On the one hand, it seemed like this game was largely ... uneventful. I posited in our BSH staff chat room during the second period that I “[felt] like this game has been very fast-moving and also nothing at all has happened,” to the general agreement of anyone who was around to hear me say it. I’m still not totally sure what I meant by it, but it sort of felt like there were times where minutes would go by without much of note happening on either end of the ice, even beyond the teams’ general failures to light the lamp for the most part.
Maybe this kind of goes with the territory of where the Flyers are now. Contrary to whatever players and the diehardiest fans may still say they believe, this team is not making the playoffs. They stopped playing important games standings-wise in the middle of March, and while there are meaningful storylines to be following in the season’s final few weeks (we’ll get to that), playing out the string can be a bit tiring. And when games go for minutes on end without much of note happening, it can get tough to watch.
But in those moments where things did pick up — particularly in the third, where both teams made a lot happen before scoring late-period goals — there was actually a lot to enjoy, and the guys who were pushing the Flyers to victory tonight are guys who really might just be crucial to this team’s long-term success.
Both the game-tying goal and the game-winning shootout goal came off the stick of one Jordan Weal, who was probably the best Flyer on the ice as he’s been in a number of games since his recall last February. On the goal, Weal made an incredibly heads-up play to get himself in front of Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson at just the last second, intercept his clearing attempt up-ice, and slam the puck into the open net before Anderson could recover.
And then he sniped the only goal scored in the shootout a few minutes later. In a season where not much has gone right and a number of long-term questions have opened up regarding players currently on this roster, it’s been nice to have an actual pleasant surprise pop up in the form of Weal over the past few weeks, and while he’s possibly riding a too-hot-to-believe streak right now, it’d be great to see him continue his strong play across these final six games.
The Flyers’ other best player tonight was another guy who’s had a lot of questioning fingers pointed at him this year, but has seen those fingers start to drop lately with his play down the stretch here. Shayne Gostisbehere was always due to rebound — anyone could tell you that at least some of his struggles from the beginning of the season were just rotten luck, and that some points would be coming his way eventually, which they are now. But even if you ignore his shot from the point that Brayden Schenn artfully tipped past Anderson to tie the game up in the first period ...
... Gostisbehere was a man possessed tonight, regularly darting around the offensive zone with ease and setting up chances left and right in ways that would’ve made you think it was November 2015 up in here. There was a clear difference in the team between when he was on the ice and when he wasn’t, and that’s the Shayne Gostisbehere we came to love last year and that we’ve been looking for at times this year. And by giving Ghost a team-high 23:03 in ice time, Dave Hakstol seemed to have recognized it as well. The idea that the first of the Flyers’ shiny new toys on defense is not actually broken is surely something that puts the minds of fans (and of the team itself?) at ease a bit.
There were other things to like (Michael Del Zotto also continued what’s been a good run of play for him lately, with one exception...), and some to not like (...Michael Del Zotto slide tackled Brandon Manning, taking both of them out of the play, about two seconds before Ottawa would proceed to take the lead in the third period). Some frustrating trends of late were also bucked a bit (the power play was outstanding tonight after a brutal couple of weeks, and Travis Konecny actually got moved up to the top line in the third period!), while some good things that have been happening lately were somewhat absent (Ivan Provorov had an iffy game, I thought, and Claude Giroux was pretty quiet outside of the power play after some much-improved 5-on-5 play lately).
But the good outweighed the bad in this one, both on the scoreboard and in terms of What Really Matters. At this point in the season, can’t ask for much more than that.
(Also, the Flyers won another shootout. They’re 7-4 in the skills competition this season, which a) is incredible, and also b) it’s incredible that that’s incredible.)
(Also also, thank you for winning the shootout, the Flyers. Look, I’m not here to tell anyone what to root for in meaningless games down the stretch. You want to lose games to get better draft position, you do you. You think tanking is amoral and any true fan should want to win every game, power to you. But there is nothing less satisfying than getting one point out of a game that you still lose when you have nothing at all to gain from getting that one point. Either lose in regulation or win the damn game. Thank you for doing one of those things, the Flyers.)
Islanders on Thursday. Go Flyers.