Wake up! Wake up! You’re not late for school, but the game is over, and it’s time to read about it. Here’s what we learned.
All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, ESPN, HockeyViz, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com.
1. An early regression
Guys? We just talked about how stellar of an effort the Flyers put up in the first period of Thursday's game. Things were looking good. They had cleaned up the issues. We thought things were turning around. We were wrong.
Pretty much from the get go, the passing looked less sharp and controlled to start the first period. And the implications of the bad passing stretched beyond just a failure to establish a rhythm, as the Flyers found themselves giving up turnovers and having to work to break up the Wild's attempts to break out on them. The Flyers were definitely strong on the forecheck last night, so this didn't prove to be much of an issue for them, but it was a situation that they would have rather avoided altogether.
But the feeling of discontinuity wasn't entirely a result of the broken plays— the Flyers also hit a period of time where they couldn't seem to stay onside to save their lives. And momentum was broken further.
They left the period having outshot the Wild 12-5, and managed to hold the edge in possession, but couldn't seem to capitalize where it mattered.
2. Let’s talk about the power play
The Flyers’ power play started off the season looking, on the whole, pretty sharp, but have since then tapered off. Currently, they sit ranked respectfully at 12th in the league, with a conversion percentage of 19.6. So despite the eye test and recency bias, the Flyers’ power play has been doing, relatively, fine.
But last night’s performance was a different story. The Flyers were unable to score on any of their three opportunities, and were only able to bring a moderate amount of pressure while they were on the ice. And one of the reasons for this was one of their most effective tools being shut down.
In an article last week on The Athletic, Tyler Dellow began to break down the efficiency of the main power play units across the league. In looking at the Flyers’ top unit, he identified them as having a rebound percentage— that is, shots on goal that result in rebounds— of 11.8 percent, towards the middle-upper end of percentages recorded by the 15 teams examined. So the first unit has done well to create rebound opportunities for potential goals, but this work was foiled last night by Dubnyk’s solid rebound control. And they couldn’t find a way around it, and their slump continued on one game further.
3. Elliott steady again, despite the result
If last night's game saw itself hit with bumps of inconsistency, the most notable exception to that was Elliott. Coming of a solid game against Chicago, he again remained solid in last night's performance. A lower-event game, he still stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced, posting a save percentage of .963 percent.
The one goal he allowed was, to be sure, an unfortunate one, but a fair amount of the blame can be placed on the bad bounce the puck took. As Hakstol said after the game, "it was a good play by [the Wild] to throw it back to the net and off of [Elliott's] pad," and credit should be given where due, on that.
But just like on Thursday, Elliott came up with the big saves, when necessary, and kept them in the game when the deficit could have been a lot worse.
4. Shooting locations
From a shots generated standpoint, the Flyers did pretty well. Over the course of the game, they held the edge in shots on goal, ending the sixty minutes with 32 to Minnesota's 27. So, as they failed to put up a goal, quantity of shots wasn't the problem. But what about the quality?
Against the Wild, the Flyers leaned, especially early in the game, on shots from or near the point. We've seen them using this method before— blast the puck in on net and hope to generate some rebounds, some confusion in the crease where a goal is more likely to originate. The only problem last night was that Dubnyk wasn't giving up any rebounds.
The later period of the game saw them working to generate some chances from elsewhere, but they still fell back on attempting those high to low plays, even when they weren't really working for them. So one wonders what the game may have looked like if they had made adjustments and pulled away from this method, but the results still remain. A learning experience it ended as, and back to the drawing board they go.
5. Defensive game
Last night’s game, on paper, was nothing if not even. The Flyers held a slight edge in 5 on 5 possession, with an adjusted CF% of 51.99 percent, while the Wild held the edge in expected goals with 2.23 to the Flyers’ 1.87. Offense was lacking, and defense reigned nearly completely.
On the Flyers’ end, the line that received the most ice time by a substantial margin, the Couturier line, was also the one that ended up playing the lowest-event game. And the shutdown work that this line has been so praised for came back to bite them.
But throughout the game, as the Wild’s defensive game flourished, the Flyers worked to push back against that. Relating to finding a balance between breaking up Minnesota’s defense while still attacking in the zone, Konecny noted that they “started doing drops at the blue line and pushing their D back and giving our forwards a little more time coming into the zone. And then when we get the puck below their net… they’re congested right there and it’s just important that we win the battle and get it back up to our defense… And then when we go low to high and get shots, guys start moving in the offensive zone and that opens up behind the net and allows us to play our game.”
So the strategy was there, and showed flashes of near-efficacy. And the Flyers will have to hope that they can push this up to the next level, when they meet the Wild again on Tuesday.
6. Secondary scoring
A simple fact for you: we’ve seen goals scored by at least one member of the first line in 13 of the Flyers’ games this season. In the other four? The Flyers were shut out.
This presents a serious concern, as it relates to scoring by the other three lines. We’ve noticed it stagnating and falling behind, but last night was a prime example of why the coaches and the bottom nine need to figure something out.
Over 17 games, the bottom nine forwards have recorded 19 goals to the top three’s 23, with much of this scoring somewhat front loaded to the earlier part of the season. With a team with depth that the Flyers have, with lines that, despite the lack of scoring, have mostly been performing effectively, it seems only a matter of time before the scoring follows the efforts. It feels like, once someone cracks whatever barrier is keeping them from scoring, the flood will be released.
It seems only a matter of time before this happens— but fans are rightful in starting to feel a little antsy in waiting around for it.
7. With or without you
But since we've gone a little general with both power play units, let's hone in on the second unit, looking with a bit more specificity.
With the rash of injuries and the shuffling of personnel, PP2 has certainly taken the biggest hit. And perhaps the area where this lost is being felt the most distinctly is the absence of Nolan Patrick. Now, this isn't news, he's been out and we've all been missing him, but somehow last night served as a particularly strong example of why.
Maybe it was that play where Lehtera kind of just flailed around at the end of a play. Maybe it's the plain fact that they've been terribly ineffective, on the whole. Maybe it's the fact that his efforts in generating plays from behind the net are still unmatched on that unit, and this element is one (that they could use again). And maybe it's all of the above.
Whatever the reason(s), PP2 has been not great, and with Patrick ostensibly getting closer to returning, it feels like this day can't come fast enough.
8. Last minute and a half NOT a snoozefest
Did you make it to the end of the game? Did you fall asleep? I wouldn't blame you if you did.
If you watched even part of the game, you'll have realized that it was, in short, boring. But, if you didn't fall asleep for the last minute and a half or so, you'll have been rewarded with a bit of fun.
When the Flyers pulled Elliott at the end, in hopes of getting things tied up, they were able to spend most of the remaining time in the Wild's zone, generating shots and getting a bit of momentum going.
And maybe it was just the fact that the game was almost over and the stakes were higher, but this felt, without a doubt, like the most engaging and exciting part of the game. It was the push we were looking for, had been wanting to see for the last 58 minutes. And even if the resuls weren't there— despite the pressure, the Wild kept the area around the crease tied up and the Flyers couldn't seem to buy a goal— we felt nearly rewarded.
9. A note on shutouts
Two numbers for you: the Flyers have been shut out in four of their 17 games this season. 4 games. Zero goals.
On paper, this sounds really bad. Despite how good they've looked, otherwise, that's still 23.5 percent of games played where they could not score a single goal.
But when we take a step back, this may not be quite as disconcerting as it may seem at first glance. In the first three shutouts against the Kings, Predators, and Blackhawks— and again with the Wild— the Flyers were playing at least decent hockey in each of those matchups. Some of it may be luck, a hot goaltender, a failure to connect or break through a tight checking team, but none of it is complete garbage play, for which they absolutely deserve to be shut out.
Does four shutouts in 17 games sound bad? Absolutely. But don’t expect for it to be a trend, for this ratio to hold.
10. The only damn thing I know
I think we have a ghost in the Wells Fargo Center.
No, this isn't a set up to a Shayne Gostisbehere joke. Just listen.
Throughout last night's game, I picked up on something happening off the ice. From one section just below mine, all evening a voice moaned.
All night. All throughout the game. When the Flyers had the puck. When the Wild had the puck. When play was moving and active. When a player was holding the puck behind their net. The voice was unrelenting, unidentifiable, untraceable.
This voice haunts me, will likely continue to haunt me. The voice of this poor lost soul.
If anyone has any leads on this phantom's identity, or knows any good ghostbusters, please, get in touch.
There's only room for one ghost in the Flyers' arena.