Welcome back, Flyers fans! Did we all have a pleasant bye week? Are we ready to sink back into hockey?
Well, the Flyers sure are, and they gave us a nice welcome back victory over the Devils last night. Let’s see what we learned.
All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com
1. Not the start we wanted…
...but the start we more or less expected.
With the Flyers being more or less the kings of slow starts even on good night, and coming off their bye week, there was a feeling heading into last night’s game that it may not be the the fastest or most dynamic start we’ve ever been met with. So, when that was exactly what we were given, we weren’t exactly surprised.
The Flyers managed to escape the first period with an adjusted CF% of 50.38 at five-on-five, and with the score tied at one--a small miracle, given that they took three minor penalties in the first twenty minutes, leaving their penalty kill to bail them out and taking much of the wind out of their sails. It was a quiet enough affair at even strength.
We touched on it above, so it seems only fitting to wait no longer to address the elephant in the room. Just when it seemed like the Flyers were starting to tighten up, they fell back into that old trap of carelessness and lack of discipline.
They’ve spoken at length about how, given the penalty kill’s recent struggles, their best strategy was to avoid taking penalties in the first place, but last night they just couldn’t seem to stay out of the box. They took seven minor penalties over the course of the game. And while these were all more careless than frustrated penalties, they’ll still need to find a way to approach future games with greater caution, and to crack down on these stick penalties.
But it’s not all bad news, I suppose. Given that they had to put in quite a bit of work, the PK came up big. They went 5/7 on the night, and kept the deficit from being much larger than it was. And while still not perfect—they’re still looking a bit passive—the steps forward that they’ve made should still be acknowledged.
3. Couturier gives them some breathing room
And the golden boy continues to shine! Just when we were worrying that the Flyers might risk sinking deeper into the hole they dug early, that they needed some kind of spark, Couturier delivered.
Sean Scoreturier is a big mean, goal scoring machine! pic.twitter.com/I3aP7w8UPQ— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) January 14, 2018
Looking to get something going at even strength, after spending so much time killing penalties, Couturier pushed them in the right direction. With the puck sent in from the point and deflecting off bodies, being tipped around, all he had to do was get set in front of the net to knock in the rebound, and it was a tie game, and the team had some life again.
It was from here that the Flyers really started to swing things around, and were able to give their game at five-on-five a bit more jump still. Finally being able to draw a penalty, rather than take one, and then to capitalize on it was a real tone shifter for them, and they made sure to hold on tight.
And that also brings us to our next section...
4. Banner night for the power play
After a strong start to the season, the Flyers’ power play had been more or less middling for much of the season that followed. They’ve looked flat, at times, but also proven that they can be little short of electric. And last night, they were really on.
We talked above about how their first power play served to shift the game for the Flyers, and their second worked to move them that much closer to putting it away. They capitalized on their first two power play opportunities, and it was the first unit that came up big in both instances, with Giroux firing the puck in from the left face off circle, for Simmonds to tip in for the first. You couldn’t write a sequence that perfect, and it did the job well enough.
The second was even prettier. Set up towards the end of the shift, the Flyers were shuffling themselves around in the offensive zone, moving the puck, and trying to get something going. Then, fed by Giroux and dropping into Schenn’s old spot, he wired a really spectacular shot in and past Schneider. And the Flyers took the lead for the first time that evening.
But what made the power play so dangerous last night was a method that’s largely worked for them across the season: mobility. Rather than getting set and just cycling the puck around, waiting for a lane to open, they’re moving themselves, creating space and confusion for the opponent as they scramble to make sure they’re covering. It’s been working so far, and it’s something you’d like to see more of, as they work to make the power play even better.
5. Elliott’s back and in good form
On the other side of the ice, and perhaps there’s no surprise here, Elliott put in another really solid game. Despite allowing the early goal at five-on-five, he regrouped well and didn’t get rattled, and was able to keep the Flyers in the game. He stopped 22 of 25 shots he faced, for a .880 save percentage, which isn’t exactly a stellar figure, but it’s what they needed. It’s perhaps easy to forget, given the bye week break, that Elliott has been taking the lion’s share of the goaltending workload, and doing so with relative ease, at that. Maybe it’s a fault in the collective consciousness, a product of unfortunate history, that Flyers fans are waiting for the other shoe to drop and for Elliott to suddenly be bad, but we’ve been lucky to be proved wrong to date. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been solid, and as the team works to tighten up further in front of him, that’s really all you can ask for.
6. The first of many
*movie trailer voice over voice* In a world, where hockey players are taken at first and second overall in the draft and have to play each other throughout the season, and will be compared for the rest of forever--
Okay, enough of that. Last night was the very first installment of the Nico vs. Nolan showdown. The narrative took over everything, unsurprisingly, and anticipation was up as the game drew nearer. And the start was, well, it was a little rough.
Through the first part of the game, Patrick picked up four penalty minutes of just under five minutes of time on ice, and found himself stapled to the bench through much of the second period. It was ugly, but he was able to get things turned around. From the very first shift after his temporary benching, Patrick--beyond gaining better control of his stick--looked more aggressive and aided in generating a few quality chances in the offensive zone. From there he more or less evened out, putting up a quietly solid performance. He closed out the night with an adjusted CF% of 61.52 percent at five-on-five, leading all forwards. And while it certainly wasn’t a perfect performance, it was encouraging to see how he was able to rally back, and not get stuck in his own head because of a few early mistakes.
And, what’s more, we’ll have plenty more time for him to put up a prettier performance than Nico Hischier, as the battle will continue on until the end of time.
7. A note on shot selection
One of the commentators from last night’s game noted that, heading into that match-up, Hakstol had been wanting the team to generate more chances in close to the net. Well, ask and you shall receive.
It’s no secret that the Flyers have struggled to establish a major presence in front of the net, where they can be the most dangerous, but they were able to do so well against the Devils. Despite the heat we can see from the perimeter, the Flyers we’re creating the most chances in close, and were rewarded accordingly. It was a much needed step in the right direction, but it still leaves room for pause. Because we’ve been through this before—we complain that too many of their shots are coming from the outside, then they fix that, but soon enough fall right back into the old trap. So while the work done to generate pressure in and around the crease was solid, to be sure, the question remains of whether they’ll be able to maintain this type of effort.
8. Advanced metrics check in
By and large, it wasn’t a stellar night for the Flyers by advanced metrics, but it was good enough.
The Flyers exited last night’s game with an adjusted CF% of 52.47 percent at five-on-five--a small edge over the Devils, but certainly also a nod to the fact that they weren’t ever quite able to pull momentum fully in their favor, that, despite sealing off scoring, they still gave the Devils a fair bit of space to work with. The fact that the Flyers were only able to pick up an xGF% of 44.94 percent at five-on-five points back to this idea, as well.
So, as we noted above, shot selection was, on the whole, doing the Flyers some extra favors, but it didn’t keep them as ahead as they would have liked. Going forward, they’ll want to try to outshoot and outchance their opponents more than they did last night, but as an individual effort, coming off a bye week and given the results, we can excuse it.
Another topic we’ve talked about at length, of late, is how the Flyers are responding to the different situations they’re finding themselves in, in these games. How they’ve been, by and large, able to avoid shrinking and deflating when allowing their opponents to take a lead, how this has served them well. And exactly this was the case last night.
The Flyers gave up the early lead in the first period, and then took a few penalties that gave the Devils the chance to extend their lead even further. Earlier in the season, we might have seen them start to lose some steam, in this type of situation, but not last night. They killed the penalties well and worked to generate chances of their own, when they found their way back to even strength again. But, even down a goal and shooting themselves in the foot with the stick infractions, they found a way to pull it together and make a push, something they would have struggled to do earlier in the season.
The end of the third period wasn’t perfect—the gave the Devils more space to work with than they should have, and gave Elliott more work to do—but in the end, they were able to get the job done.
10. The only damn thing I know
So, things are good now, huh?
The Flyers won! The Eagles won! The Phantoms won! So much victory! What do I do with my hands?
Surely this means that crushing sadness is waiting for us, just on the horizon, because that’s just how sports fandom and existence work. Fine. But we can relish this niceness for just a bit longer.