clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Flyers 6, Blue Jackets 0: 10 things we learned from the biggest blowout win of the year

Following one of their worst games of the season on Thursday, the Flyers responded with maybe their best, crushing the Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 6-0.

Al Bello/Getty Images

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

  • Matched up against the Western Conference's worst team on Thursday night, the Flyers only played about twenty minutes of solid hockey and suffered one of their most disappointing losses of the season. They had no intention of repeating that performance last night. After a tentative first few minutes, Philadelphia ran the Columbus Blue Jackets right out of the building. Everything was working for the Flyers - the forecheck, the cycle game, defensive zone passing, neutral zone pressure. But most importantly, they didn't let all of that dominance go to waste, getting goals from role players (Radko Gudas, Michael Raffl, Sam Gagner) and stars (Claude Giroux) alike. After two periods, the Flyers owned a 64.35% score-adjusted Corsi and a 4-0 lead, and had essentially clinched the game's outcome.
  • If you had to highlight one aspect of the Flyers' play that allowed them to so thoroughly take the Blue Jackets apart, it's best to start with their neutral zone defense. Columbus simply could not get the puck through the middle of the ice with any regularity, rendering their offensive game impotent. Philadelphia's tactics weren't much different than they have been all season, so this wasn't a case of Dave Hakstol making any major pre-game adjustments. The execution was just near-perfect. All five players on the ice were anticipating Columbus passes as they tried to progress up-ice, cutting off plays before they even had a chance to begin. The anticipation on the part of the Flyers has never looked better, and it helps that they're playing for a coach who gives his team the green light to take chances in order to disrupt plays. Rewatch this tape if you're looking for a glimpse at how Ron Hextall hopes the Flyers will look nightly when prospects like Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim are added to this blueline.
  • To their credit, the Blue Jackets did adjust their tactics after creating almost no sustained offense in the first period. Specifically, they ramped up their forecheck in the offensive zone, a logical move. With their biggest issue being an inability to move through the middle of the ice once Philadelphia was set in their base defense, the Blue Jackets tried to bypass it entirely, extracting more value out of their offensive zone time and forcing uncontrolled exits from the Flyers defense. But Columbus' new tactic proved just as unsuccessful, because the Flyers' defensive zone passing was absolutely on point. The risk of employing a heavy forecheck is that if your opponent can get past it, multiple skaters are trapped down low and unable to take away space in the neutral zone. That's what happened here, as Philadelphia began racing through the middle of the ice, generating controlled zone entries and consistent offensive pressure. On this night, the Flyers were simply executing at such a high level that the chosen tactics of Columbus really didn't matter.
  • The story after the game was obviously Radko Gudas' two goal, two assist performance, a shocking stat line from a player who had yet to score even one goal this season prior to last night. The team clearly got a kick out of Gudas' unlikely production, and they were feeding him the puck nonstop on a late power play to give him a chance at a hat trick. But Gudas wasn't merely helping the team with his point production - he was the Flyers' most effective two-way defenseman all game long. The Czech blueliner is best defensively in the neutral zone, where he can rely upon his plus instincts to break up plays. When the Flyers didn't have the puck, this game was played primarily in the middle of the ice, because Columbus simply could not bring the puck up ice cleanly. Gudas was a huge part of that disruption, and his reward was a stellar 68.75% Corsi For percentage. On this night, the "third" pairing was Philadelphia's best, and Gudas' goals and assists were more like icing on the cake.
  • When Dave Hakstol put the trio of Scott Laughton, Nick Cousins and Matt Read together, it was easy to be skeptical that a line with so little size would be able to hold up in the defensive zone or create chances in the cycle game. After all, only Laughton breaks the six foot mark and none of the forwards have a listed weight over 190 pounds. Over the past few weeks, they've proven that talent tops size and physicality and day. The line posted an unreal 95% Corsi For percentage last night, taking 19 shots at the Blue Jackets net while allowing only one to be aimed towards Steve Mason. And while they were certainly showcasing their skill in the middle of the ice, what was most striking was their ability to sustain an effective forecheck. Laughton and Cousins may not be huge, but they're both tenacious and willing checkers with an knack for knowing where the puck will end up, rather than simply chasing where it is. It's those skills that pushed the line to a dominant performance.
  • After blasting a second period tally past Columbus goalie Curtis McElhinney, Sam Gagner now has posted five goals in his last eight games, and seems to have solidified his spot in the Flyers' lineup. Gagner is not a perfect player - he can lag on the backcheck and occasionally tries to do too much in the offensive zone - but he has the ability to make plays with the puck that no one else on the roster can, save Giroux and Voracek. Even with his strong closing kick, it's tough to see the Flyers re-signing Gagner after the season is complete, simply due to the way they've treated him this season (scratchings, minor league stint). But appreciating Sam Gagner is simply a matter of understanding what he is, and what he is not. Just because the forward will never be a plus two-way player doesn't prevent him from providing positive value on the whole. Some team is going to get a real bargain this offseason with Gagner.
  • The Flyers scored all six of their goals at even strength despite over eight minutes of power play time, surprising for a team with one of the league's best shot generation units. This was not their best performance in that area, however, as they were only able to take ten shot attempts with the man advantage and hit the net with just six of them. Jakub Voracek's injury might be cited as a potential reason for the recent struggles, but Philadelphia was firing away fine on Thursday night. Against the Blue Jackets, it was numerous little mistakes that hurt the power play's effectiveness, and with an elite team like Tampa Bay on the schedule next, the Flyers will need to clean up their execution if they want to continue their winning ways.
  • While we're on the subject of nitpicking, the top line actually was the Flyers' least sharp all game long. Claude Giroux did add a late second period goal to put the game entirely out of reach for the Blue Jackets, but it was one of only a few great shifts for the Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds trio. Their passing just seemed off, especially in the offensive zone. On the rare occasions when Columbus would move up ice with speed and possession, it was usually because the Giroux line had turned the puck over. Their puck possession statistics reflected these struggles -- in a game where the Flyers finished with a 62.07% Corsi For, the top line hovered around the 30% mark. Like the power play, Dave Hakstol will need much more from his big guns if he hopes to take some points from the high-flying Lightning.
  • Entering the final stanza with a comfortable 4-0 lead, it would have been very easy for the Flyers to sit back and play passive hockey. Instead, they continued with the tactics that earned them the lead in the first place, with the result being two additional goals and a 60% Corsi For percentage for the period. It helped that the Blue Jackets appeared totally disillusioned, just as the Flyers were on Thursday against the Oilers. But credit the players and the coaching staff for not taking their foot off the gas and giving Columbus any life whatsoever.
  • It's been an absolute joy to watch the development of Sean Couturier this season, and he's clearly back to his old dominant puck possession self after a brief lull in his return from a foot injury. Couturier is simply impossible to knock off the puck in the offensive zone. He was blessed with great size for a center, but in his younger years, he didn't have the physical strength to fully take advantage of it. That's gradually changed, but the full effects have been apparently obvious this season. There was one play last night when Couturier stole the puck in the middle of the offensive zone surrounded by two Blue Jackets. Couturier simply pivoted with his back facing the Columbus net, and the two Columbus players decided it was a better idea to back off rather than attempt to strip Couturier of the puck, likely because they believed it was a fruitless effort. The end result was more zone time and a scoring chance. Before this season, Couturier was reacting to his opponents and shutting them down through strong defensive zone play. This year, he's forcing them to react to him, and stifling top lines by essentially playing keep-away with the puck.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Broad Street Hockey Weekly Roundup newsletter!

A weekly roundup of Philadelphia Flyers news from Broad Street Hockey