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Panthers 5, Flyers 4: 10 things we learned from yet another shootout defeat

The second leg of the Flyers' short Florida road trip wasn't totally fruitless, but continued shootout ineptitude prevented them from escaping with two points.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

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

  • On the whole, this game really could have went either way, so an overtime finish where even the loser receives a point was the most fair outcome. The Flyers essentially broke even in the 5-on-5 puck possession metrics, finishing slightly above 50% in score-adjusted Corsi (52.44%) and slightly below once blocked shots are taken out of the equation (48.41%). It's undeniable, though, that this performance was not up to the standards of Philadelphia's last three wins, when they blew out the Blue Jackets and then swept a strong Tampa Bay club. What changed in last night's game? Primarily, it was the effectiveness of the Panthers' forecheck, which forced numerous turnovers from Flyers defensemen when they were attempting to exit the defensive zone. In recent games, it's been the Philadelphia forecheck that has stood out, but they got a taste of their own medicine last night. The increased pressure wasn't enough to give Florida a significant edge, but it did slow the Flyers just enough to prevent them from taking over the game as they've done so often recently.
  • The pace of this one was methodical, and speed through the neutral zone was almost non-existent from both squads. Even controlled entries into the offensive zone usually just set up extended cycles, rather than quick rush chances. The lack of transition play helped to limit the number of high-quality scoring chances from both teams, as they combined for just eight during the contest. It also helped that the Flyers and Panthers did a strong job of keeping forwards to the perimeter, even during long shifts on the attack. It's a style that probably suits Florida better than it does the Flyers, considering the Panthers' obvious size advantage. Still, Philadelphia was able to hang in there, even if every inch was contested from the start of the game.
  • After Michael Raffl scored to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead early in the third period, it looked like Philadelphia was about to roll to a victory. Instead, Florida imposed their will on the orange and black, generating the next seven shot attempts over the next seven minutes of gameplay, and scoring two goals to retake the lead. The Flyers were playing in the second game of a back-to-back while Florida's last game was on Thursday, so it's possible that fatigue played a role in Philadelphia's late fade. But the biggest issue was sloppiness, especially with their passing in the middle of the ice. The Flyers were unable to execute on even the simplest of feeds, which stopped them in their tracks when trying to move up ice. Things finally turned around with about five minutes remaining, as Philadelphia was able to generate pressure through sheer desperation. Still, a stronger push earlier in the period could have locked this game up.
  • The Flyers' degree of roster turnover over the past six years is pretty remarkable, as only Claude Giroux remains from the team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2010. The consistently shifting roster mix makes it even more mystifying that Philadelphia can never seem to figure out the shootout. For years, the statistically-inclined chalked up the Flyers' bizarre struggles in the shootout to things like "small sample size" and bad goaltending. Well, the sample isn't that small anymore, and the Flyers hold an unfathomably bad 32-67 record in the skills competition -- a 32.32% success rate. The goaltending is perfectly fine during normal hockey situations, so that's probably not it either. I have to think it's some combination of bad luck, a lack of real shootout "specialists" on the team, and the players maybe gripping their sticks too tight, weighed down by the Flyers' historical ineptitude. But I'm certainly open to hearing other theories.
  • We're at the point where I'm not sure if Dave Hakstol can justify to the players on his team a scratching of Sam Gagner once Jakub Voracek is ready to return and still retain his credibility. As we discussed this week, Gagner is the logical choice to sit considering the way that the coaching staff seems to value him. But he's simply playing at too high a level to be removed from the lineup. Last night, Gagner was the Flyers' best forward, picking up two primary assists and looking dangerous on nearly every shift. As Dave Isaac noted, Gagner has placed an added emphasis on the defensive/two-way side of his game in recent weeks, and it shows. But his best moments still occur in the offensive zone. On Nick Cousins' first period goal, Gagner retrieved a loose puck on a dump-and-change, outmuscled future star Aaron Ekblad, and threaded a perfect pass to Cousins right in front of the crease area. The pass will get on the highlight reels, but it was the high-effort play in the corner that set the stage for the goal. Those are the types of plays that Gagner was not making early in the year, but is pulling off with regularity now.
  • Evgeny Medvedev was granted a surprise start after Andrew MacDonald was deemed unavailable following the pregame skate. Freed from the press box, Medvedev went out and had a game that somehow will both satisfy his fans and embolden his doubters. The good - Medvedev finished with a strong 58.82% Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5, and picked up a primary assist on Raffl's third period tally. The bad - the Russian was a turnover machine all night long, and would have failed almost any eye test. Of course, the eyes can be blinded by the "big mistake," and Medvedev made a number of strong, subtle plays in helping to generate zone entries, as he often does. But considering the fact that he is clearly in Hakstol's doghouse, strong advanced statistics are obviously not going to be enough. He needs to both be consistently effective and look consistently effective, with the latter probably holding more water for the coaching staff at this point. In that task, Medvedev largely failed in this one.
  • Through 58 minutes of hockey, Shayne Gostisbehere was having a relatively unimpressive game in front of his home crowd. There were more than a couple examples of him getting lost in coverage in the defensive zone, and the first power play unit was again underwhelming in the absence of Jakub Voracek. But Ghost is like a good NFL cornerback -- he has a short memory. Using his unique skating style to create space, he was able to get a seeing-eye wrist shot through to Roberto Luongo, and the Florida goaltender misplayed the puck, giving Ghost a game-tying goal. Then, in overtime, Gostisbehere used his elite speed to draw a penalty, creating a golden opportunity to put the Panthers away. The Flyers were unable to do so, but that does not take away from the efforts of the young defenseman. His ability to consistently deliver in key situations this season has been remarkable.
  • Sean Couturier may have posted a 60% Corsi For percentage last night, but that doesn't even tell the whole story of the quality of his play. The Flyers' second-line center is quickly becoming one of the best forwards in the NHL when it comes to puck battles in the offensive zone. He's always had the height and the frame, but it took him some time to both fill out from a strength perspective and learn the tricks of the trade in terms of leverage and stickwork. Now, Couturier is a finished product. At least once a game, you see a defenseman actually back off Couturier during an extended cycle, because he feels he has a better chance of slowing the center down by cutting off passing lanes rather than attempting a likely-fruitless challenge. That's resulted in Couturier getting more space in the offensive zone, so that he can take full advantage of his soft hands and long-dormant scoring instincts. In a game like this, with Florida content to slow the pace to a dump-and-chase slog, Couturier becomes even more effective.
  • Considering the forechecking prowess exhibited by Nick Cousins' line over the past few weeks, it would seem like the pace of last night's game would have fit their style as well. But even though Cousins himself did score a goal, his line was thoroughly overmatched in this one, as all three forwards finished with Corsi For percentages below 34%. We've talked about the size concern when it comes to this trio, and how their anticipation and high-effort play has been enough to mitigate the damage. Against a big team like Florida, however, the physical weakness was more noticeable. The Panthers had a number of shifts against the Cousins line where they were able to pin the Flyers in the defensive zone and use Steve Mason for target practice. One bad game is certainly nothing to be concerned about, but with Voracek on his way back and Sam Gagner playing lights out hockey, all three members of the line (particularly the wingers) may have put themselves on the chopping block with this poor effort.
  • It's only fair to mention that my favored choice to exit the lineup for Voracek, Ryan White, also had a standout game. He finished in the plus column by the possession metrics (53.33% Corsi For), but where he really shined was as the net front presence on the power play. After helping to create two goals against the Lightning on Friday night with his screens, he was finally rewarded with a goal last night on a redirect. He's no Wayne Simmonds, but White is a tenacious player and one who can definitely fill that role effectively if the other members of the unit are getting pucks on net. Is that skillset enough to keep him in the lineup? I'm unconvinced, especially because I don't expect this No. 2 PP unit will keep up this level of production, with or without White. But he's definitely been a positive contributor in the past few games.