Stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick, Corsica.Hockey, and NHL.com
1. Passing picks up
One of the biggest qualms viewers have had with the Flyers' recent play relates to their early game performance. They've been bringing slow starts, digging themselves into holes that have proven difficult to climb out of. A big contributor to this has been their passing inaccuracy. Over the past few games, the Flyers have taken a few shifts before they seemed able to get any rhythm going, before they could start connecting. But they cleaned that up last night.
Nearly from the get go, their passing looked crisper and more controlled, and the effects were undeniable. They were able to move more easily through the neutral zone, and create more scoring chances. They kept Chicago pinned in their own zone for much of the period, outshooting them 16 to 12. And for the first time in what feels like years, the Flyers picked up two goals, and went into the first intermission with the lead. It was a strong all around showing, with the Flyers showing what kind of damage they can do, when they take the early lead and don’t give much of anything up to their opponents. And hopefully they can keep this going, in the future.
2. A stellar full line effort by, you guessed it, The Ginger Line
Are we tired of talking about this, yet? I know I’m not. The first line has been so good.
Picking up each of the three goals of the night, the first line looked electric, but also got very lucky. Between Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek, the three put up four shots on goal at five on five. So they seemed to take something of an economic approach, but were highly effective on the attempts they took.
As has been the case for most of this season, the success of this line has largely come down to their complementary and unified play, as well as the comfort with each other’s playing styles. When they really get going, everyone’s going, everyone’s keeping it simple and sticking to their strengths. The simplicity has proved to be one of their greatest assets, and it has given them the room to branch out and take extra chances, especially for Giroux and Voracek, who have the fallback of Couturier’s defensive strength to back them up, if anything goes awry.
So the balance continues to be effective, and the first line’s chemistry and comfort continues to bring results.
3. Gostisbehere picks up 100th point as a Flyer
In conjunction with the first line’s excellent effort, another milestone was reached last night. In picking up an assist on Voracek’s goal, Gostisbehere hit his 100th career point as a Flyer, and became the fastest defenseman in Flyers history to reach this feat. Milestones are nice, and this one feels well earned for Ghost.
It was, overall, a solid night for Gostisbehere. After missing about a week, returning for one game, then being more or less off for another four days, he acknowledged that he had a few tough shifts early in the first period, but was able to get settled relatively quickly, evening out his performance from there.
And the puck steal he made at the end of his shift late in the third on Schmaltz to break up Chicago’s rush was a thing of beauty.
4. Travis Sanheim!
But Gostisbehere wasn't the only defenseman to have a stellar night. Also bringing a standout performance was Sanheim. With a rookie, of course, you expect to see some growing pains, some adjustment that needs to take place, but Sanheim is working past this. He's established himself with confidence of his own, and in turn earned the confidence of the coaching staff.
Paired with Gudas last night, the pairing proved— as it has when deployed— to be effective. Sanheim remained responsible in the defensive zone, the basics in that respect solid. And with those basic managed it also left him feeling comfortable enough to jump in on the rush, where he really shines. He recorded three shots on the night, and had a couple of close chances, nearly picking up assists on would be goals by Weise and Filppula, and was robbed of an almost goal of his own.
The interference call in the first was a bit of a hiccup, and a bit of bad luck, but virtually the only bit of that on the night, as Sanheim put up one of his most well rounded performances, to date.
5. I think I want to talk about Taylor Leier
I'll admit it, I was a skeptic. Looking at Leier's performance in the preseason, I was impressed by the early flashes, but was reticent to go all in on him. When he made the team, I was glad, but still a little hesitant.
And I've never been happier to have been proved wrong in my reservations.
Leier has looked solid on the whole so far this season, and last night proved to be a particularly strong showing for him. He brought his usual dose of energy and physicality, along with his honey bee line mates. He continues to look strong on the penalty kill where he’s been paired with Laughton. And the breakaway that nearly led to a short handed goal while they killed the Sanheim penalty? A thing of beauty.
So Leier continues to flex his strengths and keep his game simple, and the results speak for themselves. And he continues to emphasize why he's earned a spot on this team.
6. The penalty kill gets back on track
The Flyers shored up another area that's been giving them trouble by bringing a strong penalty killing performance last night. To be fair, Chicago wasn't exactly setting any records for penalties drawn, the but Flyers still found themselves down at least a man on three occasions. And on each of these occasions, they were able to hold the Blackhawks without a goal. They seemed to find relative ease in clearing the puck. When they couldn't do that, they were able to keep the puck tied up in their zone, eating away at time. One of their most effective penalty killing forward pairings in Laughton and Leier were even able to break the puck out of their own zone with control, springing Leier for a breakaway and nearly a shorthanded goal.
But the PK was most effective in killing 1:44 of a five on three at the end of the second period. With Chicago’s rush looking sharp, they were able to keep the puck well cleared out of the zone, holding the Blackhawks to just one shot over the course of their attempt.
7. A look at the other lines
With the first line looking dominant, space has still been left for the three other lines to up or match their efforts. But last night, this didn’t quite happen.
Efforts remained stacked highly in favor of the first line. Sort of. The first, second, and fourth lines’ forward trios each registered four shots at even strength, and the third only one, but only the first line was able to capitalize for a goal (or three). Possession numbers also held relatively even among the lines, but again it was only the first line that saw the real results.
But this may not be cause for concern, not yet, at least. If the other three lines, or even only some of them, continue to bring efforts close to those of the first line, the results are almost sure to follow.
8. Elliott stays strong
After Elliott looked a little shaky in his last showing, and Neuvirth fell a little flat against Colorado on Saturday, the view of the goaltending situation quickly seemed to shift to "wow, it looks like things might be bad again."
Working well to redeem himself, Elliott put up a solid game last night. He averaged a save percentage of .971, stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced.
But beyond the raw numbers of this showing, perhaps even more important is the fact of the saves that came at just the right time. Chicago brought pressure throughout, but really ratcheted it up in the third period, recording 16 shots over the final twenty minutes of the game. With the Flyers working to maintain their lead, they needed Elliott to be in good form, and he came up big for them. And the stick save off a Kane breakaway attempt on the 5 on 3 in the second period— which Elliott said was the biggest for him— was a perfect example of this.
9. Third period dip
If the Flyers put up an incredibly solid first period, it was during the third that we saw the drop off.
After a tough second period that saw the Blackhawks working to steadily pull momentum back in their favor, the third allowed them to make this shift complete. The Blackhawks posted an adjusted CF% of 67.09 percent over the last twenty minutes of the game, and were able to keep the Flyers tied up in their own zone for much of it.
Can we blame the first period effort for this? Did they expend all of their energy by the time the third period was closing out? It seems doubtful. We've noticed and praised their endurance across the season, and it seems unlikely that a four day break hurt them, in this way. More likely, they just got a little complacent, up by two goals, and gave away too much. Fortunately, the Blackhawks weren't able to capitalize, but this is something that needs tightening up.
10. The only damn thing I know
The drought's been broken. Four hockeyless days later and we are back.
I don't know about you, but the days off were good. Some time to rest up, recharge, heal bodies, hearts, and minds. And the Flyers had some time to rest up too.
But after four long days of going to bed early and not experiencing any Flyers related sadness, it's good to be back. It’s good for now. Let’s hope it stays that way.