Some things seen and observed in last night’s meeting against the Kings.
All stats from Corsica, Natural Stat Trick, and HockeyViz.
1. Slow starts
Last night saw the Flyers looking like they were slipping back into start-of-last-season form, as they faced a relatively slow start to the game. The Kings dominated early, and the Flyers spent much of the first period on the defensive; trying and struggling to get out of their own zone. They were still able to generate pressure, outshooting LA 10 to 9 in the first period, but were unable to translate this pressure into points on the board. And while not looking entirely out of sync, they struggled to get much going in the way of continuous momentum.
Part of this had to do with their early struggles getting through the neutral zone. Hemmed into their own zone, they would attempt to break out, only to be blocked by the Kings' defensive efforts in the neutral zone. The Flyers were able to clean up this area for the second half of the game, but the first half where they were unable to do so saw them struggling to put up as much offensive pressure as they ultimately— with the benefit of hindsight— needed to.
2. Welcome to the show, Travis Sanheim
One of the biggest surprises coming just before the start of last night's game was the news that Brandon Manning was scratched, and Travis Sanheim would be making his NHL debut. Twitter was buzzing with fans ready to see what he could bring to this matchup. And it was a little rough.
Sanheim showed a bit of nerves, giving up some turnovers, and taking what would be a high sticking double minor at the end of the second period. Like at the beginning of the preseason, we saw him looking a bit hesitant early in the game, less willing to jump in on the rush than he did in the later part of the preseason. He started to get settled in the third period, middling out, showcasing his mobility, and even putting a couple of shots on goal. So, shaky start aside, it wasn't all bad, and what was is likely just a matter of Sanheim getting settled in to the move up, and getting out of his head.
3. Sean Couturier’s gotta convert eventually, right?
So Couturier's looked pretty good over the past two games. He's been one of the consistent pressure generators— racking up eight shots over the first two regular season games. And he's brought not just shots in general, but high danger shots, and has been robbed by the goalies in both games. He's bringing impressive— and indeed much needed— pressure, but hasn't been able to close, to whomever's fault that may be. But he's going at a pretty good clip, at this point, and one would assume that if this continues, he'll be able to capitalize on something eventually, right? This remains one of the big question marks looming over Couturier, and it will be interesting to see what the next game will bring for him— a step forward, or more of the same.
4. Shot location check-in
Get ready everybody, it's picture time. We talked a lot last season about the Flyers' shot generation, especially as this related to location, and we're still talking about it. One of the biggest complaints last season was that the Flyers were leaning too heavily on high to low plays, which, after showing some initial promise, proved to be largely unsustainable. And they may just be working to turn this around.
The heat map on the right shows the distribution of Flyers shot attempts over the course of last night's game against the Kings. It shows that, while the Flyers are still dipping into these high to low plays, the highest density of shot attempts are coming from up close to the net.
Compare this to the Flyers even strength shot attempts in Wednesday's game against the Sharks, and you'll see that that distribution looks markedly similar. And while the success of these shots obviously lean disproportionately, at this time, towards Wednesday's game, it's encouraging to see this type of diversification taking place.
5. Michal Neuvirth opens strong
Another player making his season debut last night was Michal Neuvirth. Coming off a distinct down season in 2016-17, but a solid preseason, there have been a number of questions lingering as to what kind of performance Neuvirth would bring to the new regular season. And while it's still too early to answer that definitively, he's certainly off to a good start.
Neuvirth posted a .926 save percentage, stopping 25 of the 27 shots he faced. And many of those shots weren't easy, coming on an odd man rush, or when he was screened, for example. He received what help he could from the players in front of him, but at the end of the day, it was all Neuvirth all the way, holding steady for a team trying to catch up. And so he's starting off well, working towards proving that he can make a comeback, this season, and that he has earned the trust— and contract extension— that the organization gave him.
6. Power play evens out
After a stellar performance in San Jose— where the Flyers' power play went 3/5 on the night and 3/3 on the first three attempts— last night's attempt was less so. They were unable to convert on any of their five power play opportunities, dropping their season efficacy to 30 percent. And while their play last night wasn't horrendous— it still saw both power play units creating pressure and scoring chances— but it also saw them revealing some weak spots. The couple of Kings breakaways that were allowed, the potential for short handed goals, were unfortunate results of that.
And of course, credit must be given where credit is due— and one wonders how different the results on the power play may have looked, had Jonathan Quick not played absolutely lights out.
If nothing else, last night's game served as a wake up call, a warning not to assume that the power play is suddenly fixed after one great game— and on the flip side, a suggestion not to assume that everything is garbage after just one lackluster game.
7. Taylor Leier keeps pace
After a solid first game in San Jose, Taylor Leier brought another strong effort and performance last night. The hallmarks of his game— the speed and craft— remained steady and present, but we also saw him holding his own against his opponents who largely (no pun intended) oversized him. Particularly striking was his strength along the boards, as he refused to be outmuscled.
We're also seeing him continue to click with line mate Scott Laughton. One of the benefits of having a whole season of playing together in the Lehigh Valley, the two are showing distinct chemistry and familiarity with each other's games. We saw this at first when they were placed together on the fourth line, and it's continued as they're now working together on the second penalty kill unit. It's what you like to see early in the season— chemistry with few growing pains— and it seems it's only going to get better from here.
One of the major things stressed by the coaching staff early in the preseason was that they would not be upset by, would be expecting even, a drop off in energy late in those first games, as a result of the heavy conditioning they were running the team through in practice. Building up this endurance in the preseason was a major element stressed, and it's certainly paying off as we move into the regular season.
We talked about how the Flyers struggled early in the game, but they completely turned this around for the third period. Late in the game, they absolutely dominated play, keeping the Kings hemmed into their own zone, and outshooting them 17 to 5. They showed no signs of fatigue, and made the well rested, season opening Kings look like they were the ones playing the second of back to back games. And, even if the results weren't all there, this is one of the most exciting of new elements the Flyers are bringing this season— the prospect of wearing down their opponents early and pulling away late in games.
9. Possession numbers check-in
Looking at the Flyers’ Corsi percentages from last night, they reinforce the arc of the game that we’ve touched on, through eye testing. The Flyers’ raw CF% went 49.95, 43.9, and 68.29 percent through the three period of regulation, averaging out at 52.94 percent (score adjusted to 54.06 percent). This late jump in the numbers for the third period ties in with the Flyers winning the conditioning battle, and outplaying a fatigued looking Los Angeles late in the game.
On the surface, the average CF% when looked at in isolation looks not too shabby, but the variation from period to period may be concerning. The Flyers will hope to, at the very least, even out their performance, as they head into Anaheim on Saturday.
10. The only damn thing [Kurt and] I know
One of the things that made the Flyers' victory in San Jose so exciting was the fact that, in winning, they beat the odds. Going into that game, Corsica's collection of statistical models had them averaging out at a 43.1 percent chance of winning.
October 5, 2017
These same models had the Flyers' chances to beat the Kings even lower, dipping just below 40 percent. And those odds, unfortunately, they couldn't beat.
So sometimes science is a liar. But sometimes it's not.
You win some, you lose some, I guess.