Some things observed in last night’s meeting against the Rangers...
1. Giroux on the wing
We might as well start with the biggest piece of news. After much speculation. After questions of its possibility. After seeing it tested in practice, last night’s game saw Claude Giroux moved to the left wing on a line with Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek. It was a perhaps startling and certainly polarizing shift, and the results are in. The change was: not too bad.
There were certainly some growing pains, with Giroux showing a bit of an inclination to shift back into natural patterns, as well as some too-many-pass plays with Voracek. But the line was also able to to bring pressure to Lundqvist and generate some legitimate scoring chances. Is this likely to be a consistently deployed line? Probably not. Am I completely sold on having Couturier centering the team’s first line? No, or not yet. But it was, at the very least, encouraging to see a bit of flexibility from this veteran group, in the face of all of the young center depth.
2. Special teams smoothing
Moving into the final week of training camp, much of the team’s emphasis has fallen on smoothing out the special teams units. We’ve seen reports of the work from practice, but it has yet to completely translate to the gameplay.
Last night, the Flyers penalty kill was able to nearly completely neutralize the Rangers’ power play units— who finished last season eleventh in the league— holding them to just one conversion on six attempts. And much the same was the story for the Flyers’ power play, who was unable to convert on any of its attempts. They were able to create a few solid scoring chances, and generate some nice puck movement, but this still couldn’t be translated into points on the board. They’re heading in the right direction, but the results aren’t there just yet.
3. Even strength goals!
Oh man, I almost forgot what this felt like. Scoring goals at even strength is nice. With the power play faltering, in a strange turn of events, the Flyers have had to rely on
even strength goals to sustain their efforts. The Flyers picked up two of them last night. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to be reminded that, after last season’s drought, the Flyers can again score at five on five (or four on four, but even strength, all the same). I’m hesitant to call the drought entirely broken— I’ll reserve that judgement for the start of the regular season— but here again, the team is moving in the right direction. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t exciting.
In related news...
4. Travis Sanheim!
If the last game or so saw Sanheim getting settled into NHL play, last night saw him absolutely flourishing. He scored not one but two goals, making him the Flyers’ leader in preseason goals scored. His shot strength has taken an uptick. We saw him not just generally creating scoring chances, but also initiating real heads up plays, thinking outside of the box. On his second goal of the night, with time expiring in the second period and no one expecting much of anything to happen, Sanheim dropped low in the zone to create a play, beating Lundqvist for a real beauty of a goal. I don’t know that I can stress enough how improved Sanheim has looked over the past two games, how NHL ready he looks. I don’t know what it will take to get him on the opening night roster, but here’s hoping it happens.
5. ...Michal Neuvirth…?
Neuvirth has put together two really solid games, on the whole, and I don’t know quite what to do with that. He controlled the bulk of the shots he faced throughout regulation. The two shots allowed were largely the fault of screens and unfortunate deflections. On the whole, he has looked strong, and this certainly creates some questions about positioning in the goalie tandem. How heavily will recency bias and these performances affect his placement? How will Elliott respond? Can he put up an even more impressive show and claim the 1A position for himself?
But, of course, Neuvirth has not been perfect. The rebound control has looked shaky at times, as evidenced specifically in the immediate lead up to the Rangers’ overtime goal. So, if nothing else, let that be something to look for Elliott to be demonstrating specific control over, in trying to gain the leg up.
6. Travis Konecny was all over the place.
But, like, in a good way. Outside of a goal posted during the split squad game in New York against the Islanders, Konecny has had a relatively quiet preseason. He’s performed solidly, hasn’t made any huge mistakes, but he also hasn’t been hugely flashy. But that changed last night.
Konecny put on an impressive show in Manhattan. He drove play, put shots on net, and oh man did he move. One of the most striking elements of his game is his speed, and he flashed it in abundance against the Rangers. And not only was he quick moving through the zone, but still showed a fair amount of creativity, which was perhaps the most comforting to see. Konecny looked confident, and he looked like he’s come closer to finding the balance flexing creativity and avoiding the risky situations that get him placed in Hakstol’s doghouse. After a long offseason, Konecny’s showing a greater maturity to his game, and I for one am here for it.
7. Offensive uptick
Coming into this game, one area that Hakstol noted as needing improvement was the creation of offensive pressure and scoring opportunities. And he got what he was looking for. The Flyers were able to keep pressure up, peppering Lundqvist with shots, and keeping the Rangers hemmed into their own zone. However, unfortunately, this pressure did not result in as many points as it perhaps should have, but it’s the type of effort that the coaches and the viewers want to see the team putting up. Eventually, it has to result in some goals. (Right?)
Certainly some of the increase in offensive momentum can be attributed to the fact that there were far fewer power plays for both sides, things weren’t being interrupted by a barrage of penalty calls to stall any movement. And whether this was a result of teams adjusting to the new enforcements, or officials loosening up, the games definitely felt more like their old forms, finally allowing for a real degree of give and go, of continuity.
Another thing that management and the coaching staff has said they’re looking for is more tangible offensive production from Nolan Patrick. Last night wasn’t exactly a massive game for him, he didn’t set the world on fire, but he made another step forward. He’s continued to show the same strength and precision that has marked his performances to date, but we’re also seeing him moving towards generating more scoring chances. Beyond putting a few shots on or near the net, his assists are creating opportunities to create goals. Last night in particular, his feed to Sanheim for his first goal of the evening was a thing of beauty. And while it wasn’t the flashy performance that many have been waiting to see him him, Patrick was— as he has been— completely solid.
9. Should we make too much out of last night’s scratches?
With the lineup announced yesterday morning, Twitter was, at least in part, aflame over the players scratched for last night’s game. Lindblom not playing, despite impressive performances to date? Vecchione and Leier out? How are they supposed to make their cases if they’re not playing? McDonald scratched? Is the organization’s confidence in him waning? What does this all mean?
Honestly, probably not that much. With back to back games, assume that these players were getting a bit of rest, and expect to see most, if not all of them in the lineup tonight. The open roster spots, at this time, are still very much up for grabs and those players still in the balance, even if scratched, have not yet been cut altogether, will still have the opportunity to continue to play for their roster spots. There’s not too much to read into, yet.
So let’s not panic— or celebrate— just yet.
10. The only damn thing I know
These blackouts are the worst, right? The league wants us to watch the games, wants more people to watch its games, but that’s certainly hard to do when we’re… what? Staring at a black screen? Digging around the internet to try and find a mediocre stream? Listening to the game on the radio? I mean, really, what is this, 1950? I won’t stand for it! Won’t stand for it, you hear?
Well, lucky for me, I don’t have to, and neither do you. The Flyers are back in Philly tonight, and in Philly they will stay until the start of the regular season. The games are back on TV. All is well.