, especially) just seems to be a poor usage of the already limited depth that Philadelphia has at the forward position.
  • To my eyes, this was one of Jakub Voracek's worst performances of the season. It wasn't just the lack of goal scoring or point production - Voracek was surprisingly invisible from a chance creation standpoint as well, only generating one chance all game long. It wasn't even a high-danger chance. Also, the usually-disciplined forward took three penalties, including a particularly ill-advised roughing minor late in the second period. The Flyers were down 3-0 at the time, but had just been granted a gift of a four-minute power play. But only seconds into the double-minor, Voracek let himself be goaded into taking a post-whistle penalty that cut the Flyers' power play time in half. To his credit, Voracek expressed dissatisfaction with his anger after the game, and took the blame for his actions. Still, it was a key point in the game, and a leader like Voracek simply needs to be smarter.
  • Since returning to the lineup against Pittsburgh, Sam Gagner has finished in the black from an even strength puck possession standpoint in five of seven games. Last night, he seemed to click with Nick Cousins, and finished with three individual scoring chances. I believe that Hakstol and the Flyers chose to send Gagner down to the AHL not because they felt he lacked the talent to succeed in the NHL. Instead, I suspect it was because they felt he was only worth using in a top-six forward role, yet they didn't trust him enough to use him over anyone in their regular rotation. With Couturier out of the lineup, however, a big spot opened up, and Gagner appears to be doing an adequate job. Whether that could make him a more attractive target for another team at the deadline remains to be seen, because once Couturier returns in early March, the Flyers will be facing the same conundrum when it comes to Gagner.
  • The power play seemed to slowly figure out how to attack Anaheim's formidable shorthanded units as the game progressed. While they only were able to create three shots on Frederik Andersen in the first and second periods, the Flyers peppered the goaltender with a whopping seven shots in the third period in two opportunities. The shots were inflated because Philadelphia's second power play was enhanced by pulling Mason for an extra attacker, but puck movement on the PP was more crisp in the third period regardless of whether it was 5-on-4 or 6-on-4. Wayne Simmonds proved to be the main beneficiary, scoring the team's only goal of the game and creating three other high-danger chances in the third period. It's definitely a positive to see that the Flyers' power play can zero in on the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent's penalty kill throughout a game, as they did last night.