Well would you look at that! A night of ceremonial fun and a nice little win to cap it off. It was nice knowing you, Leafs, see you next season, thanks for the three wins to sweep the series. And with that, let’s dip into what we learned.
All stats and graphics via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com
1. Matching up
One of the areas of focus around the Leafs as we headed into last night’s game, is how one of their greatest threats can be in their depth, but particularly dangerous is their first line of Hyman-Matthews-Nylander, who can do quite a bit of damage all on their own. Largely tasked with trying to contain this line was Sean Couturier’s line, and they did well enough The line averaged an adjusted CF% of 44.7, which isn’t exactly stellar, but passable, at least. And with Michal Neuvirth’s help in net, it was just enough to keep this first line contained and off the board.
One of Couturier’s line’s biggests strengths in this endeavor was their ability to tie this line up--as the rest of the team was also able to do throughout the night--at the blue line, and prevent them from cleanly entering the zone. The focus was, where possible, to break up plays before they really got started and to try to suppress shots.
But the real star of the show was a brief one, a moment relatively early in the first period where Jordan Weal was able to tie up Auston Matthews along the boards, out-muscle him, and take the puck away. And there’s not much more to say about it other than that it was a thing of beauty, and he deserves a nod for that good work. More of that, please.
2. Neuvirth again!
After a solid showing coming in in relief of Brian Elliott on Tuesday, Neuvirth got the start for last night’s game. And after a more or less complete performance, was awarded the first star of the night, and there’s really no arguing that this was well deserved. He had a pretty fantastic night.
Looking at just the numbers, he stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced for a .935 save percentage. He did give up the two goals in quick succession, and they weren’t exactly pretty, but the performance that bookended them really stole the show. The Leafs were able to bring more or less consistent pressure throughout the night, and were able to do so largely in the form of high danger shots from close to the net. And, by and large, Neuvirth handled these remarkably well. It was the big saves at key times that were the most notable, that kept the game closer than it otherwise may have been, and gave the Flyers the best chance to climb back into the race. The outcome of the game could have swung in a vastly different direction had he not made the save on Matthews at the start of overtime, but his efforts not only prevented a Toronto goal, they helped send the puck out of the zone, and ultimately in the back of the Leafs’ net. And while, of course, it may be unfair to assume that this performance is regularly repeatable, it was an excellent effort and exactly what the Flyers needed.
3. Okay Nolan, we see ya
What a night for Nolan Patrick. We’ve seen him looking like he’s really starting to come on over the past few games, but last night he took it to a whole other level.
From virtually the start of the game, he was flashing speed that we really haven’t seen from him yet, and it both turned heads and served him well. Patrick presented as more dangerous to his opponents--particularly on a play in the first period where he crossed through the neutral zone, broke up a puck battle just before the blue line, then zipped in on net to try to get a shot off. The result wasn’t quite there, but the threat was, and it was a bit of welcome flash that we’ve been waiting on.
And, of course, there was the goal. With the Flyers dug into a 2-0 hole and looking a little deflated as they fell into that deficit, it was clear they needed a bit of a spark put back in them. And what better to do so than a perfectly executed pseudo-wraparound goal, flicked in from a wacky angle, and again done with speed. It was not just an impressive play in an of itself, but it was also timely, as it provided the necessary jump in energy for the Flyers to storm all the way back, and tie things up.
4. The power play!
It took nearly the whole of the first period, but a few questionable non-calls later, the Flyers finally got their first chance on the power play. And oh boy was it exciting. The first unit kicked things off with energy to boot, and with quite a bit of movement both of puck and bodies around the zone, they were able to generate a handful of quality chances in close that just missed. Even better was the puck that was shot towards center ice and looked like it would keep going clear out of the zone, but instead rolled along the edge of the blue line and somehow managed to keep itself onside. It was cleared not long after, but man was that really something.
And that’s kind of where the good news ends. The second unit, while admittedly having less time to work with, wasn’t able to get the same level of pressure going. I wonder why.
I wish we didn’t have to keep having this discussion, but here we are, having it again: why in the world are Jori Lehtera and Brandon Manning still on the power play? We aren’t seeing them generate particularly dangerous chances, and Lehtera just isn’t fast enough to aid in creating threats by zipping around the zone and shuffling arrangements, as the first unit does so well.
5. The penalty kill?
Above was my working section title, placed after the first penalty kill of the night, when I was still hedging on my feelings about the units. But, given their overall performance, I think it’s fair to say that this title could easily be changed to a more emphatic “The penalty kill!”
In any event, after a shaky stretch—to put it generously—it finally looks like the PK is getting back on track. First and foremost, they’re doing well enough to stay out of the box in the first place, which is perhaps in and of itself doing them the most favors. But when actually on the kill, the work they’re doing is solid. While not playing particularly more aggressively than they have been, they’re seizing more opportunities to control the puck and break out of the zone. We saw this in the first kill—where they couldn’t capitalize—and again on the second, when Valterri Filppula carried the puck out of the zone and got it to Wayne Simmonds, who zipped it past Frederick Anderson. It was a beauty to behold, to be sure, and something we’d like to see more of, even in pieces. We’re seeing them served best by controlling the puck, rather than just trying to block or clear it, and the results speak for themselves.
6. A note on shot selection
What seems to be the narrative of the Flyers’ shot selection this season is one of ebbs and flows. There are times where they--whether by choice or necessity--lean heavily on shots from the perimeter, and others where they are able to break down defenses and establish a presence around the crease. And it seems as though we’re settling back into the latter.
One of the pieces that aided the Flyers most in their endeavor to climb back into last night’s game after allowing themselves to fall into a two goal hole was their ability to set up close to the net and get to work generating high danger chances. Even as they were being outshot through most of the game, the quality of the chances they were creating was what really kept them in it. And they were rewarded according to that good work--with two of their three goals coming in that high danger area in close to the net. It’s a method that both worked for them in the short term and bodes well for future results, if they stick with what they’re doing. Simply, the chances they’ve been creating have been more dangerous than when they’ve allowed themselves to be pushed to the perimeter. We worry, of course, about the ebbs of this cycle, and if they’ll once again be pulled back into old, bad habits. But we can at least hope that maybe this is the time that they’ve learned from their mistakes.
7. Defensive breakdowns
If nothing else, these past two games haven’t served as banner nights for the Flyers’ defense. On Tuesday, breakdowns and too great of space allowances gave the Rangers too many quality chances to seize--which they did--and while last night didn’t serve as the same sort of catastrophic breakdown, it wasn’t without error.
Whether it’s Manning getting turnstyled, Andrew MacDonald getting both spun and beat in a race along the boards by Matthews, or the coverage slip by Ghost that led to a puck in the back of their net, it wasn’t exactly a perfect showing. And, of course, you can make note that mistakes happen, and MacDonald maybe shouldn’t have been matched up against Matthews in the first place anyway. Sure. But it leaves fans to wonder what the threshold is for acceptability when it comes to these types of mistakes. How much of a veteran do you have to be to be allowed to make these mistakes, more or less without consequence, and why shouldn’t Travis Sanheim be given the chance to get some playing time maybe learn on the fly like this--or even not make these mistakes at all.
8. Goulbourne Watch 2k18
Ah, yes, here we are, revisiting the old new section. Have you forgotten about Goulbourne Watch by now? Be honest.
If you did, I wouldn’t blame you--there hasn’t been much to watch. Goulbourne’s minutes haven’t been massive since his call up, but they’ve been decreasing still. Last night, he played a whopping total of 3:11.
Yea--yeah. You read that right. He played three minutes and eleven seconds through the entirety of the game. And there’s a lot to unpack in that fact.
The Flyers brought him up to be their energy guy. Okay. Fine. But when they have him stapled to the bench through much of the second and third periods, have shown that they don’t yet trust him to come up big--or even hold steady--for them when they’re chasing the game, what’s the point? If you can’t trust your energy guy enough to give him even close to respectable minutes, why call him up in the first place?
They would be no worse served playing one of Taylor Leier or Dale Weise, who they have shown trust in, or even rolling 11 forwards and seven defensemen and giving Sanheim a bit of playing time. I want to emphasize that this isn’t a knock on Goulbourne, by any means, but rather on the coach’s deployment of him and, by extension, the players they’ve placed behind him. It’s questionable at best, and I’ll be straight with you guys, I’m not going to pretend to have any answers.
Well would you look at that. As we always seem to say, I guess sixty minutes just weren’t enough. The Flyers had climbed back impressively, but weren’t able to seal it off in regulation. So off to bonus hockey we went.
While, of course, it’s worth noting that overtime play is fluky and as such not exactly the best metric for evaluating team talent and performance, but there were still a few noteworthy pieces.
For starters, Neuvirth continued what was, on the whole, a solid performance into this overtime period. The Leafs got things started with speed, right from the get go, charging into the Flyers’ zone and putting up a dangerous shot, but Neuvirth was able to handle it with ease, and shovel the puck off to Travis Konecny, and well, you know the rest. And that brings us to our next point.
Also striking was the choice of personnel to start the overtime period. Rather than sticking with what’s been more or less their go to, Hakstol went with Couturier and Konecny as the starting forwards. And given the speed with which they scored, I suppose all you can say is that it was a good and right call. One wonders if this can remain an effective deployment, which it may well be, but it also seems fair to allow fans to bask in the results for a bit longer, still.
10. The only damn thing I know
So, normally this section is reserved for jokes, which makes sense because jokes are great and I am very funny. But I don’t have any jokes for this section tonight. I want to get a little serious.
As we all know, last night was Eric Lindros night, where the Flyers celebrated him and retired his number. And I went into it not knowing what to expect: I was six years old when Lindros was traded, and I never got to experience watching him at his peak. I was sure it was going to be a nice spectacle (but I didn’t know what to expect).
But then, as the lights went down and the presentation & video tribute began to roll, I realized that it wasn’t about me, or my reaction, not even a little bit. The electricity in the room did the speaking for itself, well before Lindros made any sort of nod to the fans. It was about what he meant, and continues to mean, to this city. That’s the point, and relishing in that impact—and that symbiosis—was the most touching thing of all.