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Canadiens 3, Flyers 2: 10 things we learned from another pathetic shootout

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At this point, the Flyers have to know that they need to win all of their games in regulation or overtime. They simply cannot depend on the shootout for two points.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • There are two ways to look at this game, depending upon your outlook on the season. If you've given up on the Flyers' chances of making the playoffs, last night's loss to the Canadiens probably doesn't bother you too much - Shayne Gostisbehere continued his point streak, and Philadelphia looked like the better team for a majority of the contest. But for those who are still holding out hope that the Flyers can slip into the postseason, this one hurt. Philadelphia had two leads in the game, if you count the Nick Cousins shootout goal that briefly gave the Flyers the edge in the skills competition. Unfortunately, Montreal stormed back both times, and finally gained the edge with a Paul Byron shootout snipe. For a team in the race, process matters far less at this point than results, and even though Philadelphia won all of the key statistical battles, they lost the most important one on the scoreboard. In the end, that's really all that matters.
  • Regardless of the outcome, fans of both teams would have gotten their money's worth had they only watched the 3-on-3 overtime session. The Flyers and Canadiens combined for seven scoring chances, and most of them appeared ticketed for the back of the net. Philadelphia had a Brayden Schenn breakaway and Shayne Gostisbehere trying to finish a two-on-one, while Montreal had a furious flurry in which Tomas Plekanec missed an open net and Alex Galchenyuk was robbed by Michal Neuvirth's glove right on the doorstep. It was end-to-end action, and only two fantastic performances from the respective goaltenders sent this game to the shootout.
  • The first period may have ended with the score knotted at 1-1, but both tallies fell in the category of "extremely fluky." First, Dale Weise was credited for beating Michal Neuvirth, when it was really Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz who accidentally directed a centering pass through the crease and past a startled Neuvirth. Only ten seconds later, Philadelphia would earn an unlikely goal of their own. Following the faceoff, Nick Cousins corralled the puck and skated down the left wing, wristing an unassuming shot ticketed for the top corner but expected to land right in Habs goalie Mike Condon's glove. Instead, Condon misplayed a shot that should be automatic for all NHL netminders. It's incredible to think that by the end of the game, Condon would be the Canadiens' hero after the extremely soft goal that he allowed early in the contest.
  • For two periods of hockey, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol did something that he has rarely done this season - he used the "fourth" line of Chris VandeVelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White as his actual fourth line in terms of even strength ice time. The units centered by Nick Cousins and Michael Raffl were leaned on heavily, and both were successful in driving play in the right direction. Unfortunately, once the game tightened up in the third, Hakstol fell back into his old habits, leaning on the Bellemare line heavily, likely in an attempt to avoid backbreaking mistakes. In fact, Ryan White actually led all Flyers' forwards in 5v5 ice time in the third. Somehow, the trio has earned a reputation of reliability and soundness despite being the team's worst line (by far) in defensive zone shot suppression. Sending out Bellemare and his linemates in a tie game is a recipe for bleeding shots and chances against, and unfortunately, it's a trap that the Flyers coach fell back into last night.
  • It doesn't happen often, but Flyers captain Claude Giroux had a legitimately terrible game against Montreal. Giroux took three minor penalties, including a third period hooking minor that ended up helping to create the Canadiens' game-tying goal. It was noticeable that the penalties were getting into the star forward's head, as well. On more than one occasion, Giroux let up in tight defensive zone coverage, clearly afraid that he would be whistled for yet another infraction. That may be part of the reason for his poor even strength on-ice shot attempt differentials, as he finished the game with a 44.83% Corsi For - worst among Flyers forwards. Even with his subpar game, Giroux still had a chance to win it for Philadelphia late in the third period, but he was taken out by a headshot in the crease area from P.K. Subban. Of course, the contact went uncalled by the officials, a fitting way to end a very frustrating game for Giroux.
  • Yet again, Shayne Gostisbehere found a way to score a point, this time via a beautiful primary assist on Michael Raffl's third period goal. Aside from the point, however, this was a fantastic all-around performance from Gostisbehere. Against the Devils on Tuesday night, Gostisbehere was just a bit off with many of his passes, turning potential transition rushes into plays that were bogged down in the neutral zone. Last night, everything was working. The result was a defense-high 72% Corsi For percentage, his best performance since January 7th against the Minnesota Wild.
  • Ever since Michael Del Zotto went down due to a wrist injury two weeks ago against the New York Rangers, Evgeny Medvedev has taken his game to new level. In the four games since Del Zotto exited the lineup, the Flyers have a 58.5% Corsi For percentage with Medvedev on the ice, and a 45.9% percentage when he is on the bench. That's good for a whopping +12.6% Corsi Relative. The Russian defenseman always had the neutral zone element of his play down pat - it was his struggles in the defensive zone in particular that was holding him back from becoming a truly dominant possession blueliner. Over the past two weeks, he's looked like that guy, winning puck battles and making smart yet aggressive passes to engineer breakouts. The season may be quickly reaching its end, but Medvedev is stating a very strong case for a major role in the final two months.
  • I've long been a defender of Matt Read, even as many fans have turned on him in recent months due to his middling offensive production. But today I'll take the opposite approach, criticizing Read's performance in last night's game despite stellar on-ice shot attempt differentials (63.64% Corsi For). Read was a mess with the puck on his stick all night long, fumbling away both chances in the offensive zone and rushes up the ice. So why did he finish so far in the black from a Corsi standpoint? In my opinion, he was literally dragged there by his linemates, Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton. Both players were all over the ice, with Raffl taking advantage of his speed and strength to control the puck in all three zones and Laughton utilizing his natural instincts to create space for his linemates, both by off-puck positioning and passes. I wouldn't expect Read to continue to play as poorly as he did last night, but this was an example of a performance that saw the eye test and the statistics differ.
  • The Flyers surely hope that last night provided a glimpse of the future of the team's bottom-six forward corps. Both Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins were particularly effective, with Cousins scoring a goal and Laughton adding a well-earned secondary assist on Raffl's tally. Cousins (61.54% Corsi For) continues to center Jakub Voracek and R.J. Umberger, and he really doesn't look out of place in that role. He's been able to help his linemates create controlled entries regularly through smart plays in the neutral zone, and he doesn't look overmatched in puck battles, either. Laughton's performance (team-high 73.68% Corsi For) was more interesting, simply because of the position that he played. All season, the Flyers have been insistent upon using the young forward at center, even with the increased defensive zone responsibilities than the position entails. Last night, however, he played on Raffl's wing, and to my eyes, he looked extremely comfortable. Laughton has plus speed and likes to freelance a bit in all three zones, trusting that his skills will bail him out. I'm starting to believe that his best fit long-term may be on the wing, since center is usually a more structured position, especially for players best suited for a third or fourth line role.
  • He may have been drafting off Shayne Gostisbehere a bit, but this was the most comfortable that Andrew MacDonald has looked since his return to the NHL. MacDonald found a way to get regularly involved in the offensive zone without being a total liability in the middle of the ice, and even generated one of the team's best third period chances, scooping up a shot in the slot and forcing Mike Condon to make a stellar glove save. The defenseman's biggest weakness remains his neutral zone play, and going into this game, he had posted a horrific 43.48% Neutral Zone Score per my tracking. Last night, MacDonald looked like a viable NHL defenseman, albeit still one best suited for third-pairing duty. Hopefully his game continues to trend upwards, because it doesn't appear that he'll be exiting the lineup anytime soon.