Some things seen and observed during the Flyers’ second matchup against the Predators.
All stats from Corsica, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com.
1. Shoring up first period troubles
We talked a bit on Wednesday about how, through the Flyers past two games against Washington and Florida, they started off slow. They faced issues in pass control and turnovers, which left them spending a lot of time scrambling and just trying to recover. But the Flyers seem to have worked to clean up these areas. They weren’t perfect last night, but they did show a greater sharpness early on, holding an edge in possession and working to get things moving faster.
Now, let’s be clear, last night still featured another slow start, with no goals scored and the Flyers held to just six shots on goal, but it also looked much smoother than the early parts of their previous two first periods did. So, not perfect and not ideal, but it’s a step in the right direction.
2. A power play switch-up
With Jordan Weal out for the game, this left a vacancy on the second power play unit, and the Flyers with the question of how to fill it. And they did something a little unexpected. Rather than sliding another forward in to take this spot and maintain the model they had been using, they moved in Travis Sanheim to fill out the line. And while this served as an interesting choice, and one that makes a good deal of sense, it was still a little rough. They showed some flashes and were able to bring some pressure, but they also faced some miscues and trouble in connecting. So the line showed potential, but it just wasn’t all there yet.
Of course, despite the potential this unit brought, we hope that Weal will be back soon, and we won’t have to see much more of it. Miss you already, Jordan.
3. A home debut for Travis Sanheim
Tuesday's place as a night of first spilled over into last night's game, with Travis Sanheim's first appearance in a regular season game at home. He had been scratched for the past two home games, and fans were itching to see him finally play. And he had a big night.
In his regular fashion, he performed solidly in the defensive zone, and registered two shots on goal during the first forty minutes of the game. But he also saw his role upped during this game, as he was the one chosen to fill in on PP2, and even take some minutes on the penalty kill. And while he didn't have any big moments in either of these settings— and to be fair, few did last night— he was steady in the new roles he was given.
Above all, this seems a testament to his play with the team in the past, as the organization was confident enough in him to give him time to play in all situations on his first return from being scratched. And, of course, this leaves the question of why scratch him in the first place, if you're so high on him, but that's a question for another day.
4. The honey bees were buzzing
We’re all almost certainly feeling grumbly about the Flyers failing to get much going in terms of tangible offense, giving away too much to the Predators. There are a lot of things that were performing just below expectations. The honey bees were not one of them.
We saw some solid individual efforts, with Leier putting up a shot early in the first period, and with Laughton and Raffl bringing some nice checking throughout. Bringing pressure pretty evenly through the game, their combined performance was just as strong as their individual efforts. The line had the highest adjusted CF% on the team, averaging out at 60.86 percent. And while this proved not as dominant as some earlier performances, once again the honey bees earned a bump up in minutes-- about even with those given to the Patrick third line-- and proved one of the most productive lines on the night.
5. Penalty kill a high point
Another impressive element at work in last night’s game was the penalty kill. A bit of a mixed bag of a night with special teams, with the power play held wholly ineffective, and the penalty kill picking up the slack. The Flyers were able to kill off both penalties taken, keeping the puck either carefully tied up or cleared out of the zone. In their first PK attempt, the Flyers held the Predators without a single shot on goal, frustrating each of their efforts.
We also saw Sanheim given a chance to play on the PK-- he was given 1:04 in total-- and he seemed to hold up. Paired with Hagg, the two appeared to click, and showed some potential to be an effective pairing not just on the penalty kill, but wherever they’re deployed. Two rookies held their own and worked to keep a strong penalty kill strong. And that’s not nothing.
6. Lehtera watch 2k17 continues
Per tradition in the preseason, a lot of emphasis fell on looking at the young prospects and the new players in the lineup. As such, the preseason saw us begin Lehtera Watch 2k17. And the regular season saw Lehtera watching from the press box.
But last night that changed. With Jordan Weal out with an unspecified upper body injury, that left room for Lehtera to slip in on the line with Filppula. Most striking about this movement was how high the coaches were on his performance. In post game interviews, Hakstol noted that Lehtera has put in the work, and they weren’t concerned about his conditioning in the least. He went on to note that he felt that Lehtera had a rock-solid night. But the numbers beg to differ.
On the whole, the Filppula line wasn't able to get much done-- they were unproductive and spent much of their time trying to break out of their zone. The line’s adjusted CF% averaged out at 17.9 percent, and Lehtera’s individual sat at 14.38 percent-- the lowest on the team. So, on the surface, Lehtera largely avoided any costly mistakes, and even brought some nice physicality to the line, but also failed to contribute much to a line that was already lagging.
7. Slow starts and slow... middles...?
As we reached about the halfway point of the second period, one of the questions sitting in my notes was "what's a girl got to do to get some goals in here?" Obviously it remained that Flyers goals would have been preferred, but a part of me, and I'm sure many others, was just itching for something to happen.
Nashville's forechecking caused a lot of trouble for the Flyers, as they spent a lot of time hemmed into their own zone, unable to make many breaks out. They were left reduced and largely unable to use the speed that they had flexed in earlier games, the speed that had served as such an asset to them. And this virtual shutdown seems more of a strength of the Predators' than a weakness of the Flyers', but you have to think that this won't be the last time an opponent finds a way to slow them down, and you have to think that they need to find a way to not be slowed down so easily, or to find a way to still be as effective at reduced speed.
8. Can conditioning save them?
The Flyers have, to date, overwhelmingly outplayed their opponents in the third period of their games. So, when we entered the third period of last night’s game still scoreless, the question lingered: can conditioning and third period momentum save them?
The short answer, we would find out, is no. The Flyers brought an uptick in shots generated-- 12 on the period, the most of the game-- but possession numbers still held in the Predators’ favor. Hakstol, after the game, explained that he felt that the Flyers got the most chances, looked the most dynamic in the third period, but just couldn’t make anything of this. The shutdown game that the Predators were bringing continued all through the third, and kept the Flyers quieted down, unable to make the full push that they needed.
9. A note on expected goals
So, the Flyers probably should have won this one. Everyone’s saying it, but it’s not just disappointed fans spouting off about moral victories and coulda-woulda-shouldas. They really probably should have won this one.
The Flyers held the edge in terms of possession, early in the game, but couldn’t get much going in terms of shots. They also held the edge through the entirety of the game in expected goals, averaging 2.18 expected goals over Nashville’s .93. So as the game went on, they were able to generate not just generate more shots, but also consistently higher quality shots. The effort was there, but they just couldn’t seem to capitalize.
It’s a narrative that feels beaten to death at this point, that the Flyers just can’t close. But here, that narrative seems more than appropriate.
10. The only damn thing I know
So if you made it through all of the nine observations before this one, and if you watch the game, or were on Twitter during the game, or were just existing in the universe at the same time as last night’s game you know by now that it wasn't a good one. But in the process of all the mediocrity, I stumbled upon something. A conspiracy. So buckle up and put on your tinfoil hats on, folks, it’s about to get weird.
Starting this season, they’ve brought in a DJ-- DJ Reed Streets-- to play music between periods and during stoppages of play. He’s playing alternative rock, which is excellent, but it’s neither super popular music nor what even the players mostly listen to.
If you’re keeping tabs, hockey players like mostly country and rap, and haven’t been too vocal about liking alternative. So why play this type of music during the games?
I suspect that it’s something of a trial by fire, a full immersion into the realm of superior music, a way to get the players to like bands like Fall Out Boy, Walk The Moon, and Coin. And this immersion is bound to work eventually. So welcome to the best taste in music, guys. It’s a wild wild world out here.