Two games in two days, and two wins for the Flyers. Things are going well in the realm of Philly sports (go Birds!), and the Flyers are working their way back into the playoff conversation. Let’s take a look at what we learned from yesterday’s overtime win over the Capitals.
1. Welcome back, Brian Elliott!
Well, that was quick. Just yesterday, in my observations, I posed the question of future goaltender usage, as Neuvirth got his second consecutive start and settled into what was, ostensibly, a hot streak. We wondered which way the Flyers would go, but didn’t have to wait long for the answer, as Elliott got the start in Washington, and Neuvirth was once again relegated to backup status.
After looking a little shaky in his last showing against the Rangers, Elliott came back in a big way. He posted a .964 save percentage, stopping 28 of the 29 shots he faced, including 10 high danger chances. The Capitals were generating chances in close and looking dangerous, and Elliott had to make a number of big, highlight reel saves to keep the Flyers in the game.
Brian Elliott, he saves. pic.twitter.com/QWbJHnoN2o— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) January 21, 2018
And while he wasn’t perfect--there were a few instances early where he had crept too far out of the goal and gave the Capitals a fair amount of space to work with, they just weren’t able to do anything with it--the big saves seemed to outweigh these mistakes, given the overall result of the game. And it was a solid enough return to starter status.
2. A tale of two games
If nothing else, this game was a real test of the Flyers’ ability to navigate different styles of play. The first half or so of the first period saw the Capitals checking tightly and working well to cut the Flyers’ space and speed, effectively limiting the high danger plays they could create. The Flyers were starting to adjust, and we were just resigning ourselves to the fact that this game might be kind of a slog, when suddenly the style changed. The speed kicked up in the second period and the two teams fell into a run and gun, and things got a little more interesting. It saw the Flyers able to get the legs moving, start putting more shots on net, and generate five of their nine high danger chances. Their quality of play spiked in this second period, when they had a bit more space to work with, but it was encouraging to see them able to still get at least a little bit of something going, even as the Capitals worked to shut them down. It didn’t present as a mastery of navigating the tight checking style, but it also wasn’t a complete implosion under it.
3. The good gets better
Remember how, just yesterday, we talked about how Travis Konecny had a really solid game against the Devils? And how he seems to be really coming on both offensively and defensively? Well, it seems like what we really should have said was “but wait, there’s more.”
Konecny had another big game yesterday. Showing no signs of fatigue in this second game in the back-to-back, he registered four shots on goal--leading the team--and posted an adjusted CF% of 37.16 percent, which, while not exactly a stellar figure, it was at least middling relative to his teammates, and led his linemates.
On the defensive end, he also showed a bit of flash. While his line was tasked with defending Ovechkin’s, they weren’t exactly able to light up the offensive side, but were able to keep them relatively well contained (with Elliott’s help, of course). But what deserves particular recognition was the play in the first period, in which Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov broke out of the zone, leaving Shayne Gostisbehere alone to defend the two of them, until Konecny was able to use his speed in time to get back and help break up the rush. They were still able to get the shot off, but by then it was much less dangerous than it originally looked like it would be. So the defense continues to work its way into his game, as needed.
It’s almost like these young players are actually really good and capable of learning as they play, rather than just sitting and watching, and that they’ll find success if placed in the best position to do so. Imagine that.
4. Michael Raffl!
Also putting up a banner performance was Raffl. He’s looked solid enough through the last handful of games, continuing to gel well with Jakub Voracek and Valterri Filppula, and putting in the good work with the little things, as he does. But yesterday he was finally properly rewarded for all that good work.
After working hard to help generate some chances, Raffl potted the Flyers’ only regulation goal, and the only even strength goal scored by anyone in regulation, to boot, giving the Flyers their first lead of the game. But beyond the flash of the goal--which was certainly a beauty to behold--Raffl performed well by other offensive metrics. He posted an adjusted CF% of 47.6 percent (+11.57 relative) at five-on-five, which was second among forwards. It wasn’t particularly flashy, but, especially given how dominant the Capitals were through much of the game, it was more than enough.
5. Special teams
Given the tightness of play at five-on-five, there was a very real feeling that this game stood the chance to be won on special teams. This didn’t quite turn out to be the case, but attention remained tightly focused on these units, through the course of the game. And they did… well they did just okay.
The power play, which has climbed back to a respectable ranking of 11th in the league, after a bit of a slow start on the first attempt, was ultimately able to generate a few good looks, but unable to capitalize on them (we’re gonna need them to start doing that, by the way). Likewise, other than one not so small hiccup (more on that shortly), the penalty kill was working well. They showed greater aggression and tenacity, and threatened the Capitals accordingly, holding them to only the one goal. But, unfortunately, that also brings us to our next point.
6. We need to talk about Jori Lehtera
We’ve been tiptoeing around it for a while now, but no longer. The time has come. We need the address the elephant in the room.
There was a time not too long ago when Lehtera was looking like he might be a more or less permanent press box fixture, but that’s done, that’s over. Since returning to the lineup, he’s been promoted to all-situations forward status. And we figured this probably wasn’t a great idea to begin with, but yesterday presented with a prime example of why this is so. During Washington’s second power play attempt, the penalty kill was doing solid work, and then it all broke down, as Lehtera was left to cover Ovechkin, and let him get set in his office, and, well, you know the rest.
And this presents the big question that’s been stirring in the backs of our minds for weeks, now pushed to the foreground--who benefits from playing a declining player above his skillset? What’s the thought behind this? Just...why?
7. Jordan Weal
But, to shift the tone more than a bit, we should also take a moment to give recognition to a player that’s been more or less quietly performing very well, of late.
Perhaps overshadowed because his linemates are finally getting back into old or expected form, Weal has been keep pace well with the two. And with the line as a whole really coming on, what’s been most notable, in terms of his contributions, is his ability to control the puck and buy time. We saw this relatively early in yesterday’s game, when, after handling the puck in the zone, he despite the pressure faced, carried it behind the net and controlled it for at least half a minute, while his teammates worked to get set. It wasn’t a play that resulted in a goal, but it was the type of work that you want to see them putting in, the type that holds potential to yield future results.
8. Ugly, ugly third period
If the second period saw the Flyers doing solid work to pull momentum back in their favor, the third was, er, a step in the opposite direction.
The Capitals were little short of dominant in the third period, only allowing four shots from the Flyers over the course of twenty minutes. It’s really a small miracle that the Capitals weren’t able to take the lead and close things out in regulation, and is a testament to the defensive work the Flyers, and Elliott specifically, put in. They were able to hold the Capitals to just one high danger chance through the whole period, keeping their plays broken up, and shots pushed towards the outside. It certainly wasn’t a pretty effort, but it got the job done, carrying them to overtime. But one also hopes it served as a learning experience, as they hope to resist being shut down in such a way late in games, going forward.
Far removed from the times not too long ago when the Flyers couldn’t seem to buy themselves an overtime win, they’ve now managed to put together wins in each of their last two bonus hockey showings.
TRAVIS KONECNY WINS IT IN OVERTIME! pic.twitter.com/x0YLv4pY6i— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) January 21, 2018
Again Hakstol opted to start the trio of Couturier, Konecny, and Provorov, after they were able to pick up the game winner against Toronto. It was perhaps a bold choice, showing a good amount of faith in the young line, but they did well to prove worthy of that trust. From the opening faceoff to the puck leaving Konecny’s stick for the game winning goal, the Flyers controlled the whole way.
It was an excellent sequence on all fronts, and works to underscore the point made way up in the third section--that the young players are worthy of this level of trust, that they’re capable of getting the job done, if given the proper chance.
10. The only damn thing I know
Okay, so I know that the national broadcast commentators don’t keep up with every single piece of information from every single team across the league--nor could they--so we forgive them the little slip ups, but still some things really grind on you.
The scene: Second period. The Flyers are cycling the puck around the offensive zone. The action is detailed, the puck carrier identified: “The Ghost.” Record scratch. Perplexity reigns. Movement slows to a crawl. The dimensional fabric tears. In the distance, sirens.