The good news: the Flyers picked up a win in overtime last night, marking their sixth win in a row. The bad news: it was another boring showing, on the whole. But we have a lot to talk about, so let’s get right into it.
1. A heated exposition
A peek behind the curtain: whenever there's a fight/scrum/gathering on the ice, I lean over to alert Charlie that we have a situation brewing. And there was a lot of that last night.
We had Giroux and Benn getting into it as they headed off to change after the first shift.
Then another gathering around the Flyers' net just under three minutes into the period.
And then another at around the 5:10 mark.
And then I stopped taking time notes after that, because it was honestly just too much.
It seemed that, during the first period at least, that there was some sort of scrum forming after every other stoppage of play. And it was strange, given these team's aren't huge rivals, and this was their first meeting of the season. So the chippiness seemed to come out of nowhere, and then just seemed to go away.
Of course, the game still remained a physical one, to be sure, but after the first intermission, the number of gatherings decreased dramatically. And on we went, vague confusion and all.
2. First period reaction: ?????
To quote one of my favorite John Ashbery poems “I had thought things were going along well / but I was mistaken.”
We all headed into last night’s game feeling pretty good. Five regulation wins in a row! That’s awesome! But then the game started and things seemed, well, not so good.
In all honesty, it seemed like everything that could go badly was. The passes weren't connecting. Plays were slow to form and decision making was off at times. Even the officiating was making some questionable calls. Everything was weird and confusing.
The Flyers looked a little flat early, so much so that we were left wondering which of these teams was on the back end of a back to back, again. They were able to stabilize as the game went on, but again they were hit by the "let's take a bit of time to get rolling, get adjusted, maybe we'll give up some chances, maybe some goals. But we'll see where it goes.'
*deep sigh into the void*
3. Trouble in the neutral zone
So, yeah, the struggle to establish momententum early in games has been a real problem. One of the culprits last night? The Stars were giving the Flyers a lot of trouble, in trying to move into the offensive zone.
The Stars did a really effective job of controlling the area around the blue line, not giving up much, and making it difficult for the Flyers to move through the neutral zone with control of the puck. As a result, the Flyers had to result overwhelmingly to dump and chase, and they just weren't winning an overwhelming number of those races to the puck.
The results speak for themselves--the Flyers maintained an adjusted 40. 53 CF% at five on five in the first period, and were only able to control 36.2 percent of their entries on the night, as they worked to find a way to break through Dallas's defense of the blue line.
They did, eventually, sort of. Things got moving better as the game went on, but the Stars' tight defense gave them trouble throughout the night.
4. We regret to inform you that Andrew MacDonald is at it again
You know, he had been doing so well. I mean, well enough, all things considered. He'd been fine.
But, oh man, was MacDonald back in vintage form last night.
He was caught floundering along the boards and behind the net late in the first. He struggled at times to control the puck. He broke up a Flyers push early in the second by failing to keep the puck onsides.
His underlying numbers for the game were passable, with no shots and an adjusted CF% of 47.44 percent at five on five. But ooh boy, was it not pretty to watch.
5. Ghost is a star and PP1 gets rewarded
But you know who was pretty to watch? That's right, Shayne Gostisbehere. After an up and down season to date, Ghost had an absolutely stellar game last night. And it really started in the middle of the second period.
After Pitlick took a roughing penalty, the Flyers were once again sent on the power play. On their third chance of the night, the first unit got some extended ice time, and for good reason. Largely keeping the puck in the zone, they generated some quality scoring chances. The crowd thought they had the goal earlier in the shift, on a pass from Voracek, that Simmonds sent into Bishop's pads. But no luck there.
But they were able to keep the push alive. After a bit of shuffling and some activity in front of the net, Ghost dropped low in the puck and buried the puck glove side from just outside the crease. It would be his fifth goal of the season, and it came at just the right time.
6. Once again, the Flyers proved good at drawing penalties...
...but not so good at doing anything with the power plays they get in return.
The Gostisbehere goal on the power play was a nice, to be sure, as were the pressure and chances that came before it. But in some ways, these felt anomalous to the performances that preceded them. On the first two power play chances, the Flyers struggled to get much going. Much of their early emphasis fell on getting set and shuffling the puck around, looking for the right play to develop, with less pressure generated around the rush. The power play picked up steam as the night went on (are you detecting a theme here?) and they eventually got the results they were looking for. Ultimately, the only two Flyers goals of the game came on the power play, so that’s not nothing for these special teams units. But the delays were less than ideal.
7. A perimeter shot love affair
Another issue plaguing the Flyers throughout last night’s game was shot selection, and it was not a new one.
Unlike the Stars, they were able to generate a fair number of shots in close to the net, but that area around the blue line? Too hot (hot damn?).
And, of course, there’s something to be said for the idea that “if we just put pucks on net, chances will open up, and something will go in eventually.” Sure, fine. But it just wasn’t working last night. Dallas was defending the crease well, and, in regulation at least, even when he was screened, Bishop wasn’t letting anything through. So the shots in close were the Flyers’ best chances, and they’ve got to find a way to, at the very least, cut down on this reliance on perimeter shots.
But we should still give the Flyers a nod for the way that they were able to control the area around the crease and hold the Stars to taking their shots overwhelmingly from the perimeter. We saw some of this on Thursday, and it’s a nice trend to see emerging in these tight, defensive game. They’re working to figure out ways to generate offense therein, while tightening up in the other end, making sure not to give away many easy chances.
8. And we’ve got overtime!
The tone of that section heading may read like excitement, but it was more a mixture of exasperation and anticipation. The Flyers entered last night’s period of bonus hockey 1-7 in overtime, so the feeling of “here we go again” was a reasonable one.
But right off the bat, things seemed promising. Hakstol reunited the trio of Giroux, Voracek, and Gostisbehere for their first unit, and they were able to get things moving more or less immediately. On the whole, the Flyers were able to get a little creative and generate some chances, rather than just working to get some kind of cycle going. But with no results.
Then, in a shocking turn of events, the Flyers were the beneficiaries of a poor officiating decision, as Radulov was sent to the box for hooking where Filppula easily could have been called additionally or just himself, sending the Flyers to another power play.
And you know the rest. After a bit of movement around the net, Simmonds set the screen, had Bishop tugging on his stick for some reason, while Voracek set up Gostisbehere to send the puck rifling in on net, and it was all over.
It was nothing less than a triumphant result, and a much needed one, with the team having been sagging in overtime. And while 2-8 isn’t a sparkling statistic, it holds the potential to signal that the Flyers are making an upswing.
9. Putting it all together
So, the Flyers have responded to the ten game losing streak with a six game win streak, and are finally looking like things are all going their way. The bounces that weren’t going their way a few weeks ago now are. They’re making smarter plays. They’ve tightened up on discipline, are giving up far fewer penalties. Thursday’s game against the Sabres is looking like less of a fluke, as they’re showing that they’ve really started to figure out how to make something out of these tight checking, grind it out sort of games. And if it’s confidence, or other areas, post-game, Hakstol noted:
“It’s a combination of things. I think it’s confidence, swagger, whatever you want to attach to it is a big part of this game. You can ask anybody, that’s a big part. You can be playing really well, but when you’re going good you just have that as a group you have that mentality that you’re not going to take less than finding a way to win a game. I can tell you when you’re on the other end of close losses, tight losses, it starts to wear on you. You didn’t see much of that in our team until maybe till the San Jose game or the Boston game when we were tired towards the end of that stretch. You have a couple good things happen along with working hard, paying attention to detail and really sticking together you get that little injection of adrenaline that helps push you in the right direction.”
So if it’s one thing, if it’s all the things, it’s made a big difference. We’re finally seeing the team getting back to that ideal version we were all hoping for, that we saw glimmers of early in the season. Things are turning around in a tangible way, and we’ll just have to hope that the Flyers can hold on.
10. The only damn thing I know
Guess what, guys? The holiday lights were indeed spectacular.
Maybe I'm just a child, and I'm dazzled by bright colors and shiny objects, but the lights show worked.
The show itself before the game and between periods was fun. The bracelets even lit up electric blue during the Peco power play call. There was just something sweet and pure about it, and it was a nice change of pace.
And, in case you're wondering, some folks did throw the bracelets. Because of course.