It’s officially the All Star break, friends, and the Flyers went out in perhaps the most Flyers fashion—snapping a four game winning streak and getting almost blown out by the Lightning. It was a tough match-up, with a fair bit of questionable play, but also a lot to like. Let’s dive in, shall we?
1. Another early low shooting affair
It’s like deja vu over here, folks. The Detroit game was a slow one, with both teams struggling to establish sustained pressure, and it left us wanting. And last night’s game against the Lightning looked like it might follow the same model for a bit there.
With only one shot (a Flyers shot) through the first six minutes of the first period, this means we spent much of the early part of the game watching both sides trying to get some momentum going, only to have their attempts thwarted, broken up and managed in and just outside the neutral zone. If nothing else, it was a balanced affair, with neither side really beating up on the other, with them beating up on each other equally.
But what was encouraging to see was how the Flyers, unlike in Detroit, were able to break through this level of tight defending, and take the edge in shots by the end of the period (9-3). They weren’t able to convert on those chances, of course, but it seemed a step in the right direction. (This perception turned out the be, uh, wrong. But it was nice while it lasted).
But hey, since we touched on it in that last point, let’s take a look at the defensive work being done throughout the game. One of the keys to keeping the first period even and quiet was shot suppression. The Flyers only allowed three shots from the Lightning over the course of the first twenty minutes, even with the Lightning having more than a minute and a half of power play time to end the period. They were able to get to work in the offensive zone through the second half of the period, generating a handful of good looks. Keeping the puck tied up and tightly checking to get it back kept the otherwise dangerous Lightning quiet and contained, to start, at least.
However, the defensive work wasn’t all excellent. This good work in shot suppression got away from them. The breakdowns around the goals were ugly. But what was perhaps one of their greatest weaknesses—and the root behind those two aforementioned issues—was their inability to keep Tampa from getting set up and generating shots from around the crease. That hotspot on the map around the goal? Too hot! (hot damn?). The Lightning, as such, led in expected goals—with 1.81 to the Flyers’ 1.5 at 5-on-5--and were able to pick up four goals from this area. So, we saw them loosening up on the defensive front through the later parts of the game, and it came back to bite them.
3. First line doing all the good and pretty work
With the first period being a bit of a snoozefest, the most flash we saw early was from the first line. They were little short of dominant through the first period, with five of the Flyers’ nine total shots coming from that line, as they worked to establish sustained offensive pressure. And it brought them some good looks.
Travis Konecny was this close to scoring. pic.twitter.com/jt4wjy2QzX— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) January 26, 2018
Setting up the Konecny breakaway that almost, but didn’t, go was a particularly flashy example, but the work they were getting throughout was just as solid. We went into the first intermission marveling at the chances they had gotten already, and feeling like, if they could keep this same level of intensity up, that something would break for them eventually. And with the Lightning quickly changing the style, coming out faster and subverting the Flyers’ suppressive efforts, this didn’t end up being the case. But, at the very least, the underlying process was clear and present, both continuing to show the chemistry building for the line, as well as boding well for future results.
4. The penalty kill does some work
With the penalty kill evening out recently, they were able put up another solid performance late in the first period and carrying into the second. They did well to keep the puck cleared, and allowed zero shots from the Lightning on the whole of their time with the man advantage.
This showing, however, would work as a prime example of why a Valtteri Filppula-Jori Lehtera pairing is perhaps less than ideal. The two did solid work in first breaking out of the zone together, and then on the next shift Lehtera was able to generate his own breakaway, which might have been dangerous, were it not for the fact that they’re both slow and not able to present as great of threats to opposing goaltenders, and are easily caught on these breakouts. However, in all fairness, they got the job done and helped to kill the penalty. Which is the primary objective.
But, all this considered, because existence is the cruelest of jokes, it would turn out that all this good work would be for naught. Just after returning to even strength, still pinned in the defensive zone, a breakdown led to Brayden Point’s goal and the Lightning taking the lead. Sigh.
5. Neuvirth is… well he’s back
After news broke early yesterday evening that Brian Elliott was dealing with some kind of lower body injury and had been placed on IR, and Alex Lyon recalled from Lehigh Valley, beyond the fact that Neuvirth had already been given the start, it became clear that he would also be the de facto starter for the foreseeable future until Elliott’s ready to return. So we got ready to buckle in for what would be an objectively bumpy start.
Neuvirth didn’t have much activity to face through the first period—three shots in total—but he managed what little he did face well. But after the first intermission things all started to fall apart. Through the final 40 minutes, he allowed five goals on 19 shots faced—that’s a .737 save percentage—in not a very pretty fashion. And, to be fair, he wasn’t getting as much help as possible from his defense, but these goals weren’t all unavoidable. In short, he just wasn’t on his game against a Tampa Bay team that was, and he wasn’t in a position to bail out the team in front of him as they struggled, throughout.
6. The power play and the tale of a compelling move
While the penalty kill had a solid night—albeit with a small sample—the power play brought a performance that was something of a mixed bag.
The good: they were able to get the puck moving around the zone fairly well and got to work generating chances early.
The bad: a coverage breakdown led to a shorthanded goal for the Lightning.
More bad: keeping Lehtera on the power play continues to be bad. Beyond the fact that’s he’s having trouble contributing tangibly, his presence means that the Flyers can’t just roll their fourth line once the power play expires, and rather have to put out these hodge-podge combinations for the next few shifts, and the players struggle to get much going because they’re not used to playing together, and everything just gets a little screwy.
But a bit more good: Dave Hakstol did the unexpected on their final power play of the evening, calling a timeout to give the first unit a bit of rest, and getting ready to pull Neuvirth to get Konecny out for a 6 on 4. And it worked. They got a goal. Which also brings us to our next point.
7. Yep, we’re still talking about Travis Konecny
But can you blame us? The BSH staff joked amongst ourselves last night that he was pretty much the only good thing about what was otherwise a bad game. And while this read is a little inflated for effect, it’s not necessarily that far off base.
In short, Konecny was one of the most noticeable players on the ice, and for good reason. He was second among his teammates in shots, with five, notching an xG% of 86.46 percent at 5-on-5. His breakaway that we saw up in the third section was one of the closer chances of the night. And, with an extra skater needed on the ice when Neuvirth was pulled, Hakstol trusted him to go out with PP1 to spark some extra offense, which he did, picking up the only Flyers goal of the game, and this third in just as many games. So, despite the fact that it couldn’t this time be paired with a winning effort, it was another big night for Konecny, and a strong performance to head into the break on.
8. Good work all for naught
As we’ve touched on in pieces above, despite the results, there was a lot to like from the Flyers’ performance last night. On the night, they outshot the Lightning 37-22. They held the edge in adjusted CF% with 51.7 percent at 5-on-5 (though they lost the shot selection battle). They did better to draw penalties, and avoided taking penalties of their own. They were working their tails off in many ways, but it just wasn’t enough. Andrei Vasilevskiy played lights out, and they just couldn’t seem to get anything past him.
And sometimes that’s just how it goes. A good or hot team runs into a better or hotter team, and despite the good work they’re putting in, it just doesn’t happen for them, it just isn’t quite enough. So you have to give credit where credit’s due, and the Flyers will have to find a way to store this away as a learning experience, and get better for it.
9. Looking forward
We’ve seen this all before, folks. It’s the same old song and dance, in a lot of ways. The Flyers get hot for a bit and then just as we’re reaching peak excitement, they get absolutely wailed on, and everything feels bad again.
The Flyers hit the All-Star break reeling from a tough loss, but they have the chance to bounce back, when the time comes. Konecny touched on this post-game, noting “A loss is a loss, they all feel the same. It’s definitely not what we’re looking for, it doesn’t matter when it is, even if it’s coming off a ten game losing streak or a win, I think after we get this out of our system, we’ll bounce back, we’ll be better.”
And that’s the real litmus test for this team, as we think further into the future. These bad losses are bound to happen, but response is what matters. And if they can find a way to move past this, to bounce back and be better, then they’re going to be just fine.
10. The only damn thing I know
It finally happened, guys. For the first time this season. The moment I’ve been waiting for. Pure comedy gold.
The scene: the first period. A TV timeout. It’s time for the Kiss Cam on the jumbotron. It proceeds as usual, until…
A young man and woman are centered on the screen. She looks embarrassed. He looks, stone-faced, straight into the camera and holds up a note, scrawled on a napkin. She’s my sister.