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Flyers 3, Devils 1: Yep, it feels just as good the second time around

Some observations for your morning...

Kate Frese / SB Nation

Well would you look at that. The second in the Metro Devils with their highly touted first overall pick have once again been felled by the Flyers. Feels pretty nice, if you ask me.

But, now that we’ve got that little bit of smugness out of our system, let’s move on to the observations from yesterday’s matinee. Because there was a lot to like.

All stats and graphics via Corsica.Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and NHL.com

1. Striking first

After all the bemoaning we’ve been doing about the Flyers bringing these slow starts and digging themselves into holes, it seems like we’ve hit a bit of a reprieve and they’ve finally started to figure it out. The Devils are a fast team, and not that the Flyers are exactly slow, by any means, they were still able to keep pace right out of the gate. The Devils got the early push going, and the first shot of the game, but the Flyers were quickly able to get things moving in the other direction. And then, magic.

With a feed by Scott Laughton to Shayne Gostisbehere to get things started, Ghost was able to control their entry into the offensive zone, and with Travis Konecny zipping in on the right side with speed, all he had to do was dish the puck cross ice and let Konecny bury it. It was an effective start to the game—matching pace with pace—and giving themselves a nice little lead inside the first four minutes of the game, while also working well to spark the momentum that would lead to two more goals in the next nine minutes or so, cushioning their lead further still. And while they didn’t use this space as an excuse to start loosening up, the bit of extra breathing room was surely much appreciated.

2. A big night for Travis Konecny

And to jump off that last point, it sure was a nice night for Konecny, huh?

His goal to open up scoring for the afternoon was his second in four games, and the additional assist on Ivan Provorov’s goal has really helped him pick up the pace in the season’s points race. Outside of these contributions to points on the board in the first period, he flexed speed and confidence throughout the game, despite his icetime taking a bit of hit due to the number of penalties that had to be killed--including the one he took. And hey, he’s back on the power play too!

But beyond a kick up in the points scoring department, we’re also seeing him taking big steps forward in the opposite end. The narrative of his needing work defensively is an old one, and while there’s some truth to it, we’re seeing him holding his ground in this respect, since being promoted to the first line. He hasn’t been perfect—nor should he have been expected to be—but he’s been perfectly solid while matching up against opponents’ top lines. And that’s certainly not nothing.

3. The penalty kill holds steady

So, you know how we said after the last game that the Flyers were doing themselves a big favor by largely avoiding taking penalties? Well, that seems to have run its course. They look 15 penalty minutes, and while this is inflated a bit by Michael Raffl’s five minute fighting major that was offset by Moore’s, that still makes for a lot of time spent on the kill.

But that’s mostly where the bad news ends. From the very first attempt, they looked sharp, keeping the puck well cleared and holding the Devils to exactly zero shots on goal. And while they weren’t as dominant on the following attempts, they still put in some good work, going four-for-five over the whole game. The only real hiccup, of course, was the breakdown that led to the Bratt goal, in which, interestingly enough, the PK was looking the most like its incarnation from a few short weeks ago. The Devils were able to get set up in the zone, and the Flyers slipped back into their more passive model, and you know the rest—they got settled around the crease and just hoped that they could block whatever shot eventually came. They let the screen be set, and the result was more or less inevitable. But it just goes to show what happens when they get after the puck more, play a little more aggressively. That’s right: good things.

4. Neuvirth comes up big (again)

After an impressive effort against Toronto on Thursday, Michal Neuvirth got his second consecutive start against the Devils yesterday, and he once again seemed to be on his game. He posted a .966 save percentage, stopping 28 of the 29 shots he faced. And while he didn’t have to fend off as many high danger shots as he did in his last showing, he also wasn’t exactly met with a cakewalk. And the big saves he did make kept the Devils from being able to really climb back into the game.

But his usage also leaves the question of usage going forward. Through the first half of the season, his role was made clear: he was the backup, and he would only see the ice when it was absolutely necessary. But, now that he seems to have hit something of a hot streak, how long will they stick with him? Will he be relegated back to backup status? Or ridden until he’s either bad again, or completely exhausted?

Fortunately, we won’t have to wait too long to get an answer to this. Tomorrow’s starter decision should serve as something of a tip of the Flyers’ hand, as we see if they trust Neuvirth to take on back to back starts, or if they go back to Brian Elliott.

5. I guess we have to talk about the power play, huh?

The Flyers seem to be trying out a new strategy regarding power plays. They’re doing this really neat thing where they’re drawing penalties inside the final two minutes of periods, so that their power plays are spread across two periods, meaning they get to keep the first unit out for nearly the whole attempt. Which is good news, because while PP1 is putting in good work, the second unit is still kind of a mess.

However, it wasn’t exactly a banner game for the power play, even with the first unit getting the lion’s share of the workload. They went 0/4 with 7:39 of time on the man advantage, and while they were still able to generate a handful of good looks, they just couldn’t seem to capitalize. Fortunately they weren’t in desperate need of additional goals, so the results don’t matter much in the short term, but they still remain less than ideal.

And as a new development, as we touched on above, the arrangement of the second unit continues to be shifted. Towards the middle of the game, we saw them return to the four forwards-one defenseman structure, with Manning shuffled out in favor of Konecny. Lehtera remains, and continues to struggle to produce, so the fix isn’t complete. But it’s a step in the right direction.

6. Shots!

There were a lot of them! The Flyers held the edge in shots through virtually the entirety of the game, and ultimately recorded an adjusted CF% of 55.84 percent at five-on-five, and outshot the Devils 31-29 in total. In addition, they registered 2.14 expected goals at five-on-five for a 75.24 xG%. And this brings us to our next piece.

And, take a gander at that. It looks like a trend is emerging. The Flyers are doing the requisite work to establish themselves as a netfront presence, to break into the crease and generate more high danger scoring chances. And, just as they have been, yesterday they were rewarded for this good work.

But beyond the short term reward for these efforts, the fact that this is becoming a routine play is an encouraging sign. Resisting falling back on perimeter shots and instead working at creating high danger shots is not only more likely to lead to more goals, in general, but presents are a sustainable model for continuing to do so. And it seems like the Flyers have finally started to figure this out.

7. A note on our first star

The first star by Charlie’s ranking. Not by the team’s Nature Boy call. Radko Gudas was good. But we want to talk about Ghost.

Putting up an undeniably strong performance yesterday was Gostisbehere. We talked way up in our second section about the work he did to set up the Konecny goal, and this was only the beginning. He put up two shots of his own for 1.5 xG at five-on-five, and a relative CF% of 46.24.

That’s right. Rub your eyes, wipe off your glasses, but you read that right. That’s a +46.24 percent relative. And I’m just going to leave you with that.

But Gostisbehere was also doing equally impressive work in the defensive end. One particularly flashy example was when he blocked a shot with the blade of his stick just in front of Neuvirth and immediately got the puck moving, controlled and out of the zone. He remained sound as his pairing with Provorov remains particularly effective. The two are both putting in excellent work, and seem to be getting more and more comfortable, as we continue to move forward.

8. Trajectory

With the flurry of Flyers scoring early in the first period, and then a failure to put any further points on the board for the rest of the game, it would be easy to feel like they were tapering off through the later parts of the game. To be sure, the Flyers did give up a handful of good chances that the Devils very well could have capitalized on, but didn’t.

However, despite the feeling that the Flyers started to drop off after they finished off their scoring, the opposite was actually the case. Through the final thirty minutes or so, the Flyers continued to outshoot the Devils at five-on-five, steadily boosting their adjusted CF%. So it wasn’t exactly the prettiest of closing efforts, and perhaps the few chances allowed were dangerous looking, but the Flyers continued to quietly do solid work, maintaining momentum and effectively closing the game off through the final period.

9. Shutdown game

One of the keys, jumping off of our last point, to maintaining an edge in momentum for virtually the duration of the game, beyond purely generating offense, was largely suppressing the Devil’s offensive efforts from their greatest weapons. The biggest targets? Hall and his linemates. Gostisbehere noted that the model for doing so was a relatively simple one, in which he:

“cut off his time and space. He’s got great speed and I think Provy has done it a couple times I stand him up and he comes and gets the puck or he cuts him off and I get the puck. I mean it worked for us and if you take the guys speed like that a guy who uses a lot of speed it is easier for us.”

And this method was largely effective. The trio of Hall, Hischier, and Bratt were held to a total of two shots between them at five on five, were kept pretty quiet, on the whole. It’s a testament to the defensive work done by the top line and pairing, to take away the speed of an otherwise dangerous and troublesome line, and all the while dominating in their own end.

10. The only damn thing I know

And for a little bit of brand domination

Let’s take a little gander at that third line’s stats after two periods. I recognize that Jordan Weal having a 40 CF% isn’t exactly stellar, but there’s something weirdly satisfying about the continuity it brings. Just think about it.