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Flyers 5, Maple Leafs 4: 10 things we learned from a wild road victory

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Tied at the end of regulation, the Flyers prevented this game from ever getting to a shootout. Unsurprisingly, it was Shayne Gostisbehere who proved the hero.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • The Flyers came away with the victory in the end, but they would have walked away with two points easily, if only a hockey game was forty minutes rather than sixty. For the vast majority of the contest's first two periods, the Maple Leafs barely looked worthy of being on the same ice as a Philadelphia team missing its top two centers and best all-around defenseman. They outshot the Leafs 22-13 at even strength, and generated eight high-danger scoring chances while Toronto could only muster two. That all changed in the third period, however, as the Maple Leafs took full control of the game. The Flyers were lucky to hang on for overtime, considering the total territorial dominance on the part of Toronto, particularly in the neutral zone. Call it fatigue in playing the second half of a back-to-back, call it taking their foot off the gas pedal with a lead, or just call it simply poor hockey. Regardless of the reason, Philadelphia nearly gave away a game that they should have won going away.
  • We at Broad Street Hockey tend to take the role as the objective observer, using statistics to make our arguments rather than gut feelings or emotional reactions. But it's time we all take a step back and simply appreciate the rookie season of Shayne Gostisbehere without having to determine whether this is sustainable or what level of performance he will eventually settle into over the long-term. Gostisbehere is without a doubt the best thing going for Philadelphia sports right now - a flashy-on-the-ice, humble-off-the-ice kid who has found a way to come through in all the biggest moments this season. Last night, Ghost not only extended his league-leading points streak to 15 games, he scored the game winning goal in overtime - his fourth such game winner. He's cracked the top-20 in scoring among NHL defensemen despite being in the minors for the first month and a half of the season. And he's surely on everyone's shortlist for a Calder Trophy nomination. Gostisbehere's game isn't perfect - he'd be the first one to admit that. But we're seeing what a player with a few super-plus skills (skating ability, a blistering yet accurate shot) and the right on-ice mentality can do to the NHL, and it's astounding.
  • Two overturned goals certainly didn't help the Flyers' cause last night. The same justification was used to disallow both tallies - incidental contact by a Philadelphia forward against the Toronto goaltender - and in both instances, a case could be made that a Maple Leafs player knocked the Flyer into the goalie. Matt Read was the "guilty" party during Andrew MacDonald's disallowed first period goal, while Brayden Schenn contacted James Reimer prior to Mark Streit's third period almost-tally. Neither was a cut-and-dry case, and I've noticed that referees seem to be leaning towards disallowing goals that occur if goalies are contacted, regardless of whether the contact was truly initiated by the scoring team. The rulebook is clear that if a player is pushed into the goalie, that does not count as "initiating" the contact, but like many rules, there remains a grey area. For example, while Schenn clearly would not have slid into Reimer if he was not first tied up with Nazem Kadri, you can make a case that he wasn't knocked down so much as he lost his own balance in a tie-up. A fine line, to be sure, and both calls could have easily went the Flyers' way. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they did not, and luckily the decisions did not cost them the victory.
  • The Flyers may have came away with three out of four possible points during this Canadian weekend, but the cost was heavy in terms of injuries. Hours before game time, it was announced that captain Claude Giroux was day-to-day with an upper body injury, and he did not play last night. By the end of the game, he was joined in the infirmary by starting goalie Steve Mason and defenseman Evgeny Medvedev. Mason's injury appears the less serious of the two, as he remained on the bench even after taking himself out of the game in the third period. Dave Hakstol seemed to believe that the leg injury was just cramps, though time will tell if that proves to be the case. Medvedev, on the other hand, went straight down the tunnel after blocking a shot and did not return to the contest. The Russian defenseman's play since Michael Del Zotto went down had been stellar (though he was not having a great game last night prior to the injury), so an extended absence would hit an already-undermanned blueline hard. Also, it would take a potential trade deadline chip for Ron Hextall off the table, which may actually hurt the team even more.
  • After a slow start to the season, Brayden Schenn has completely turned around his game since the calendar flipped to 2016. Schenn has 21 points in his last 22 games, and is a positive player in terms of on-ice shot differential (+1.5% Corsi Relative). His play during the shift that ended with Sam Gagner's goal exemplified what has changed in Schenn's game over the past two months. First, Schenn used his speed to move through the neutral zone, before dancing around a Toronto defenseman and nearly creating a high-danger chance. Then, after recovering the puck, Schenn fought off Jake Gardiner (actually a very good shot suppression defenseman) with pure strength before setting up Gagner in the slot for a wrist shot that would beat Bernier. There's a newfound decisiveness in Schenn's game recently, and it's resulting in more controlled zone entries and more scoring production. An RFA this summer, the younger Schenn has earned himself lots of extra money due to his recent surge.
  • For the second straight game, Scott Laughton was penciled into the lineup at wing, and he responded with a beautiful primary assist on Jakub Voracek's first period goal, a secondary assist on Matt Read's game-tying goal, and a team-leading 62.96% Corsi For percentage. The tally came on the rush, and was a perfect example of why Laughton may fit better at wing long-term than at center. When breaking out of the defensive zone, the center tends to stay low, providing a support outlet for the defenseman while wingers look to move up ice with speed to open things up. On this particular play, Laughton began racing up ice as soon as Shayne Gostisbehere gained possession of the puck. As a result, once Michael Raffl (the center) received a pass and was looking to exit the defensive zone, Laughton was at full speed in the neutral zone and created a two-on-one rush that Jakub Voracek ended up burying. Using Laughton on the wing allows him to take full advantage of his plus speed while minimizing the number of times he's forced to make quick decisions with the puck on the breakout while under pressure. I think this position switch may have real potential.
  • Credit the Flyers for playing great in the game's first two periods, but Jonathan Bernier's horrendous performance needs to be noted. Bernier faced thirteen shots and gave up three goals, and he looked uncomfortable from the start, struggling to corral rebounds and fight through screens. Brayden Schenn's second period tally was particularly embarassing, even though it came via a two-on-one break. He allowed Schenn to beat him on the short side, and barely even reacted to the shot as it whizzed past him. It was unsurprising when Toronto head coach Mike Babcock chose to yank him from the game after the goal, as it was a move that needed to be made to give the Maple Leafs any chance at a comeback. It's been a precipitous drop for Bernier from his high point during the 2013-14 season, when he appeared locked-in as Toronto's goaltender of the future.
  • Andrew MacDonald is rightfully a target of the ire of Flyers' fans, due to his underwhelming play and ridiculous contract. But blaming him for Toronto's first goal of the night would be a case of noticing that the beleaguered defenseman was involved in the play and just assuming that the turnover was his fault. Actually, MacDonald did a good job of settling down the play after a miscommunication behind the net between Steve Mason and Shayne Gostisbehere, and then sent a pass right on the tape to center Michael Raffl. Raffl simply mishandled the pass, possibly due to a lack of comfort playing the support role on the breakout. Sure, passing the puck up in the middle on the breakout comes with risk. But Dave Hakstol's system favors controlled zone exits over conservative chip-outs, and had Raffl received that pass successfully, Toronto had at least two forecheckers trapped behind the play. I can't fault MacDonald for taking the calculated risk.
  • Back in late December, I theorized that a line consisting of Matt Read, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl may prove successful. placing an potential Offensive Zone Scorer (Laughton) with two Support Possession Forwards (Raffl and Read). And while the line is not structured as I assumed it would (I figured Laughton would play center), it's proving to be a major success thus far. In a little over 38 minutes together, they've posted a 64.1% Corsi For percentage, and have been pushing for expanded minutes from coach Dave Hakstol, who originally was using them effectively as his fourth line. Laughton has taken to the wing like a fish to water, while Raffl's puck carrying has never looked better. Even Matt Read, who was something of a passenger against Montreal, had a fantastic performance last night, evening the score after Philadelphia had given away their lead and fallen behind. The Flyers' weakness in the bottom-six has held them back all season, but this Read-Raffl-Laughton line appears to be a viable NHL third line, at least on paper. I hope that the unit stays together for the next few weeks to see if they can sustain their success.
  • With Claude Giroux out of the lineup due to an upper body injury, Dave Hakstol's distribution of ice time was a topic of conversation prior to game start. Sam Gagner replaced Giroux on the top line, but it was Brayden Schenn who would play 1C, sliding over from wing. That allowed the other three units to remain intact, but it did not answer the question of which line would be dominant in terms of even strength minutes. The answer? No line really did receive a lionshare of the ice time. No forward on the Flyers skated for more than fifteen minutes or less than eleven minutes at 5-on-5, as Hakstol rolled his lines evenly throughout the contest. Brayden Schenn was given the most minutes out of the centers, but for the most part, Hakstol chose to use a committee approach, probably the best move especially in the second game of a back-to-back.