Last night was mischief night, and the Flyers were certainly up to some of that. If you consider mischief to be not winning. Or something. But here’s what we learned, in the midst of all that.
All stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick, Corsica.Hockey, and NHL.com
1. That was an ugly start, friends
In keeping with what seems to be the new tradition, I guess, the Flyers faced a rough start. The first few minutes didn’t look that way, as they seemed to point to the Flyers holding at least a bit of an edge. And then Martinook scored 2:20 in. And that one was ugly-- as he moved in on goal with speed, Elliott tried to make a block that left him flat on his stomach, and all Martinook had to do was get some elevation, and the puck was clear into the net. The Dvorak goal five minutes later was a shame to behold, but ultimately the result of a bit of bad luck, deflected off an Ekman-Larsson shot straight from the point, it got lost and took an unfortunate bounce in.
But it wasn’t all bad luck that haunted the Flyers this first period, most of it was just plain bad play. The Flyers were held to just three shots on goal through the duration of the period, compared to the Coyotes’ 13. They struggled in moving through the neutral zone, often found themselves hemmed into their own zone. So, yeah, it was rough. And with all the talk, after the last few games, of not digging themselves into a hole early in games, they certainly didn’t do themselves any favors last night.
2. Revolving door of defensemen
The Flyers rolled with just six defensemen on their brief stint in the great white north this past week, and seemed comfortable in taking the risk that accompanied it. This came back to bite them a bit, when Gostisbehere went out late in Saturday’s game against Toronto, leaving them with five healthy regulars, and ultimately a true vacancy to fill. And you know what that means. It’s Samuel Morin time, ya’ll.
Called up early on Monday, the Flyers found that Morin was suffering from some kind of “nagging injury,” and would not be able to play against Arizona. So to Mark Alt it was. And he did just fine.
Over the course of the game, Alt posted a respectable 47.47 adjusted CF%. He showed flashes of speed and strong skating. He was quiet, but in a way that you like to see from your more defensive defensemen. Alt was solid and steady, and did exactly what the Flyers were hoping he would. He didn’t provide the same level of play that they were missing from Ghost’s absence, but he shored up the gap, and didn’t leave them hanging.
3. The name game
I saw an absolute abomination on Twitter last night. Someone took it upon themself to give the fourth line the nickname “The Firm.” I don’t know why. But it doesn’t matter. It’s absurd. They are the Honey Bees, and will forever be the Honey Bees. Every other nickname can get lost.
Now that we have that cleared up, how did the Honey Bees do last night? In short, not great.
For one of the first times all season, they were virtually invisible, to the eye test. They avoided any major mistakes, but didn’t show the same level of flash that we’ve come to expect from them. They were all but neutralized.
And by advanced metrics? They got torched. The line averaged a 30.90 percent adjusted CF%, and had their ice time cut to just under nine minutes, on average. Of course, before we get too ahead of ourselves, it’s important to acknowledge that it was a rough night for all lines, on the whole, but to see such a significant dip in production from the otherwise dynamic fourth was definitely a disappointment.
4. The slump which creeps
So we talked already about how the first period was bad. It was real bad. But, the feeling exiting it was that the Flyers have been able to pick things up in the second period-- scoring sixteen goals in the middle twenty minutes-- and things couldn’t possibly get much worse, right? Wrong. But I’ve talked enough already. Why don’t we let a picture do some talking.
So the beginning of the second period saw the Flyers holding steady in not holding possession, and then slumping even further. They were able to swing the momentum a bit more in their favor as the period went on, and were able to prevent the Coyotes from scoring any more goals before the period expired, but even so, it was hardly the second period rally we were hoping for.
5. Brian Elliott and quality starts
Yesterday, Kurt brought us a fabulous article about the Flyers’ goaltending situation, and their quality starts, to date. If you haven’t checked it out yet, definitely do.
As a refresher, we’ve seen so far that Flyers goaltenders this season have either posted Quality Starts-- playing above replacement (.885 save percentage) while allowing two or fewer goals-- or Really Bad Starts-- registering a save percentage below .85. Elliott’s performances to date have been polarized, but last night served as something of an equalizer.
Against Arizona, Elliott recorded a .882 save percentage, allowing four goals on 35 shots faced across three periods and overtime. So he fell short of the Quality Start, but also avoided the dreaded Very Bad Start. So everything sort of leveled out for him, numerically.
But, as far as the eye test is concerned, Elliott’s performance looked a little rough. The Martinook goal was ugly. We saw a few moments where he seemed to just plain lose sight of the puck, wasn’t able to react to it in time, or only just. He made some big saves, but also some big misses. So, still even, in theory, but we’re going to be looking and hoping for better, going forward.
6. Clean starts
As the Flyers started into their “we’re gonna go down in the beginning of the game and maybe or maybe not pull ourselves back up” trend, one area that was stressed by players and coach alike was keeping their composure. When down one or a few goals, they had to try not to get frazzled and take any needless penalties, And, for the most part, they did that last night.
On the whole, it was pretty clean game, early on. It took teams 32:18 seconds to pick up any kind of penalty, and even then it was offsetting roughing minors, and we remained at even strength. Not surprisingly, with both teams held scoreless since about halfway through the first period, it took some time with the man advantage to bring the scoring back-- with a goal by Perlini at 1:23 in the third and one by Couturier at 2:14. In fact, each of the Flyers’ three goals came when they had the man advantage, and this was, in short, less than ideal. In a way, last night they seemed to be haunted by last season’s even strength scoring struggles, and will have to hope that they can shake it off, as they head back out on the road.
7. Third line continuing to click
Let me give you a little peek behind the curtain. Around halfway through the third period, my lone note to myself about my thoughts for this section was “the third line is the only thing/line that doesn’t make me want to light myself on fire.” And while things got better from there, we finally got some other high points, the sentiment remained more or less true.
For the first time all season, the third line was the single most productive one on the ice, in terms of puck possession and play driving. The line averaged an adjusted CF% of 65.74 percent, earning five on five ice time that was only just a bit shy of what was given to the second line.
With the middle six having looked more or less stagnant through the beginning of the season, it’s encouraging to see this line finally starting to put something together. And it seems only a matter of time before they start to be rewarded with goals, as well.
8. Sean Couturier is still the only good thing about anything
Again, this may be a bit of an overstatement, but is it really? Couturier once again was the one to open up scoring for the game, and last night he earned himself his eighth and ninth goals of the season, marking fifteen total points. There are very few singular efforts in hockey, anyone will say so, but Couturier did a fantastic job of asserting himself last night, with his efforts keeping the Flyers’ hopes of picking up at least a point in the standings alive. He’s been one of the more consistent players through the early part of the season in both scoring and play driving, as he found himself ranked third among his teammates in adjusted CF% (51.64 percent).
Twelve game in still feels a bit early to proclaim this an excellent trend that’s developing, even if signs are pointing towards it. But, wholly sustainable or not, it’s been quite the start for Couturier.
9. A bit of overtime?
Don’t mind if I do. Scoring two goals-- thanks to Jordan Weal and Couturier-- in the last minute of the game to tie it up guaranteed the Flyers would head into overtime and pick up at least one point on the evening. It was an exciting, albeit a bit unexpected, comeback, and a really stellar group effort. Even before the last few minutes of the game, when the Flyers pulled Elliott, brought out the extra attacker, and scored the two goals, they had spent the duration of the period swinging momentum back in their favor. They were able to pull their expected goals up to 2.4 for the game-- compared to the Coyotes’ 2.86-- after having spent the first two period trailing by this metric. They swung back and more or less evened things out, making the big late-game push.
But post game comments continue to loom over this game, in retrospect. I think Voracek put it best himself when he said simply “we didn’t deserve to win tonight.” And it feels harsh, but you have to think a team can’t have a start like this one and just expect to come back every time. They spent a lot of this game looking bad, and worse than they should with the talent and depth available to them. They have a lot of cleaning up to do, but for now it’s on to the next.
10. The only damn thing I know
So last night was the Halloween game at the Wells Fargo Center, and you were sure to find certain distinct and delightful markers of it. Costume contests. Zombie renderings of the players on the big screen. Me eating a whole bunch of candy in the press box. On the whole, the atmosphere was nice and fitting of near-Halloween. But there was just one thing missing.
The Flyers had an excellent opportunity in front of them, and like many good things they’re presented with, they squandered it. But it was in front of them the whole time.
Radko Boo-das. Come on.